Africanized Bees

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Picture of Africanized Honey Bee
Africanized Honey Bee Compared to European Honey Bee
African Bee Pic

Africanized Honey Bees
    -J. Adkins

The following article discusses the history and development of the Africanized honeybee “(AHB)” across the Americas, including were they came from, a mapped migration, estimated future habitat suitability, studies of the AHB, identification, positive traits, AHB propaganda, deaths, states that have AHB, and beekeeping with Africanized bees.

Honeybees are a very cool species, they are said to be the only insects that create food and have health and medicinal application for humans. Like much of nature, there is a lot that can be learned from honeybees.

The following study is based on my own reading and observation of AHB's while removing honeybees for many years across the lower region of the US where AHB co-exists with, intermingle/ cross-breed, and appear to outperform the European honeybee.


Africanized Honey Bee (AHB) Table of Contents

History of AHB
Map of AHB Spread in South America
How the AHB Arrived in the United States
US Map of AHB Spread
Can Africanized Bees Survive Cold Weather?
Are there AHB's / Killer Bees in my State?
Table of AHB by State
Propaganda of killer bees (AHB)
AHB Control Studies
Identification of AHB
Africanized Bee's Stinger
What Makes Africanized Bees Angry?
Why Have My Honeybees Become More Aggressive?
Stats on Deaths by Africanized Honey Bees in the US
Africanized Bee Removal
The Case of Mistaken Identity
How to Get Rid of Africanized Honey Bees
Are Africanized Bees Bad Bees?
Work Ethic and productivity of the AHB
What honey is used for
AHB and Honey Production
Beekeeping with European vs AHB
Ask a Q. / Leave Feedback / Make a Correction


History of Africanized Honey Bees

The Africanized honeybee aka "killer bee" is a cross between a European honeybee and bees from Africa. There are no records of ancient beekeeping practices in Africa; the historical practice of beekeeping in Africa is relatively new compared to Europe. In Africa humans, as well as animals, the Ratel or "honey badger", among other predators, would destroy the hive to get the honey. Perhaps this, along with other extreme conditions, caused the more feral aggressive beehives to survive; the fiercer the honeybees in their ability to protect their home and to relocate to liveable or safe areas, the more likely they would survive. This seems to be what caused the African honey bee to developed differently over time than the honeybee from Europe.

In the 1950's, European honeybees were the preferred bee for South American. Though, unlike African honeybees, European bees do not adapt well in the tropical regions of the world. Because of this, beekeeping organizations and the government of Brazil began projects in hopes to create a more productive honeybee species for the tropical environment of South America. In 1956, a scientist from Brazil brought what was known as a select stock of domesticated "African" bees (Apis mellifera scutellata) from Central South Africa in Pretoria, for cross breeding with the European honeybee. The scientist leading the project was Dr. Warwick Estevam Kerr, once defamed by those governing in Brazil, Dr Kerr is today an admired social activist.

Dr. Warwick Estevam Kerr

The "Africanized" honeybee (AHB)appears to have originated from Sao Paulo, Brazil at the Rio Claro Apiary, where Dr Kerr began working to make a more productive honeybee. During this project in 1957, it is said that 26 of Dr. Kerr's first generation hybrid bees were accidentally released by a visiting beekeeper who removed the queen excluder at the entrance of the hives (which keep the queen bee from leaving the hive). These bees spread and mated with the local European honeybees of Brazil. It is since understood that other beekeepers were also experimenting with African honeybees in Brazil. It's calculated that in 1982 (26 years later) these bees spread up through Panama, then within 4 years spread north through most of Mexico despite government programs set in place to stop the spread of this Africanized or hybrid honeybee.

At the time of the initial release of Dr. Kerr’s hybrid honeybee in 1957, Brazil ranked 27th in honey production. Three decades later, after the introduction of the Africanized bee, Brazil sky rocketed to 4th worldwide in honey production. Though causing initial hardships, the Africanized honeybee (known as the Brazilian bee or the "brave bee"), is now the preferred bee for beekeeping in South America, Central America, and some areas of Mexico. Below is a map of the original estimated spread of the Africanized honeybee from Sao Paulo Brazil in 1957 by the Harvard University Press, re-animated here by Adkins Bees.

Spread of Africanized Honeybees
The spread of Dr. Kerr's 1st gen hybrid "Africanized Honeybee" throughout South and Central America

Spread of Africanized Honey Bees - US Map

Below is a map of Africanized honeybees spread though much of the US. These said Africanized honeybees first arrived in the US in 1990, where the first AHB hive was reported in Rio Grande, Texas.

