SALT LAKE CITY -- Africanized honey bees have been found for the first time in the Beehive State. The bees, long the subject of lore as "killer bees," were recently discovered in Utah's Washington and Kane counties, the state Department of Agriculture said Wednesday.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed that seven hives - three in the wild and four managed by private beekeepers - contained Africanized bees. The hives have since been destroyed.
The bees in Utah do not appear to be widespread and no injuries to people or animals have been reported.
State and local officials have been anticipating the bees' arrival since they showed up in Mesquite, Nev., in 1999, just a few miles from the Utah line.
"We've been saying not if but when for a long time," said Larry Lewis, a spokesman for the state agriculture department.
The bees are the result of interbreeding between European honey bees and bees from Africa. They were inadvertently released in Brazil in the 1950s. They were first spotted in Texas in 1990 and have since been found in several other states, including California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada.
Although Africanized bees look like European honey bees, they tend to get irritated faster, respond with more firepower and stay mad longer than other bees, said Kirk Visscher, a professor at the University of California at Riverside, who has studied Africanized bees since 1985.
Their stings aren't more powerful than other bees but they are more aggressive and swarm more often. "The danger is getting a large number of stings in a short period of time," Visscher said.
Attacks on people and animals have happened, but are relatively rare, he said. Africanized bees have linked to the deaths of 14 people in the United States since 1990, Utah officials said.
"This discovery makes it imperative that we think differently about honey bees in our state," Leonard Blackham, Utah commissioner of agriculture and food, said in a statement.
Local officials plan to ramp up education efforts for homeowners and others about how to keep homes and buildings bee-free and what to do if they encounter a disturbed hive.
"These bees don't go out and intentionally look for people to sting. They're just defending their hive," Lewis said.
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Utah Department of Agriculture: http://ag.utah.gov/