African Honey Bees (AHBs) are the same species as the familiar European Honey Bees (EHBs) used to produce honey and pollinate crops, but a different subspecies.
They are called Africanized Honey Bees (AHBs) because they are the result of interbreeding between European Honey Bees and bees from Africa inadvertently released in Brazil in the 1950’s. They’ve also been referred to as “Killer Bees” in the media because of their increased defensive behavior.
African Honey Bees (AHBs) – Where they came from
The southern part of Africa. They were brought to southern Brazil, and have since spread as far south as Northern Argentina, and northward throughout South and Central America, and Mexico. They entered the U.S. in southern Texas in 1990, Arizona and New Mexico in 1993, and California in 1994.
During 1999, there were finds in most areas of Imperial, San Diego, Riverside, Orange, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino Counties, southern Kern County and Ventura County.
In these areas, the density of Africanized Honey Bees (AHBs) is likely to increase, and they could continue to spread northward in California. In 2000 the known distribution changed little, but there were finds further into Kern County, and in late 2001 there was a find of foraging bees (colony not located) in Tulare County.
Africanized Honey Bees (AHBs) – How they are recognized
A lot of people expect Africanized Honey Bees (AHBs) to be larger and very distinctive, but indeed they look nearly identical to the European Honey Bees (EHBs) we have long had in California.
Honey Bees are about 3/4 inch long, brownish, and a little fuzzy. Their nests are generally hidden in cavities. Less fuzzy insects with bright yellow and black markings, or with grey paper nests are probably wasps, not bees. Larger bees aren’t Honey Bees.
Africanized Honey Bees (AHBs) may be distinguished from European Honey Bees (EHBs) by measurements under a microscope, and by analysis of their DNA. The California Department of Agriculture identifies Africanized Honey Bees (AHBs) as they enter new areas.
After an area is well colonized, though, it is assumed that all Honey Bees not beneath the care of a beekeeper should be treated as Africanized Honey Bees.
Beekeepers will continue to keep European Honey Bees (EHBs) in their hives (the familiar white boxes) so these aren’t a threat if well maintained. Truly, European Honey Bees (EHBs) provide the best defense against Africanized Honey Bees, by providing competition, and genetic dilution since new Africanized Honey Bees (AHBs) queens may mate with European Honey Bees (EHBs) males.
African Honey Bees (AHBs) – Problems they cause
Stinging – African Honey Bees (AHBs) defend their colonies much more vigorously than do European Honey Bees. The colonies are easily disturbed (at times just by being nearby). When they do sting, many more bees may participate, so there’s a danger of receiving more stings.
This could make them life threatening, especially to people allergic to stings, or with limited capacity to escape (the young, old, and handicapped), and to confined livestock or pets. Once disturbed Africanized Honey Bees (AHBs) will continue the attack for a long distance.
Swarming and nesting – Africanized Honey Bee (AHB) colonies are likely to be more common than European Honey Bees have been, and they swarm more frequently. They nest in places European Honey Bees did not, including small cavities near the ground like water meter boxes or overturned flower pots.
Africanized Honey Bees (AHBs) – What you can do
Most individuals will probably never see a colony of African Honey Bees. Nonetheless, the following things may reduce the impact of these bees have on you.
Bee proofing – Look for cracks and holes in your house that may lead to wall voids or other cavities a colony could occupy. Screen or caulk these holes, or fill the cavity with insulation, and bees will not move in. Clean up debris (tires, pots) that may provide nesting sites on your property.
Be alert – Look before disturbing vegetation. A lot of bees coming and going from a single spot (not just many bees at flowers) may indicate a nest.
Get help – Contact trained and equipped personnel (see “bee removal” in the Yellow Pages) if you discover a Honey Bee colony. Don’t attempt to remove them alone.
If stung – First, get away, run to shelter of a automobile or building, and stay there even if some bees come in with you (there are more outside). Do not jump in water (bees will still be in the area when you come up). Once safe, remove stings from your skin, it doesn’t matter how you do it, as rapidly as possible to reduce the amount of venom they inject.