Africanized honeybees are slowing their pace as they move northward into the United States. In these areas, existing European honeybee are becoming mixing with the AHB. This is believed to be aiding in the sharing of behaviors and traits from both the AHB and European honeybee, leading to the more docile European honeybees become slightly more aggressive while the more aggressive Africanized honeybees become more docile. There is said or claimed to be both desirable and undesirable outcomes. One benefit of the mingling of genes and traits is that the weaker populations of European honeybees are becoming healthier, thanks to their African cousins’ stronger immune systems.

Another factor is that Africanized bees have trouble surviving cold weather. This is because with tropical warm weather and they can keep their hives relatively small, not needing to store large amounts of honey to survive through the winter. Less bees that make up a smaller hive, not do so well during the winter season specifically in the northern continental US; as the cold air gets to the core of the beehive much sooner than a larger beehive with a greater mass of bees, this plus a shortage of honey to make it through a longer winter causes Africanized bees to have difficulty surviving in cold weather.

Are There Africanized Honeybees / Killer Bees in my State?

As the above map of the spread of AHB in the US shows, Africanized bees have slowed their pace, although with time there adjusting to colder climates; however, Africanized bees today in the US are not like the same bee of Kerr’s day in 1957. This AHB is no longer genetically identical to its origins of 53 years ago also becoming less hostile.

If you’re a beekeeper and you live in the states of Nor Cal, Oregon, Northern Florida, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Georgia, or the beautiful states of South and North Carolina, you’ll likely here talk about Africanized bees. As for my experience, they seem to be becoming less hostile then even 10 years ago. To give you an example, 95% of all bee removals I performed personally in 2009 near the border of Mexico were simply wearing a ball cap and gloves. However this is not always the case. But dealing with thousands of these bee colonies per year, we seem to come across less feral bees then we used to.

After ten years of specializing removing bees from undesired locations, we are only finding perhaps less bee colonies to be highly aggressive. In some cases, these bee colonies have been provoked a good deal before our arrival. Honeybees, like animals, can become conditioned to respond to perceived threats, whether being attacked with rocks, wasp killer, or by other means.

Africanized "Killer Bees" reported in State Updated 6/01/2015

AHB State
No Alaska
No Alabama
AHB Arizona
AHB Arkansas
AHB California
No Colorado
No Connecticut
No Delaware
AHB Florida
No Georgia
No Guam
No Hawaii
No Idaho
No Illinois
No Indiana
No Iowa
No Kansas
AHB State
No Kentucky
AHB Louisiana
No Maine
No Maryland
No Massachusetts
No Michigan
No Minnesota
No Mississippi
No Missouri
No Montana
No Nebraska
AHB Nevada
No New Hampshire
No New Jersey
AHB New Mexico
No New York
No North Carolina
AHB State
No North Dakota
No Ohio
AHB Oklahoma
No Oregon
No Pennsylvania
No Rhode Island
No South Carolina
No South Dakota
No Tennessee
AHB Texas
AHB Utah
No Vermont
No Virgin Islands
No Virginia
No Washington
No West Virginia
No Wisconsin
No Wyoming

Africanized Honey Bee "Killer Bee" Propaganda

It's valuable to understand the "killer bee" propaganda that was published to the US many years ago by what people have called hyped journalism designed to sell newspapers. The stories appear to have stemmed from these factors in South and Central America:

● The new hybrid Africanized honeybees were much more aggressive then the European bees causing initial challenges to the general public with more bee stinging incidents which can lead to more deaths.

● Beekeepers (and perhaps local governing bodies) had to re-adjust their practices, regulations, and learn how to work with these more aggressive honeybees that were spreading across the continent out performing the current European honey bees.

● At the time, Dr. Kerr had been protesting against cruel actions of the government in Brazil. Because of this, the Brazilian government in turn began spreading harmful rumors about Dr. Kerr's work to discredit him, calling him a mad scientist that released the "killer bees" to wreak havoc and cause harm to the people of Brazil and South America.

● A perhaps unspoken propaganda could have been for financial purposes, as South America had much to gain if this new hybrid bee performed better than the European bee that was used at the time.

These factors caused some amount of panic in South and Central America. The government of Mexico devised a plan of action to stop the northern spread of these Africanized honeybees but it failed. State and regulatory organizations in the US watched as this hybrid honeybee continued its movement through Mexico toward US borders.

By the time these Africanized bees arrived in the US, they had spent 40 years re-adjusting to the new landscape and lifestyle, in many cases being domesticated and mixing in with the local European bees of the Americas. Today, nearly 60 years later, they continue to intermingle and these bees have settled with what many believe a much lesser degree of hostility. However, it is said there are still some very aggressive Africanized bee colonies. In addition AHB's can be accidentally transported by ship, the bees absconding or splitting upon arrival at seaport.

