Nothing will make your heart skip a beat faster than stumbling upon a bee’s nest - to hear the buzzing in your ear, to see the bees speed past your arms as you frantically run to escape their sting. As if straight out of a horror film, the thought of killer bees chasing their target is terrifying. But before anyone panics, we should understand what killer bees are. They are Africanized bees.
So why do they have such a scary nickname? Africanized bees have unfortunately been named such because of their more aggressive behavior than your typical honeybee. Let’s take a closer look at the Africanized bee so we can understand their traits, flaws, and potential benefits.
What Are Africanized Bees?
Africanized bees are hybrid bees that produce honey and help spread pollen just like the common European honeybee, which is the honeybee we think of when we think bees in the United States.
Honeybees are not native to the United States. They were introduced to the Americas back in the 1600s. Honeybees are native across Europe, Asia, and Africa, and exist in many variations.
In the 1950s, scientists were looking for a way to increase a European honeybee’s production of honey. A Brazilian scientist by the name of Warwick Kerr thought it was a good idea to crossbreed an African bee with the European honeybee. African bees were known to adapt and thrive in warm weather climates and had the ability to breed more quickly than European honeybees. European honeybees were known for producing honey. If scientists could develop a honeybee that bred faster and performed better in warmer weather, then this would create a better bee and increase the coveted honey production.
In 1957, about 100 miles south of Sao Paulo, Brazil, an assistant of Kerr accidentally released 26 African queen bees and swarms of European worker bees into the wild. The African bees bred with the European bees and spread. These hybrid bees later became known as Africanized bees. They were first spotted in Brazil and then by 1985, were found in Texas. In 1995, Africanized bees had made their way to California.
How To Determine If A Bee Is An Africanized Bee
These bees look very similar to the common European honeybee. They may be a fraction smaller and have slightly smaller wings but to the naked eye, it is hard to determine which is which. The only true way to determine if a bee is an Africanized bee is to perform a DNA test. This is how scientists have identified the spread of the Africanized bee throughout the United States.
Traits And Behavior
This type of bee is a golden-yellow color with brown stripes. It measures about half an inch long and has an oval shape. They have six legs and antennae, just like all bees.
This bee may resemble the common European honeybee but their behavior is quite different. First, all bees can sting and will sting if provoked. However, Africanized bees are far more aggressive than common honeybees. If provoked, they have been known to chase a person more than a quarter of a mile.
They also attack in greater numbers than the common honeybee. When aggravated, a swarm of Africanized bees will go after the perpetrator and can sting a person ten times more than the common honeybee. Since Africanized bees react faster, sting more, and do so in much larger numbers, they are much more dangerous. Since the identification of the Africanized bee, it has been reported that more than 1,000 people have died from their multiple stings.
Beside their aggressive behavior, the actual sting and venom from an Africanized bee sting is no worse or more potent than a common honeybee sting.
A bee sting from an Africanized bee has the symptoms of localized pain, swelling, and itching. For a person who reacts more severely to bee stings and exhibits an anaphylaxis reaction, the number of potential bee stings from Africanized bee swarms can be very dangerous.
Honeybees have barbed stingers and when stung, the stinger remains in the skin. If a bee stings you, it is important to get the stinger out as quickly as possible. If a serious reaction occurs, it is important to call 911 immediately, regardless if it is an Africanized bee or not.
Where Are They?
These bees have been spreading since their introduction to Brazil in the 1950s. Since they prefer warmer climates, they're found in the southwestern United States. So far, they have been identified in Texas, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. If you live in one of these areas and you stumble upon a nest, it is important that you not disturb it.
Colonies And Nests
Honeybees live in colonies. They have a social structure that involves a queen and workers and will protect and guard their nests against potential threats. Africanized bees are the same as common honeybees in this way. However, these bees can build nests and breed at a much higher rate.
Africanized bees like to build their nests underground or hidden in crates, tires, boxes, fallen tree limbs, or anything not used often or abandoned. This is important to remember when doing lawn work or moving something in your yard you haven’t touched recently if you live in an area prone to Africanized Bees.
How To Stay Safe Around Africanized Bees
Any honeybee, whether it is an Africanized bee or a common European honeybee, will sting you if it is provoked or feels threatened. The biggest thing to remember about Africanized bees is to not mess with them. If you even suspect you may have come across a bee’s nest, just keep moving. Bees typically sting people when they poke, kick, or disturb the nests. There have been unfortunate instances when a person unknowingly bothers a nest, but this is not the norm. As long as you take proper precautions in areas prone to Africanized bees, you will stay out of their way.
What Should I Do If I Have A Nest In My Yard?
Finding a bee nest in your yard is stressful. You should call your local pest control professionals to help you determine what to do.
The aggressive behavior of these bees makes them unpopular with beekeepers, but that is not the only reason. Africanized bees have the trait of abandoning their nests and not coming back. They are more likely to abandon their nest when chasing after someone. This hurts a beekeeper when they are trying to produce honey.
They also produce less honey than European honeybees. Because they reproduce so quickly, Africanized bees spend their energy feeding their young, and therefore not as much effort is used to collect nectar. Nectar is turned into honey more easily than pollen and is used to feed adult bees. Since the Africanized bees collect more pollen to feed their young than they do nectar, the result is less honey.
They also don’t survive well in northern climates and tend to die during winter months.
Controlling The Population
To control the Africanized bee population going forward, scientists have considered methods that involve managing the queen bees. One method involves replacing the queen bee in a colony on a much more frequent basis. This is a job for beekeepers that would make sure the queens are European honeybees and not an Africanized bee. Another method involves saturating honeybee colonies with large numbers of European honeybees where scientists think there are lots of Africanized bees living. This process would theoretically reduce the breeding of Africanized bees and European honeybees.
If you think you may have a nest in your yard, it is important to contact a local pest control company that will know how to properly remove the nest. Because of the aggressive nature of the Africanized bee, it is not recommended that you attempt to move the bees yourself.
Can They Help Us?
With all this talk of how dangerous these bees are, perhaps there are still some benefits to this invasive bee. Since they breed at higher rates and focus so much energy on feeding their young within the colony, these bees do a lot of pollinating. With the decrease in overall bee populations, this might actually be a good thing.
Africanized Bees have spread further and further into the United States and there isn’t any reason to believe this will stop. Their love of warm climates and their ability to breed quickly means we will see more of them over time.
Even though their sting is no worse than the common European honeybee, they strike fear in the hearts of many, and while there may be a slight possibility this bee can help our bee population, we doubt that is enough to change the minds of those who fear them.
Just remember one thing about killer bees, stay away from them. Do your best not to provoke these little creatures and they will leave you alone.