Africanized Honey Bees

Africanized Honey Bees (AHB’s) get their name from their place of origin – Africa. For research purposes with hopes of improving pollination, the bees were transported to many places around the world. One of these places was near Sao Paulo, Brazil. In 1957 an accidental release of 26 queen bees occurred there. The bees found the climate in their new home favorable and were able to proliferate by hybridizing with European Honey Bees (EHB’s). Since then, they have dispersed over a vast area. From Brazil they have moved north at the rate of about 100 to 200 miles per year, through Central America, Mexico and into the United States. AHB’s were first found in California in 1994 in the city of Blythe, and now inhabit the southern one-third of the state. To date, AHB’s have NOT been found in Sutter or Yuba Counties in California. The Center for Invasive Species Research (CISR) is a website with excellent information about AHB’s.

Differences between the Africanized honey bee and the European honey bee

  • AHB’s will start a new nest much more frequently than other honey bees. The average amount is every 12 months. Africanized bees locate new locations every 6 weeks.
  • AHB’s can become highly defensive in order to protect their hive and brood
  • AHB’s will occupy a much smaller space than the EHB. Known AHB nesting locations include water meter boxes, metal utility poles, cement blocks, junk piles, and house eaves
  • AHB’s “home turf” is also much larger than the European honey bee. AHB’s have been known to pursue a perceived threat for a distance over 1/4 mile while EHB’s will only attack you from a yard distance
  • Cannot survive extended periods of forage deprivation

AHB’s are problematic not because of a “killer” sting, but because of the aggressive way in which they respond to disturbances around their nests.  They respond sooner to disturbances, stay agitated and attack for longer periods of time and chase an attack victim for longer distances than EHB’s.  In almost 60 years of hybridization with resident EHB’s in the western hemisphere, the AHB’s aggressive behavior has not changed significantly.  Their sting and toxin is no more harmful or deadly than EHB’s, but AHB’s respond by sending most of the bees in the colony to attack and sting.  This can be thousands of bees.  A victim’s reaction to an AHB attack varies depending on the number of stings received, the location of the stings and any special sensitivity that may have been developed by prior exposure to bee venom.  Most healthy individuals can tolerate many stings without serious effects.  A victim that receives hundreds or thousands of stings may exhibit toxic effects similar to a rattlesnake bite or may die.  Stings on the mouth or throat can result in swelling and cause a life threatening respiratory obstruction.

AHB’s and EHB’s can only be distinguished by an extensive laboratory examination. If you see or encounter a bee’s nest or a swarm, stay away from it. It may be an Africanized colony. Immediately notify your county Agriculture Department. Noise and vibrations from lawn mowers, weed eaters, odors from insecticides, physical contact, or motion in close proximity to a nest may elicit a defensive response from the bees. If you are attacked, leave the area quickly. Cover your face to protect your eyes and mouth. Get into a shelter where bees cannot enter, such as a car or house. Do not dive or go underwater. AHB’s have demonstrated tremendous patience in that they will wait for a victim to surface for air and then deliver stings to the mouth and face. Individual bees can only sting once. After stinging, a bee leaves the stinger and poison sac imbedded in the victim. The poison emits an alarm pheromone (odor) that stimulates other bees to direct their sting in the same area of the victim’s body. It is important to remove these poison sacs as they continue to pump poison into your body after it has detached from the bee. Don’t pull the sac out with your fingers, that will squeeze more venom into you. The sac should be scraped out with a dull edge by dragging the edge along your skin. A credit card works well for this. Victims of multiple stinging attacks need immediate medical attention.

Click here for more information on Africanized honey bee attacks and the differences from European honey bees.

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