African Honey Bee Control Studies

Since the arrival of the hybrid Africanized honeybees, many biologists throughout the Americas have devoted much time to studying their traits and genes in comparison to the European honeybee. In 2001, biologist Octavio Jaramillo, had begun working with these hybrid Africanized bees, trying to further lessen the aggressiveness of the bees while retaining their strong work ethic, honey productivity traits, and resistance to disease. Below is a small excerpt:

"In 2001, our team of researchers has developed a selection technique to improve bees, which are actually utilized by beekeepers in the Eastern Mexico. After selection of three generations of bees, we concluded that determined AHBs family lines could inherit their high levels of tameness, even when they reproduced in the condition of free fecundation. (Natural mating)" africanized bee studies.


In the US a large amount of money is made in Queen Bee rearing and in the sale of replacement bees and more recently a much greater amount due to Colony Collapse Disorder which causes a portion of commercial European beehives to fail. Today and in the recent years, with colony collapse disorder and the difficulty of keeping healthy bees, is still an ongoing effort of some beekeepers to capture traits from this hybrid bee that has intermingled its way though the Americas.

Identification of Africanized Honey Bees

AHB's cannot likely be identified by comparing them side by side to a European honeybee. AHB's are perhaps 10% smaller in size than European honey bees and abscond (a hive split or swarm) more often than European honey bees. Like European honey bees, AHB's also die after stinging. AHB’s are slightly faster and exhibit more agility. Pictures of the difference between African bees compared to European honey bees, or AHB vs. native European honeybees must be viewed under microscope for accurate identification. A common method of identification has been termed the FABIS method, Fast Africanized Bee Identification System (FABIS) in which many parts of the bee’s body and wings are measured for proper identification. FABIS is currently much less expensive than DNA testing. However experienced beekeepers and removers generally have an understanding and the ability to identify an Africanized or more feral beehive based on behavior.

Stung by Africanized Bee

bee stinger
Picture of bee stinger

An Africanized honeybee sting is identical in severity to European honeybees, and like the European bee, it loses its stinger and dies shortly after it stings. Stingers are about an eighth of an inch long (0.32 cm) and half that size in thickness at the larger dislodged end (were the venom sac is). If stung by a honeybee the barbed stinger will typically get stuck in the skin as the bee pulls away, dislodging it from the bee's abdomen. The small muscle on the end of the dislodged stinger will continue to pump venom through the hollow needle-like stinger for up to a minute. The sooner the pull out or remove the stinger, the less swelling will occur; whether you pull the stinger out, or scrape it out appears to be irrelevant. The more important factor is how long the stinger is left in, as well as how deep and how sensitive the affected area of the is.

Researchers have found that more people think they are allergic to bees than actually are. In the US, about 0.55% of people are allergic to some type of bee and wasp stings. If you get stung by a bee or wasp and you feel you're allergic, you should seek medical attention.

When people say they’re allergic to bees, they tend to categorize “bees” to meaning any insect that flies including all types of wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, bumble bees and other solitary bees, often not knowing the difference between a bite and a sting. The above mentioned are generally stinging insects with their abdomen, honeybees loose there stinger when they sting a human or mammal, but most bees and wasps don’t. The composition of the toxin varies slightly between these species, and if you’re allergic to one, it may not guarantee you’re allergic to others. In my case, when I get stung by a honeybee (apart from the initial scare) nothing of any great substance happens, perhaps a slight bit of unnoticeable redness and minimal if any swelling. Yet when I get stung by a hornet or yellow jacket I have a large amount of redness, a fair amount of swelling followed by a day or two of uncomfortable itching! Your body can build up a tolerance to toxins. A good example of tolerance is Bee Venom Therapy (BVT) an area of apitherapy, (in which a patient is purposefully stung to assist in healing an ailment. Eventually the patient is able to be stung with more stings at one time as the body builds up a tolerance to the toxin of the sting.

As people approach retirement age, they can have less tolerance for bee stings. Some time ago, I was speaking with the former owner of Knoor's Candle Shop, which started out as an apiary. His father owned the apiary before him, and he since sold the company to his son. He grew up around bees his entire life and worked with bees as an adult, getting stung is a regular occurrence for beekeepers, but recently while doing some beekeeping he was stung. He swelled up something good and was hurried to the hospital where a doctor told him he may now be allergic. With age it seems his tolerance level can weaken.

What Makes Africanized Bees Mad or Dangerous?

