MySci Round-Up October 15: Killer Bees!

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On this day in 1990, the first swarm of Africanized hybrid honey bees–scientific name Apis mellifera scutellata Lepeletier, but better known, due to hysterical media coverage as “killer bees”–were discovered and trapped near Hidalgo, on the southern tip of Texas.

According to this 
Ohio State University primer, AHBs resulted from mating African bees with European honey bees who previously had been imported to the Americas. (It may come as a surprise to you, but honey bees are indigenous to the Old World.) In 1956, a geneticist brought African queens to Brazil with the idea of breeding a superior strain of honey bees who were more suited to tropical climates than the varieties from Europe. Unfortunately, bees from 26 experimental colonies escaped and swarmed near Sao Paulo, and began to interbreed in the wild with their European cousins. The resulting bees had stings no more dangerous than European bees, but they were more aggressive and had a tendency to swarm when humans and animals who got too close to their hives. (Researchers documented a rate of 400 to 500 stings within 30 seconds, compared to 10 per 30 seconds for European bees.)The news media seized upon these facts and hyperbolized them to create a frightening fantasy of a giant invasion force of winged assassins, steadily moving toward the U.S. border. This 1987 UPI story, for example, warns of a “trail of death” that the bees had left behind as they advanced northward at a rate of 100 to 300 miles a year.

Finally, in 1990, according to this 
New York Times article, the AHBs finally were spotted in Texas. They were quickly trapped and destroyed by local officials, and a quarantine was placed upon beekeepers’ colonies in the area.

Nevertheless, the bees continued to spread, penetrating Texas and reaching other states. As it turned out, however, the predicted carnage never quite materialized. In this 
2002 interview, University of Delaware bee expert Dewey Caron noted that in the first 12 years since the AHBs crossed the border, about 11 people had died from their stings. During that same period, several hundred people had died from being stung by European bees, wasps and ants. The scientist noted that in central America, the feared AHBs had actually benefited impoverished people, who suddenly had access to bee colonies whose honey they could harvest without the need for an expensive breeding program and equipment.

And with that, here are the science and technology stories of the day.

Kids’ balloons apparently behind Manhattan UFO sighting. Of course, that could just be what the men in black want you to think, too.

Harvard researchers retract claim that aging of stem cells might be reversible. 
Sorry if you had visions of becoming a real-life Benjamin Button.

Atmospheric level of carbon dioxide is main factor controlling Earth’s temperature, study shows. Climate change deniers are not going to like this.

Grisly death predicted for planet spiraling into star. It’s got about 1.4 million years left before kabboom!

Reinventing the leaf to create clean fuel? The ultimate energy supply may be in the Sun.

Japanese introduce singing robot. 
Hmmmm. Would T-2 be a tenor or a baritone?