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Africanized Honey Bees
A lot of information is available online regarding the Africanized Honey Bee "(AHB)" their migration, and the unsuccessful attempts to limit their spread throughout the Americas. The following AHB insight is based on my own reading and observation of Africanized honeybees and more especially my observations while removing bees for many years across the lower half of the US where Africanized honeybees co-exist with, intermingle/ crossbreed, and appear to outperform the European honeybee.
From a casual perspective, Africanized honeybees are virtually the same as European honeybees in many characteristics. However Africanized honeybees though unnoticeably smaller, are more agile, and have stronger immune systems. AHB's defend their home more aggressively and with greater numbers, they are more effective foragers.
Unlike the European honeybee, the AHB traditionally have difficulty surviving colder climates. This appears to be due to the AHB's focus on brood raising and keeping their hives small, as such AHB's typically do not store enough honey and may not keep warm enough (as a smaller hive body) to make it through a long winter.
Read this article or brouse by topic below to learn about the AHB and there development across the Americas. Honeybees are very cool; we still have much to learn from them.
Africanized Honey Bee Table of Contents
History of Africanized Honey Bees
Map of Africanized Honey Bee Spread in South America
How Africanized Honey Bees Arrived in the United States
US Map of Africanized Honey Bee Spread
Can Africanized Bees Surviving Cold Weather?
Are there Africanized Honeybees / Killer Bees in my State?
Table of Africanized/ Killer Bees by State
Propaganda of killer bees (AHB)
African Honey Bee Control Studies
Identification of Africanized Honey Bees
Africanized Bee 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 of Africanized Honey Bees
Africanized Bees and Honey Production
Beekeeping Practices with European vs Africanized Honeybees
Ask a Q. / Leave Feedback / Make a Correction
The Africanized honeybee aka "killer bee" is a cross between a European honeybee (the Italian honeybee) and a honeybee from Africa. Unlike other areas of the world, there are no records of ancient beekeeping practices in Africa; the historical practice of beekeeping in Africa is relatively new compared to Europe. Formerly, "bee robbing" (the process of extracting honey from a beehive) in Africa was fundamentally a smash-and-grab approach by humans, as well as animals, the Ratel aka "honey badger", among other predators, destroying 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 abscond or relocate to liveable or safe areas, the more likely a chance they would survive. This may have caused the African honey bee to develop differently over time than their domesticated sister European honey bees.
So why did people in South America cross breed African honey bees and European honey bees? At the time European honeybees were the preferred bee for beekeeping and had been bred in many corners of the world. However, unlike African honey bees, European bees cannot adapt very well in the tropical regions of the world. Because of this, in the 1950's 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.
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 honey bees of Brazil. It is since understood that other beekeepers were also experimenting with African honeybees in Brazil. It's calculated that 26 years later in 1982 these bees spread up through Panama, then within 4 years spread 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 by Dr Kerr, Brazil sky rocketed to 4th worldwide in honey production which also increased in pollination and food source. Though causing initial hardships, the Africanized honeybee (known as the Brazilian bee or the "brave bee" in Brazil), 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, animated by Adkins Bee Removal in 2009.
Africanized honeybees first arrived in the US in 1990, where the first AHB bee hive was reported in Rio Grande, Texas. Below is a map of Africanized honeybees in the US and their spread from Texas to much of the US. To see the large map, visit Adkins honeybee removal information page or click on map..
Africanized honeybees are slowing their pace as they move northward into the United States. Existing European honeybee populations are becoming further mixed with the AHB migration. This is believed to be aiding in the sharing of behaviors and traits from both the AHB and European honeybee. Meaning 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 they are traditionally used to warm weather and they keep their hives relatively small, not needing to store large amounts of honey to live on during the winter. Additionally smaller bee hives do not fair so well during the winter season in the more northern continental US, as the cold air gets to the core of the beehive much sooner than a larger hive with a greater mass, this plus a shortage of honey to make it through a longer winter causes Africanized bees to have difficulty surviving in cold weather.
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.
It's important to understand the "killer bee" propaganda that was brought to the US many years ago by what many have called hyped journalism designed to sell newspapers. The stories appear to have stemmed from three factors in South and Central America.
1) 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..
2) 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 and outperforming the current European honey bees.
3) The third source of propaganda brewed from a scuffle with the Brazilian government. 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.
These three factors caused some amount of panic in South and Central America and appear to be the main issues that caused such a stir. The Mexican government 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 55 years later, they continue to intermingle and these bees have settled with what many believe a lesser degree of hostility. However, there are still some very aggressive Africanized bee colonies. In addition AHB's can be transported or accidentally transported by ship, the bees absconding or splitting upon arrival at seaport.
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.