Not all AHB's today in the Americas demonstrate aggressive behavior though the honeybees that do are often said to be africanized. If you were to come across a large amount of AHB's foraging on flowers, you will find that in this situation they are no more dangerous than any other honeybees. Bees are, however, very protective of their homes. It is estimated that feral AHB's may protect their home with up to 4 or 5 times the amount of honey bees and produce more alarm pheromone to excite and alarm the bees in the hive than European bees do. Africanized bees can become agitated more easily, and stay alert longer than European bees; Like all honeybees, AHB's can become agitated by any of the following when near the beehive: loud or vibrating noises like lawn mowers or shrub trimmers, rapid or startling movements, dark colors, the smell of bananas, and exhaling or carbon dioxide. More details include the following.

Lawn mowers: The smell of cut grass, and the vibration and noise of lawn mowers cause bees to become alarmed and feel that their home is being threatened.

Bananas: Why the smell of bananas? This smell is very similar to the alarm pheromone given off by a distressed bee. The purpose of it is to alert the other bees in the hive of perceived danger. If you plan on working with bees don't bring bananas for a snack!

Moving targets, dark colors, and exhaling are all triggers engrained in the honeybees' alert systems. Bees have been conditioned to protect against these threats most likely because of recurring attacks from other predators that often destroy the beehive and raid the honey. Most animals that do this are dark in color and often hairy as well as exhale carbon dioxide. If you are within perhaps 10 feet or less of the beehive, light colors, a ball cap and a long sleeve shirt as well as calm movements and the absence of heavy breathing (if very close to the hive) all can help in a big way to not trigger the bees impulses to feel threatened, or become defensive.

When bees attack they typically will target your head. Bees also target your hands as they are often in motion. The danger proximity for an Africanized bee hive may be anything less than 20 to 40 feet. Once the hive is disturbed, their defensive area can grow much further in range. If the beehive is being removed, an even greater distance away is a good place to be.

Why Have My Honey Bees Become More Aggressive?

Have my bees become Africanized? How can you tell if your bees are Africanized? These are questions many new beekeepers ask. Though I'm not an expert on this topic, generally, a good rule of thumb is how consistently defensive they are. Bees naturally can become more protective of their home the longer that they have been there.
If you have neighbours that keep bees, consider asking them how their bees are behaving. If its wintertime, you may have nothing to worry about. Bees can be more aggressive or protective during the winter as opposed to spring & summer. This is because through winter the flowers are gone, and protecting the honey they stored is vital to their survival. In some cases docile beehives can be taken over by more aggressive bees including Africanized bees.

Odds of dying from Africanized Bees

How many people die each year from Africanized bees? Since the arrival of the AHB in 1990, AHB's have caused some 14 or more confirmed deaths. However, in most cases, though the bees were Africanized, a more accurate cause was that the victims were allergic to honey bee stings. Additionally of the people that died most have been the elderly who are unable to escape as quickly and due to age can have more vulnerable immune systems. Below is a comparison chart of AHB stats, it compares AHB death tolls per year in America vs. other causes of deaths.

(US Deaths per year) Causes
Motor Vehicle
*of the deaths by AHB, a portion of these people were allergic to bees.

Africanized Bee Removal

Nearly all bee removal is very difficult from a wall, roof, chimney or other structure. There are typically five thousand to twenty thousand (5,000 to 20,000) honeybees in a bee hive. Removing AHB's is extremely challenging and can be dangerous to persons or animals on neighboring properties regardless of where the bees are. If you are not experienced in bee removal, or removal of AHB's, you should not consider self removal as an option. The same is generally recommended for European honey bees when found in walls, attics, and such structural voids.

If you have questions or need information regarding a bee problem, call the bee removal hotline, or here are some additional resources available; upload a photo and receive feedback on your bee problem here. If you are having trouble identifying the type of bee, visit the bee identification guide or to learn more based on were the beehive location visit how to get rid of bees for self help.

One of the things we do at Adkins is connect beekeepers and bee removers with people that have bee problems. If you're a beekeeper in U.S. or Canada and would like to make extra cash catching swarms and removing bees Signup at work for beekeeper.

The Case of Mistaken Identity

Perhaps due to a major decline in beekeeping, the average person knows very little about honeybees and their behavior. When a person notices a beehive move onto their property they often attempt to handle it themselves and treat it like a wasp problem trying to kill the bees or harass them in hopes that they leave.

