'Tawny crazy ants,' 'killer bees' on brink of South Carolina inv - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

'Tawny crazy ants,' 'killer bees' on brink of South Carolina invasion

The tawny crazy ant. (Source: Michael Bentley) The tawny crazy ant. (Source: Michael Bentley)
A beehive. (Source: WMBF News) A beehive. (Source: WMBF News)

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Local nature experts say "killer bees" and the "tawny crazy ants" are both on the brink of a South Carolina invasion.  Each species is in our surrounding states already, and the state is preparing for their impact.

They're known as killer bees around the world, but officially called the Africanized bee.  The bees aren't native to America, but they're here.  Arizona, Texas and Florida have an established population.  They're also in Georgia and North Carolina, according to Clemson Extension researcher Ben Powell.  The first South Carolina Africanized beehive was found in Charleston not too long ago. It's a problem if the bees come here and stay, and not just for your safety.

Africanized bees can have swarms large enough they've killed people and animals when they decide to attack.  Of course it's rare, but the bees also pose a threat to South Carolina's bee-keeping industry.  State officials didn't wait around when that first hive was found.

"The state responded rapidly, the department of plant industry went down and identified the problem, we quarantined the hive and far as we know we do not have Africanized honey bees in the state of South Carolina," Powell said.

He says it's only a matter of time before they're in South Carolina.  The African bee is smaller, meaner and produces less honey than your average bee.  Our local bee-keepers keep their bees in pristine condition. Bees are even ordered from professional breeders for the best honey production and purest genes.  If an Africanized bee got into their hive, the bees would become hybrids. When that happens, bee-keepers lose money and have to move their hives, because the Africanized bee gene makes the hybrid bees aggressive enough, it wouldn't be safe to keep them near a residential neighborhood.

"Beekeepers are constantly trying to maintain bio-security protocols to keep Africanized traits out of their colonies," Powell said.

Horry County has their own beekeeping group called the Blackwater Beekeepers.  The group meets monthly and discusses how to keep these "killer bees" out of our backyards.

An invasive species of ant is also being researched and tracked by Clemson University. Experts say an exotic ant species called the tawny crazy ant will be in South Carolina soon.  They've come from South America and have invaded almost all of the southeastern states.  They won't hurt you, but trying to get rid of them will dig into your pocketbooks.

"The issue is one day you don't seem to have any ants and the next day you've got thousands of them around and you just don't know how it happened," Powell said.

The tawny crazy ant travels in groups.  The ant has one giant colony with other little colonies nearby, making them hard to eradicate.  The ants are incredibly invasive.  Powell said the ants are most commonly found in electrical boxes, power outlets, leaf piles and logs.

The tawny crazy ant is different than most because they reproduce at alarmingly fast rates.  The ant has multiple queens instead of just one, and the people who study them say they love to travel.

So if you see a trail of ants in your house...you can probably follow it yards away to the main colony.  However, Powell said there is one characteristic of the ant that is favorable: they will chase away fire ants.

"You know, if a tawny crazy ant colony and a fire ant colony are sitting right next to each other, they're going to battle for space.  But the tawny crazy ant has this acid on its surface that reduces the ability of the fire ant to kill it," Powell explained.

That acid will not hurt humans or pets.  Powell said the ants will most likely get here from plants imported from nearby states like Georgia and Florida.

If you find a tawny crazy ant colony or think you've found an Africanized bee hive, contact the Clemson Extension.  They will get rid of the ants for free.  Or, you can contact your local exterminator.

You can reach Horry County's Clemson Extension office at 843-365-6715.

Copyright 2016 WMBF News. All rights reserved.

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