Africanized Honey Bee on top of small white flower

What you still need to know about Africanized honey bees

In warm states like California, Arizona, Nevada, the threat of “killer” or Africanized bees have been around for a long, long time. There was a time, back in the 70s and 80s, where the threat was that these killer bees were making their way northward from South America. However, by 1985, the bees were being reported in the U.S. and other warm areas of North America. Not long after that, thriving hives of the bees were found in places like Texas and then other warm-weather states.

That means residents in these areas have been living with the possibility of running into an Africanized bee nest for some time. The problem is that this becoming commonplace has also bred a little bit of a casual attitude toward these insects. Since the bees did not become the Hollywood-style swarm of devouring killing machines, it’s easy to get complacent.

Africanized honey bees really are potentially dangerous, as a recent story in the news about a woman who was stung more than 200 times shows. While most beekeepers are now able to identify Africanized bees, the average home and property owner is unlikely to know if the nest of bees they encounter is a standard European honey bee or the more dangerous Africanized bee.

Western Exterminator bee specialists can tell the difference between Africanized bees and European honey bees. If you have a bee problem on your property, contact us today!

What is an Africanized honey bee?

Africanized honey bees are flying insects related to the standard honey bee you may be more familiar with. Africanized honey bees are the actual official name to the infamous “killer bees” which is how they were often referred to before they arrived in the U.S. and started making their hives here, too.

Africanized bees have an origin story that sounds like something out of a Hollywood monster movie. In the 1950s, a scientist named Warwick Kerr interbred European honey bees with bees from southern Africa in his lab in Brazil. The intent was to create a species of bee which would produce more honey and be more adapted to tropical climates. The end result was the Africanized honey bee, a species that not only was hardier but also much more aggressive to humans and other species of bee.

In 1957, a visiting beekeeper removed a key part of the hives that were preventing the bees from escaping was causing a problem with worker bees reaching the queen. Innocently, this visitor removed the obstruction, which resulted in the release of 26 swarms of the new bees. They quickly established hives in Brazil, began breeding, and then started moving north.

Africanized honey bees identification

Well, this is the tricky part. Africanized bees look almost identical to the standard, less hostile, more docile European honey bees that we all know and love. In fact, unless you have a microscope, the most likely trait of an Africanized bee you’ll see is that they are far more aggressive than their European cousins. However, by the time you see this behavior, you might be in serious danger from being stung.

Africanized bees tend to be a bit smaller than the European honey bee and if you study them closely, you may notice their color is a bit darker. However, getting this close to measure and study the color-shading of the bees is not recommended.

Are Africanized bees venomous?

There is a myth that the Africanized honey bee is somehow more lethal than the European honey bee because their stings are venomous. This is a myth and not entirely true. All bees have venom and will inject that into the object they perceive as a threat. Even the European honey bee carries venom and will inject it upon stinging. It is not the venom that someone stung by Africanized honey bees needs to worry about.

What makes Africanized honey bees so dangerous?

If it’s not the venom that makes Africanized bees dangerous, you may be wondering just what does. Well, the fact is that these bees are very defensive and territorial of their hives and nests. Of course, all bees are, but European honey bees have a relatively small area they defend and it usually takes touching or handling the hives to get them agitated enough to sting. Just being near an Africanized honey bee nest is enough to set them off.

It would be one thing if just one or two Africanized bees headed out to defend their nests, but this is not the case. Because they are so defensive and aggressive in their nest defense, Africanized bees will send out a chemical SOS to the rest of the hive that alerts all of the defenders of the threat. The bees then swarm around the potential threat in tremendous numbers, sometimes in the hundreds or thousands. All of those bees stinging at once can literally sting to death anyone or anything the bees perceives as a threat.

What can you do about Africanized honey bees?

Removing an Africanized honey bee nest from your property is not something that should be done on your own. In fact, since it is so difficult to determine whether or not the hive you see, or the bees you are seeing around your garden, are normal European honey bees or Africanized honey bees, it’s best to call in the experts right away for any bee infestation.

Since honey bees of all species are pollinators for plants and crops, this means there are also regulations about how and when you can remove a honey bees nest. 

Do not risk yourself, your family or your pets being stung by Africanized honey bees. They are still a risk and potentially deadly. If you have noticed a beehive or nest on your property, contact your local Western Exterminator office today!

Ashley Smith

Ashley is a Digital Content Manager with Rentokil. She loves drinking coffee and spending time with her dogs.

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