Africanized honey bees are about 10% smaller than European honey bees and abscond or swarm more often than European honey bees. Like European honey bees, Africanized honey bees die after stinging. AHB’s are slightly faster and exhibit more agility. Africanized honeybees cannot likely be told apart by comparing them side by side to a European honeybee. 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.
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 and a sixteenth of an inch across at the 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 stinger is removed, the less swelling will occur. In relation to removing the stinger; many claim to scrape and not pull the stinger out, studies have shown one method of removing the stinger is generally as effective as the next. Whether you pull out the stinger out, or scrape it out appears to be irrelevant. The more important factor is how long the stinger is in the host, as well as how deep and how sensitive the affected area of the body is, and perhaps, in addition to how alarmed or panicked the individual is.
At a young age I grew up around beehives and when I would get stung by a bee, the calm confidence from my mom made me feel that it would be ok. Some ointment, along with some TLC, seemed the best remedy for the pain. According to past studies, researchers have found that more people think they are allergic to bees than actually are. In the US, about two million out of three hundred and five million people are allergic, that's about 0.55% of people that 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 insects mentioned above are generally stinging insects with their abdomen, some (like honeybees) loose there stinger but most don’t. The composition of the toxin varies 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! Tthis is because the components or make up of the toxins of a yellow jacket sting are different than that of a honeybee, the latter to which my body has built up a tolerance. 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 by more stings at one time as the body naturally builds up a tolerance to the toxin of the sting.
The elderly seem to 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 has since sold to his son. Well, he grew up around bees his entire life and worked with bees as an adult, but recently while doing some beekeeping he was stung (getting stung is a regular occurrence for beekeepers). He swelled up something good and was rushed to the hospital where a doctor told him he must be allergic. With age it seems his tolerance level weakened. This seems to be a common as people get older.
Not all Africanized honeybees today are 'killers' or demonstrate aggressive behavior. In addition, if you were to come across a large amount of Africanized honeybees foraging on flowers, you will find they are no more dangerous than any other honeybees in this situation. Bees are, however, very protective of their homes. It is estimated that feral Africanized bees hives can 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. Africanized honeybees have very similar characteristics to European honeybees; they can become agitated by any of the following 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. The following is more detailed on what makes bees mad, provokes bees, or make bees angry.
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. Note: The amount of shrubbery and flowers around your home does not attract any more or less beehives or swarms to move onto your property than if you had an all rock yard.
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 help to not trigger the bees impulses to feel threatened, or 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.
Have my bees become Africanized? How can you tell if your bees are Africanized? These are questions many beginner beekeepers ask. Though I'm not an expert on this topic, generally, a good rule of thumb is how consistently defensive they are. Also if you have neighbors 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 summer. This is because the flowers are gone, and protecting the honey they stored is vital to their survival though winter. However in some cases docile bees can be taken over by more aggressive bees including 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 confirmed deaths. However, in most cases, though the bees were Africanized, the 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 have more vulnerable immune systems. Below is a chart of AHB stats though meant to be humorous, it compares AHB death tolls per year vs. other causes of deaths in America.
All bee removal is difficult, especially bee removal 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 very dangerous to persons or animals on neighboring properties in all directions 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 on any level. 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 bee identification guide or you can upload a picture at what kind of bee for 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.
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...
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.
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: AHB's 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 a leading producer of honey, producing a much greater amount than when European honey bees were used. including more effective pollination.
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.
The practices of beekeeping with European and Africanized honeybees are different. For example, 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 half 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)
http://www.badbeekeeping.com/kerr.htm (Ron Miksha)
http://www.tucsonweekly.com/tw/12-19-96/cover.html (Gregory McNamee)
Map of Spread of africanized honeybees in US (Adkins Bees)
Africanized honeybee (Wikipedia)
National Sustainable Agricultural Information
Africanized honeybees (Top)
are there any killer bees in virginia? i was stung at least 10 times while weed whacking by smaller than usual bee's. ground nesting. much swelling of stings and mega itching.
Beekeeper: Hi Doug,
AHB's have been reported to be at half way up Florida in 2009-10, its likely those were Yellow Jackets, For me the itching lasted a couple days. :) here's a link re Wasp ID:
ALSO, bees in ground
well i want to no how we can stop killer bees from spreading to other states
Beekeeper: Hi Lily, Good Question.
It hasn't been possible to stop the spread of Africanized honeybees. However they have slowed due to the colder northern climates of the U.S. Did you know, in South and Central America, Africanized honeybees, "killer bees" are the bee of choice for beekeepers.
We plan on posting more information shortly from experts that are studying the spread f the AHB predict the overwintering limits in the US of the Africanized honey bee will reach do to cold weather habitat suitability.
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