Africanized Honey Bee: Apis mellifera scutellata
The Africanized honey bee is a mix of European honey bee species combined with the African honey bee. Also known as the killer bee, this hybrid race is well-known for its willingness to attack. It is not used by commercial beekeepers and is considered a major threat to apiaries in the United States.
If you’re looking for bees for your hive, check out our guide to breeds of honey bee. Get the pros and cons of all the common races.
Africanized bees have an aggressive nature and won’t hesitate to defend their territory against perceived threats. They have been known to kill people and animals and this risk continues to increase each year.
The Africanized bee may attack threats that are over 50 feet from its hive. Although its sting is no worse than other honey bees, the colony responds in much greater numbers.
Putting aside their rapacious ways, one of these colonies still wouldn’t be useful for productive beekeeping. They are highly unpredictable and swarm frequently in search of new nests. While Europeans may swarm once a year, Africanized honey bees could swarm monthly. In times of nectar dearth and food shortage, the hive won’t hesitate to abscond.
Africanized honey bees don’t hoard honey and usually won’t get attached to their home. Instead, they live off sparse nectar and pollen resources and exploit new habitats to survive.
Where did Africanized bees come from?
In 1956, Brazilian scientist Warwick Kerr imported African bees to Brazil. The aim was to successfully cross-breed African bees with an Italian breed of European bee. He wanted to combine their strengths to create a super-bee. In theory, this new race would adapt to hot weather, breed prolifically, and produce a lot of honey.
In 1957, Kerr’s assistant accidentally released multiple African queens and European worker bees into South America’s wilderness. The rest is history. These bees spread through south and central America, breeding with feral and commercial colonies. The final result was Africanized bees.
In 1985, Texas was the first state in the United States to report this bee breed. They push 100-200 miles into the country each year, although it is uncertain whether they’ll tolerate winter in the colder states.
Benefits of Africanized honey bees
While there’s a lot that’s not right about these bees, they do have their uses. In tropical climates, these bees are responsible for successfully pollinating up to 30% of local flora.
Some argue that Africanized bees are better pollinators as they are less focused on honey production and more on colony growth. This requires more aggressive foraging which helps with crop pollination.
A major strength of these bees is their resistance to some of the most debilitating diseases and pests. Threats like American foulbrood, varroa mites, small hive beetle, and tracheal mites aren’t as problematic as they are for European bees.
Beekeepers will find it almost impossible to identify an Africanized honey bee. They look much the same as European honey bees, with golden yellow and dark brown bands.
The only reliable identification methods are DNA and enzyme tests or using lab equipment to measure the insect’s dimensions.
Fast facts about Africanized honey bees
- Their colonies grow faster and contain higher numbers of drones.
- Finding the ideal nesting site isn’t such a priority compared to European honey bees.
- They’ll often leave a hive if it gets inspected.
- Collecting pollen as a food source for their young is more important than collecting nectar for honey production.
- They will chase an intruder a quarter-mile from the hive.
Commonly asked questions
What’s the difference between African and Africanized bees?
African honey bees are a race of bees that are native to Africa and are productive honey producers. Africanized bees are a mix of African and European honey bees that are highly aggressive and don’t produce much honey. They originated from Brazil and inhabit South, Central, and North America.
Africanized vs European honey bee – what is the difference?
While these two bee races look very similar, the Europeans are docile honey producers while the Africanized breed is aggressive and prone to swarming. They also focus on brood rearing rather than producing honey.
Africanized honey bee vs Japanese hornet – how do they compare?
Although both insects will aggressively defend their space, Africanized honey bees are less than one inch long while Japanese hornets reach lengths of two inches. While bees only sting once before dying, hornets have much longer stingers that can sting repeatedly and can even penetrate a bee suit.
Can you outrun killer bees?
The average human male runs at speeds of 8mph while women run at 6.5mph. Killer bees can reach speeds of 12-15 miles per hour, so they’ll probably catch you unless you have a good head start.
Africanized honey bees aren’t suitable for beekeeping. They’re too antisocial and won’t deliver the honey yield of most other breeds. They also have little interest in staying in one place too long, frequently swarming or absconding.
As these bees continue to work their way into the United States, states like North Carolina are doing all they can to keep them out. The question isn’t whether they’ll make it to important beekeeping states like this one. They already have been spotted a few times. It’s whether they can get themselves established. Beekeepers, both commercial and hobbyists, continue to cross their fingers and hope.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Africanized bees have some useful traits. For one, they seem quite capable of dealing with many pests that European bees struggle with. Interbreeding created this mess, but maybe it’s going to help us develop bees that can deal with the challenges we face.
Whatever the future, it seems that bee populations will either go boom or bust over the next decade or two. We hope it’s the first of the two.