If the homeowner is persistent in their many attempts to kill or chase off the bees, this tends to condition the bees to be more determined in protecting themselves against what they see as an attacker or intruder. After some frustration on the homeowner’s part and in such a case, when a beeguy is finally called to remove or relocate them, or an exterminator is called to kill them and remove the hive.  In such cases upon inspection from a beeguy, the bees immediately attack. Doing so the bees are assumed to be Africanized. Perhaps in some cases, the bee guy or pest control technician is told up front that the bees are really mean.   What the beeguy fails to realize is that in this case, this is not the true nature of the bees under these conditions. Even if the bee guy has 1 year of experience as a bee remover, I don’t think this is something that’s easily recognized, consequently it would tend to give the bee exterminator perhaps a slightly inaccurate view of the bees behavior. The more a bee guy works with bees in relocating or keeping bees, the more insight is gained in understand how to interact with them. For example; when you first approach a beehive and open up the beehive, the bees will show some aggression toward you perhaps 95% of the time. However after 5 minutes or less the bees will generally become non aggressive. Bee guy mistaken more...

A more common case of mistake identity of honeybees appears to be profit driven. A homeowner calls the bee guy or exterminator to get rid of the bee problem, when the guy arrives he tells the homeowner that the bees are Africanized killer bees and they have to have them removed and killed right away. Bee guy misinformed more...

How to Get Rid of Africanized Honey Bees

If you are trying to get rid of angry bees, a lot of your success will depend on the location of where the bees are that you are trying to get rid of. Visit how to get rid of bees, to learn more about getting rid of bee hives on your property and for help in understanding or solving your bee problem.

Are AHB's Bad Bees?

Africanized honeybees, initially branded "killer bees" have a bad rap for being more aggressive and protective when defending their homes. In tropical areas of South America and Africa, africanized honeybees directly influence nearly 30% of plant life. AHB pollination.

Productivity and work ethic of AHB

Africanized honey bees are highly effective pollinators; AHB's get up earlier in the morning and stay up later working longer than European honeybees and unlike European honeybees, AHB's work during overcast cold conditions and in light rain. Africanized honeybees are better suited to survive desert like climates and droughts. Africanized honey bees carry more pollen than European honeybees. They can also produce more honey than European honey bees. AHB's have a stronger immune system and are less susceptible to mites and other diseases.

Though the average person is unaware of this, AHB's have become the standard for beekeeping in South America and most of Central America, these countries have become leading producers of honey, yielding a much greater amount than when European honey bees were used.

For many years scientists had been concerned that AHB's would be a major threat to other 'tropical' pollinating insects and stingless bees by outperforming them. Recent Smithsonian studies suggest a much smaller impact on native and local tropical bees, as these other tropical pollinating and stingless bees seem to be able to hold their own in foraging for food.

Africanized honeybees have not been reported to be affected by the major phenomenon of Colony collapse disorder, (CCD) an effect where honey bees mysteriously abandon the beehive.

What honey is used for

Bees make honey to eat, they store it to survive through winter.

Raw honey is unprocessed honey directly from the beehive, an example can be like eating a fresh orange from a tree vs drinking store bought processed orange juice were many of the nutrients are killed and preservatives and artificial flavors may be added.

Raw honey is used in several ways. It is an excellent source of Energy for the body. It is used for burns, for large or small wounds, scratches abrasions scrapes, for food ulcers, cataracts or for pink eye. Honey is a great source of fighting Infections including colds, coughs. Honey can be used to fight dandruff or as a skin softener.

Honey should never be given to or consumed by a young baby /an infant, doing so can cause death.

Beekeeping - European vs. Africanized

The practices of beekeeping with European and Africanized honeybees are different. In South and Central America, beekeepers wear full protection when beekeeping, and take more precautions in crop pollination and managing the Africanized beehives.

Unlike South and Central America, The US is split between cold and warm climates, though the AHB can thrive in the warmer region of the U.S. It has difficulty surviving the colder northern regions.

Apart from cold weather, here are two reasons why European bees are likely still the bee of choice in the US.

  • Circumstances surrounding the history of the killer bee propaganda pushed an initial negative branding of Africanized bees.
  • Beekeepers in the US have been practicing one set of rules for a lifetime.  New rules would have to be set up and enforced, changing the way beekeepers in the U.S. have been beekeeping, while perhaps keeping beekeepers, crop workers, and the public more out of harm’s way.


References - Africanized Honey Bees:
Further historical reading (University of Arizona) (Ron Miksha) (Gregory McNamee)
Animated Map of Spread of africanized honeybees in US (Adkins Bees)
Africanized honeybee (Wikipedia)
National Sustainable Agricultural Information
Honey (Google)
Wikipedia -the free encyclopedia

Africanized honeybees (Return to Top)
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