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Insecta Inspecta World

Africanized, Sometimes Called "Killer Bees"


Click Here to See a Movie on the Killer Bee

     In the movie The Swarm, great clouds of angry bees attack entire cities and sting hundreds of people to death. This is pure fiction. It could never happen. But folklore like this has arisen within the last ten years regarding the Africanized sometimes called "Killer Bee". The ancestors of the Africanized bee live throughout Africa, south of the Sahara Desert. African bees were accidentally introduced into the wild in South and North America during 1956. Brazilian scientists were attempting to create a new hybrid bee in the hopes of creating improved honey production. The Africanized bee escaped and began to dominate honey bee.

     The new hybrid, called an Africanized Bee, took many years established colonies throughout South and Central America. The bee is aggressive, easily agitated, and generally a bee with a bad attitude. The first Africanized bee was found in the United States in October 1990, in a southern area of Texas. The Africanized bee is expected to spread across the southern part of the country, where the winters aren't so harsh. Some scientists and entomologists believe that the Africanized bees will be able to adapt to colder weather and roam as far north as Montana. If this projection is true, it could become a big problem for a number fo reasons in the United States.

TAXONOMY

    Class: Insecta
    Order: Hymenoptra "Membrane Winged" (Wasps, Ants)
    Family: Apidae
    Genus and Species: Apis mellifera scutellata (Africanized Bee)

COLONY LIFE

     The four life stages of a Africanized Bee include egg, larva, pupa and adult. It takes about twenty-one days for a regular worker to fully develop from an egg, sixteen days for a queen, and twenty-four days for a drone. Drones usually live five to ten weeks. Workers usually live fifty days. All the workers are females

     Queens live an average of on to three years. There is only one surviving queen bee in each colony. She mates over with many drones (male bees), and may lay 1500 eggs per day.

     When the beehive is overpopulated, Africanized Bees swarm to a local area to start a new hive. Too much warm or cold weather may cause swarming. Only one queen bee will rule. When the two queens reach the adult stage, they battle to the death for control of the hive. The cycle of swarming continues until the hive is worn out. If you are in the path of a swarm of Africanized Bees, you have a seventy-five percent chance of a deadly attack.

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES?

European Honey Bees

Africanized Bees

  • Pollinate flowers and crops
  • Calmed by smoke
  • Swarm only when crowded
  • More agressive
  • Attack in larger groups
  • Make less honey
  • Make less wax
  • Hate high pitched sounds
  • Swarm more often

WHAT CAUSES KILLER BEES TO ATTACK?

     Africanized bees react to disturbance around the hive. They can stay angry for days after being disturbed. If one bee stings, it releases an alarm that smells like bananas. This pheromone causes the other bees to become agitated and sting. The Africanized Bee, like the honey bee, dies when it stings. The tiny barbs on the stinger stick in the victim. When the bee tries to fly away, it rips its abdomen and eventually dies. The opening video at the top of this site shows a Africanized bee's stinger entrapped in human skin. Under usual circumstances, the result is discomfort for the human but death for the bee.

     An extremely aggressive Africanized bee colony may attack any 'threat' within 100 ft. and pursue for up to one-fourth a mile. Generally, Africanized bees attack:

· only when the colony is threatened

· when loud noises, strong odors or fragrances, shiny jewelry, and dark clothes are perceived as threats

· the face and ankles

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF ATTACKED?

· Africanized bees are slow fliers and most healthy people can out run them.

· Run away in a straight line, protecting your face. Avoid other people, or they too will be attacked.

· Do not try and hide underwater. The Africanized bee swarm will wait for you to surface.

· Seek medical attention. Some people are allergic to bee stings causing anaphylactic shock. Since Africanized bees attack and sting in great numbers, it is possible that an allergic response may be triggered.

MAYBE YOU'RE WONDERING…?

Q : What characteristics distinguish the Africanized bee from their European cousin's?

An Africanized Bee is more defensive than a normal honeybee and to the casual observer they look the same.

Q : How much honey does a European bee colony produce compared to an African bee colony?

A European bee colony produces five times more honey than a Africanized bee colony.

Q : Why is the Africanized bee so defensive?

Color size and shape are traits that bees pass along from generation to generation through genes contained in cells. The Africanized bee is a dangerous hybrid, passing down the trait of defensiveness to each offspring.

Q : What is anaphylactic shock?

Most cells release histamine and other biologically active substances. The venom promotes histamine release from mast cells and basophils (especially in sensitized individuals), which under the right circumstances, can lead to vasodilation and loss of blood pressure. If this response is not reversed within a short time, the person may die of shock.

Q : Why does one third of the U.S. food production depend on bees?

Bees pollinate flowers that turn into fruit and vegetables, plants and trees.

Q : How does a queen bee control her nest?

The queen releases a pheromone that identifies her as the queen.

Q : What happened to Brazil's honey production as a result of the introduction of killer bees?

Brazil went from fourth in world honey production to twenty-seventh by the early 1990's.

ATTEMPTS TO STOP

     Entomologists in Texas are working hard to track the northward spread of Africanized bees. The bees are tracked with traps. Usually these traps are nothing more than cardboard boxes covered with blue protective plastic, hung in trees. The traps are baited with a liquid similar to the pheromone that directs a swarm looking for a home. In Texas, more than 1,200 bee traps have been set along hundreds of miles of roadway. European honey bee sperm is inserted into a Africanized bee queen. The queen is then released into the wild. Scientists are hoping the injected Killer Bee queen will produce less aggressive bees and pass the gene to the offspring. So far, not enough queens have been released into the wild to determine if this plan will be successful.

U.S. BEEKEEPERS WORRIED?

     The bad temper of the Africanized bee, coupled with its ability to dominate a honey bee region and reduce honey bee production, makes beekeepers anxious. Americans eat about 275 million pounds of honey each year. Beehive products also include wax used in candles, polish, and floor wax. Scientists disagree on the Africanized bee's ability to adapt to new environments nor how widely it will range. Also of concern is the possibility of relocating Africanized bee hives without causing an angry swarm. It seems we have much to learn about the bee with the bad attitude, the Africanized bee.