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Barn Owls Threatened by Killer Bees in South Florida

First Posted: Jun 21, 2015 10:52 PM EDT

Barn owls may be in danger. Scientists have discovered that barn owls may be threatened by Africanized bees in south Florida.

Over the past two decades, barn owls have expanded from mere dozens to more than 400 nesting pairs. This has largely been due to conservation efforts. Unfortunately, though, these raptors may now be endangered by insects.

"In 20 years, we've never had any problems with other critters moving into our boxes," said Richard Raid, Florida researcher, in a news release. "But the Africanized honey bees became established in 2005 and are spreading throughout the peninsula of Florida."

These Africanized bee swarms don't just pose a threat to owls; they also pose a threat to agricultural workers who may disturb their colonies.

The bees actually swarm as frequently as eight times per year. They can take over nesting boxes that are set out for owls, using them as hives and displacing or even killing the raptors.

Now, though, researchers have devised a "push-pull" integrated pest management strategy for dealing with Africanized honey bee swarms. They spray the owl boxes with an insecticide that is, essentially, non-toxic to the owls but repellent to bees. This pushes the insects out of the boxes. In addition, they set up "swarm traps" that use a synthetic pheromone that honey bees use to mark new hives.

"These birds provide environmentally friendly, low-cost, sustainable rodent control," said Raid. "The pests, particularly cotton rats, mice, and marsh rabbits, can cause over $30 million in damage each year to the area's 700,000 acres of sugar cane, rice and vegetable crops."

The findings reveal a way to deal with these insects and potentially help these rare raptors.

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