Africanized Honey Bees

The Africanized honey bee also known as the killer bee is a hybrid of the western honey bee species produced by cross breeding of European honey bees with East African lowland honey bees. In Brazil in 1956, a biologist Warwick E. Kerr was attempting to breed a strain of bees that would produce more honey, but his swarms escaped their apiary and spread to the rest of the Americas and they were in the United States by 1990. The USDA says the Africanized honey bees have been spreading about 200 miles a year adapting well to warm southern US climates.

Africanized honey bees are typically smaller than the average European honey bees but far more dangerous. They have earned a fearsome reputation because they are more sensitive to humans and more defensive than other honey bee species. They attack in larger numbers for a longer period of time. Victims can be stung hundreds or sometimes thousands of times. These bees are extremely aggressive a lot more than average honey bees when it comes to defending their colonies. They swarm in larger numbers and a disturbed beehive can draw more than 2000 attackers. They even pursue victims over long distances sometimes more than a 1/4 mile.

How They Spread

Africanized honey bees tend to swarm more frequently compared to the European honey bees and this is one of the main reasons which help them to spread faster in warmer areas. Africanized colonies usually produce more drones than the European colonies. This makes drone populations in an area tend to favor Africanized bees and the virgin European queens are more likely to mate with Africanized drones which will result in transforming the existing European hives to Africanized hives within several months.

Africanized honey bees are also known to takeover the hives of European honey bees by killing the existing European queens. The takeovers are accomplished in two phases. When the proven European hive is identified, several Africanized workers stay nearby the entrance of the European hive to acquire the resident colony’s odor. Once the odor is acquired, they easily enter into the European colony and kill the existing European queen to replace their own Africanized queen. Queenless and weak European colonies are the primary targets of these takeovers.

How to Protect Yourself from Africanized Honey Bees

Most bee deaths in the United States were caused by allergies, usually about 50 deaths per year and most people attacked by Africanized honey bees survive. According to the USDA, an average person can tolerate about 10 stings per pound of body weight. So an average adult could survive well more than a 1000 stings, although 500 stings could kill a child.

What should you do if you accidentally trip an aggressive hive? Primarily run and find a shelter. Bees can reach speeds of 10 to 15 mph and most healthy adults can run faster. If possible, pull your shirt over your face to protect it. Don’t swat bees or move your arms fast. Jumping into a pool or lake will not help you. Bees have been known to hover and wait for people to come up for air. Anyone stung more than 20 times or potentially allergic to bee stings should seek medical help immediately.

Impact on Apiculture

The impact of Africanized bees on apiculture can be substantial. European beekeepers often notice a decrease in resource availability in areas where Africanized bees are present. Except for that, some beekeepers abandoned beekeeping when their Gentle European colonies turned into aggressive Africanized colonies. So the commercial honey production rapidly decreases in these areas. It’s possible that the Africanized bees will be gentle in the future after cross breeding with the European bees for generations. But until then, you have to manage your beehives carefully.


Africanized honey bees are one of the most aggressive hybrid honey bee species in the world. They are no more venomous than the European honey bees, but their colonies respond more quickly for disturbance in greater numbers. So you have to be careful with them. Africanized honey bees tend to swarm and abscond in greater frequencies compared to the other bee species. They spread in warm areas very quickly by mating with European queens and taking over European beehives. Therefore, if you are a beekeeper in an area where the Africanized bees are also present, don’t forget to check your European beehives frequently to avoid invasions of the Africanized bees.

Africanized Honey Bee Facts

  • Africanized honey bee colloquially known as the killer bee is a hybrid of European honey bee species.
  • The sting of the killer isn’t any more threatening than the European honey bee.
  • Africanized honey bees are great honey producers and they pollinate crops as same as the other bees.
  • They look like typical European honey bees.
  • They are capable of killing large mammals including humans.
  • Africanized honey bees swarm and abscond in greater frequencies than their European counterparts.
  • Their colonies tend to be smaller than the European colonies.
  • They are slightly smaller than European honey bees.
  • Africanized honey bees nest in small cavities and sheltered areas.
  • Africanized honey bees can sense a threat from people or animals 50 feet or more from the nest and they sense vibrations from power equipment 100 feet or more from nest.

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