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What exactly are Africanized honey bees?

Africanized honey bees, Africanized bees or killer bees – whatever you call them, sound like something right out of a horror movie script. As a matter of fact, the 1978 horror movie The Swarm was based on Africanized honey bees. Unfortunately, their threat can be a real horror and over the last 60 years since their introduction to the Americas, Africanized honey bees have been known to kill dogs, horses, cattle and even humans upon occasion. The truth of the matter is their sting is no more vicious than the docile European honey bees’ sting, it’s how they react when protecting their hive that should give you a scare.

What exactly are Africanized honey bees?

Africanized bees are a sub-species of honey bees that like their name would suggest are originally from Africa. Bees have different sub-species throughout the world and they have some differences in the way they behave and breed. In Africa, honey bees must compete with an aggressive set of predators. From wasps, honey badgers, and desert environments, bees in Africa have a lot of elements they must fight for survival. All this makes for a strong, aggressive breed of bee.

In the 1950’s a scientist imported some of these African honey bees to San Paulo, Brazil in attempt to breed them with European honey bees and increase honey production. That next year many of the queen bees and swarms of European worker bees accidentally escaped the apiary. They started breeding with European honey bees colonies across Brazil and then beyond and started spreading their more aggressive genes. As time passed, these bees have spread further north and into Texas and beyond. As they continue to breed with European honey bee colonies, these colonies take on more aggressive traits. It is almost impossible to tell just by looking if a colony is Africanized or not. Most of the time you must decide if it is Africanized simply by the behavior and level of aggression.

Why should I worry about Africanized honey bees?

An Africanized honey bee hive reacts differently to disturbance than a European honey bee hive. They are much more aggressive in nature and territorial of their hive. Also, they have a larger danger zone in which they will attack. They have a greater number of “guard” bees in their colony too. If a person is to accidentally disturb an Africanized hive, the bees are more prone to swarm and sting the “intruder” as well as give chase. These bees do not react well to sound. Each summer, we hear a news story of an unfortunate home owner who happens to be minding their own business, mowing a lawn, and is repeatedly attacked by a colony of killer bees. Africanized honey bees are more defensive than their European honey bee counterparts and sounds and vibrations, such as from a lawnmower too close to their colony, can set them off. Unlike a more docile European honey bee colony, disturb an Africanized colony and they can give chase up to a ¼ of a mile.

We love doing live honey bee hive removals at Little Giant Bee Keepers. Often we will send our bee technicians out to a live removal and only when we start the job realize we are dealing with an Africanized honey bee colony. In general, it is not a good idea to do a live hive removal on an Africanized bee colony. We do not want to introduce these bees to a traditional European honey bee apiary and have them cross breed more with European bees. It is also dangerous for our technicians to deal with an angry swarm of Africanized bees. It is dangerous for the people of the house and neighborhood since they can attack for up to ¼ of a mile away from a nest.

What should you do if you think you have Africanized bees?

Do you feel like you have found a hive that seems aggressive in the Dallas Fort Worth area? Are bees swarming you when you try to mow the lawn or simply go out to enjoy your yard? Has your dog or pet been stung just hanging out in their yard? Call or email Little Giant Beekeepers and we can help rid your house or yard of Africanized bees.

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