The term “killer bee” refers to the Africanized honeybee, a hybrid of the East African lowland honeybee (Apis mellifera scutellata) and various European honey bees. Despite the ominous nickname, Africanized bees are not inherently murderous, but they are notably more aggressive than their European counterparts.
The Africanized honeybee was created in Brazil during the 1950s in an attempt to increase honey production. However, in 1957, some of these bees were accidentally released. They began to mate with local Brazilian honey bees, creating hybrid populations. Over the decades, these bees expanded their range, traveling through South America, Central America, and into the southern United States.
Where to Find Killer Bees?
Africanized bees have established themselves in various regions, from the southern parts of the United States (Texas, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and California) to South and Central America. Their presence in the U.S. continues to spread, albeit slowly, and they might become established in new areas over time.
How to Identify a Killer Bee?
Identifying a killer bee solely by appearance is extremely challenging because they look nearly identical to domestic honey bees. However, there are behavioral differences and a few indirect methods that can help in identifying them:
- Behavioral Differences:
- Aggressiveness: Killer bees are notably more aggressive than domestic honey bees. A slight disturbance can provoke them, and they defend their nest more vigorously.
- Response Time: Once they perceive a threat, Africanized bees respond more quickly and in larger numbers than European honeybees.
- Chase Distance: They chase perceived threats for longer distances – sometimes over a quarter of a mile.
- Swarming Frequency: Africanized honeybees swarm more frequently (up to 10 times a year) compared to domestic honey bees, which might swarm once a year.
- Colony Establishment:
- Africanized bees tend to establish colonies in a wider variety of locations than European bees. This includes ground-level sites, old tires, crates, boxes, and other cavities.
- Over time, as Africanized bees mate with local bee populations, the degree of aggressiveness can vary. Regions that have recently seen the introduction of Africanized bees might notice a change in previously docile bee populations.
- Professional Inspection & Testing:
- If there’s suspicion that a colony might be Africanized, professional beekeepers or entomologists can sometimes assess the behavior of the bees to provide an opinion.
- The most definitive way to identify Africanized bees is through laboratory testing. This usually involves capturing some of the bees and examining wing patterns or performing genetic testing.
- Geographical Clues:
- Knowing the established range of Africanized bees can be a clue. They are primarily found in the southern parts of the U.S. (like Texas, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and California) and throughout Central and South America. If you’re in or near these regions, there’s a higher likelihood of encountering Africanized bees.
- Fast Development:
- Africanized bee colonies develop faster. They can produce workers quicker, which might be noticeable to experienced beekeepers.
While these methods and signs can provide clues, it’s important to approach any bee colony cautiously, regardless of its type. If there are concerns about a bee colony, particularly in areas known for Africanized bee presence, consider seeking assistance from professional beekeepers or pest control experts.
Honey bee (Apis mellifera)
Killer Bee Sting
A sting from an Africanized bee is no more potent than a sting from a domestic honey bee. The venom is identical, and the physiological reaction is the same. The danger of Africanized bees lies in their behavior:
- Aggressiveness: Africanized bees are more easily provoked and can attack in larger numbers.
- Chase Distance: Once riled, they will chase perceived threats further than domestic honey bees.
- Swarm Size: Their aggressive nature means more bees may participate in the defense, leading to victims receiving more stings than they would from European bees.
Multiple stings can lead to serious medical issues or, in rare cases, death, especially in those allergic to bee venom. Anyone stung by bees should monitor for allergic reactions, including difficulty breathing, swelling of the face or throat, rapid heartbeat, and hives. In such cases, seeking medical attention immediately is vital.
The life cycle of the Africanized bee is similar to that of the honey bee:
- Egg: The queen lays eggs, one per cell, in the honeycomb. An egg will hatch in about three days.
- Larva: The hatched larva is fed by worker bees. Depending on the diet and the hive’s needs, the larva will develop into a worker bee, drone, or new queen. This larval stage lasts about five to six days.
- Pupa: The larva spins a cocoon and transforms into a pupa. It will undergo metamorphosis, emerging as an adult bee. This pupation stage lasts around 12 days for workers, longer for drones and queens.
- Adult: The adult bee emerges from its cell. Worker bees will begin with hive duties before transitioning to outside tasks like foraging as they age. Drones will fly out, seeking queens to mate with. New queens will either replace the old queen or leave to establish a new colony.
How to Get Rid of Killer Bees?
Dealing with killer bees requires caution and care due to their aggressive nature. If you suspect you have an Africanized bee colony near your property, it’s highly recommended to involve professionals rather than attempting to handle it alone. Here’s a general approach to managing killer bees:
Stay Calm and Avoid Interaction:
- If you encounter an aggressive swarm of bees, do not swat at them or make rapid movements.
- Quickly seek shelter in a car or building.
- If stung, cover your head and run in a zigzag pattern. Once in a safe location, remove stingers by scraping them off.
- Always consult a professional pest control service or beekeeper experienced with Africanized bees for removal. They have the necessary equipment and knowledge to remove or eradicate the colony safely.
- Regularly inspect your property for new hives. Early detection can make removal easier and less risky.
- Seal off potential nesting sites. Close off wall and chimney openings with fine mesh screens. Check sheds, meter boxes, and other outdoor structures.
- If you have a known honey bee hive on your property, regular maintenance by a professional beekeeper can prevent Africanized bees from taking over.
- Bees are attracted to water sources and sweet scents. Ensure that water features are well-maintained, and avoid leaving sugary foods and drinks outside.
- If you live in an area where Africanized bees are prevalent, consider informing your neighbors and community about the risks and the importance of professional removal. Community awareness can help prevent accidents.
Relocation vs. Eradication:
- Some professionals may attempt to relocate bee colonies, but many opt for eradication due to the risks associated with Africanized bees.
- If choosing eradication, ensure it’s done in a way that poses minimal risk to the environment and other wildlife. Professionals will typically use a combination of methods to ensure the entire colony is addressed.
- Africanized bee territories can expand. Stay informed about their presence in your region and take necessary precautions.
Remember, bees play an essential role in our ecosystem as pollinators. If you’re not sure about the type of bee you’re dealing with, always default to calling in professionals. They can identify the bee species and recommend the most appropriate and safe course of action.
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.