Honey Bees aren’t native to the Americas. During the 1600’s, settlers brought Honey Bee colonies with them from Europe, therefore the name European Honey Bees (EHBs).
Today, Honey Bees are commonly seen visiting flowers to gather nectar needed to produce the sweet food product, honey, that is associated with this insect. In the process of visiting blossoms, Honey Bees pollinate cultivated crops valued at $30 billion yearly. Aside from that, Honey Bees play an important role in pollinating plants that are necessary for wildlife.
Honey Bees have numerous predators, including humans, that take the honey, pollen, and beeswax that the honey bee colony produces for its survival. Accordingly, Honey Bees have developed effective colony defense strategies. When unprovoked, Honey Bees rarely use their stingers; but if they do sting, they only do it once and die soon afterwards.
Africanized Honey Bees
In 1956 scientists in Brazil attempted to create a more appropriate Honey Bee than the races that had been imported from Europe. Honey Bee queens from Africa, whose offspring were presumably better suited for tropical Brazilian conditions, were imported and established in test colonies in Rio Claro, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
In 1957 some African Honey Bee (AHB) swarms escaped into the Brazilian countryside where their queens hybridized with the more docile resident European Honey Bees (EHBs). African Honey Bee (AHB) queens were also given to beekeepers at that time.
The offspring of these bees defended their nests more vigorously, swarmed more often, and were generally better suited for survival in the tropics than European Honey Bees (EHBs). Scientists named this African – European hybrid the African Honey Bee.
However, as a result of widely publicized stinging incidents, the movie industry and media used the name “Killer Bee” to describe the African Honey Bee, accordingly giving the public serious misconceptions about this kind of Honey Bee.
Occasional swarms on ships coming from South and Central America are a concern but aren’t major threats to the public or to the beekeeping industry.
The first African Honey Bee (AHB) colony found in the U.S. (as a result of natural range expansion) was announced on October 15, 1990, at Hildago, Texas, very near the Mexican border. Other African Honey Bees (AHBs) swarms have been found since then, but all known African Honey Bees (AHBs) swarms have been destroyed.
Defensive Behavior Of Africanized Honey Bees
Unlike the docile European Honey Bees (EHBs) common in the U.S., the Africanized Honey Bee (AHB) defends its hive more quickly and will pursue intruders greater distances. Most serious stinging incidents have involved animals; but, on rare occasions, humans have also been stung.
Stinging occurs after a human or animal has intruded the territory of the Honey Bee colony. In some cases, vibrations from machinery have provoked stinging incidents. Chance encounters with individual African Honey Bee’s on blossoms pose no greater threat than an encounter with European Honey Bees (EHBs).
Even though mass stinging is terrifying and may be life threatening, it is rare. Aside from that, the venom from one African Honey Bees (AHBs) sting is no more potent than the venom of a single European Honey Bees (EHBs) sting.
Common sense is the best defense for avoiding stings from all stinging insects – not just Honey Bees. If you’re being stung or you’re in the vicinity of large numbers of insects you think might sting, calmly but rapidly move away from the area.
Other African Honey Bee (AHB) Traits
In spite of its “big” reputation, the Africanized Honey Bee (AHB) is actually smaller than the European Honey Bee (EHB). Nevertheless, the difference isn’t obvious. For identification, special techniques ought to be used.
Beekeepers in areas lately Africanized widely complain that honey yields have dropped precipitously. Nevertheless, after developing different management schemes over a few years, honey yields in Africanized areas have recovered somewhat.
The African Honey Bee (AHB) produces swarms more often than the European Honey Bee (EHB) currently found in the U.S.. This is due in part to their shorter development time and the propensity to use resources to rear more bees, rather than to store their resources for periods of shortage.
As a result, Africanized Honey Bees (AHBs) sometimes gain a population advantage over European Honey Bees (EHBs).
Africanized Honey Bees (AHBs) frequently construct nests in exposed areas that would rarely be selected by European Honey Bees (EHBs). Notwithstanding, the higher frequency of exposed nests may be because the preferred sites are occupied.
Considering the fact that these bees are well suited for life in warm climates, there is reason to believe that the warmer states will have to contend with feral African Honey Bee (AHB) establishment first.
Nonetheless, due to potential encounters with European Honey Bees (EHBs) in excellent numbers, the Africanized Honey Bee (AHB) could become further hybridized. In the future even Honey Bees in northern states may show some Africanized Honey Bee (AHB) traits.
Both European Honey Bees (EHBs) and African Honey Bees (AHBs) require pollen collected from plants as a protein source. The African Honey Bee’s unique manageability characteristics concern many USA beekeepers who move thousands of colonies each season for crop pollination and honey production.
If the African Honey Bee (AHB) Is Suspected
When the African Honey Bee (AHB) is suspected, contact your county agent, state apiarist, state beekeeping extension expert, or the local bee inspector for help.
Decidingwhether or not the Africanized Honey Bee (AHB) has occurred is a difficult procedure that will require technical assistance. The county extension office will normally have the address and telephone numbers for authorities who can help.
Gathering Honey Bee Samples for Identification – Dead bee samples can be collected and preserved in a few ways. A small jar or plastic container with a 70 percent alcohol solution is appropriate for preserving bees for morphometric identification.
Ethanol is best, but isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol or methanol can also be used. Collect 50 to 100 adult worker bees. Another way to collect a similar sample requires accumulating live bees in a sealable plastic bag and immediately putting the bag in a freezer. Live bee collection should be performed by an appropriately trained individual.
All samples ought to be submitted to the appropriate State Apiary Inspector or State Extension Apiculturist for routing to the proper authorities for identification. The county agent will be able to help in contacting them.
Disposing of Africanized Honey Bee (AHB) swarms and feral colonies – the increase in the number of swarms that normally accompanies the Africanized Honey Bee (AHB) of an area and the greater public awareness of all Honey Bees means there will be more requests for assistance to dispose of unwanted colonies.
This activity requires properly trained and equipped response teams. Untrained, unprotected person are at high risk of being severely stung. Again, state beekeeping authorities should be contacted for assistance in destroying suspected African Honey Bee (AHB) colonies.
Understanding the African Honey Bee
Researchers have studied the Africanized Honey Bee (AHB) in other countries for a lot of years. These projects conducted in Argentina, Venezuela, French Guiana, Brazil, and other South and Central American countries during the past twenty years have yielded much information about Africanized Honey Bee (AHB) behavior and biology.
Cooperative programs between the U.S. and Mexico have also been helpful in understanding the Africanized Honey Bee’s swarming behavior and rate of spread. Though much has been learned about the Africanized Honey Bee, more research is needed.
Articles about deaths associated with the African Honey Bee (AHB) have been published, but the actual number of deaths has been very small. Statistically, everyday risks, such as auto accidents, pose a much greater risk to the public.
The public ought to stay informed about issues concerning African Honey Bees, but not be unduly alarmed. Any future African Honey Bee (AHB) problems aren’t without solutions.