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Killer Bees

What Are They and Why Are They Here?

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Africanized Honey Bees

Africanized Honey Bees

Texas Cooperarive Extension, Texas A&M University
Killer bees are really Africanized Honey Bees. They have come by their "killer" moniker because they will viciously attack people or animals that unintentionally stray into their territory. The Africanized Honey Bee ("AHB") colony does not have to be disturbed to provoke the bees; even simple noises or vibrations have been known to cause an attack.

A Bit of History

In 1956 African bees were brought to Brazil so that scientists there could try to develop a honey bee better adapted to tropical areas. Unfortunately, some of the bees escaped and began breeding with local Brazilian honey bees. Since 1957, these bees and their hybrid offspring, Africanized Honey Bees, have been multiplying and migrating to other regions.

The first swarm of Africanized bees in the United States was documented in 1990 at Hidalgo, Texas. They were found in Arizona and New Mexico in 1993, California in 1994 and in Nevada in 1998. As of this writing, Africanized Honey Bees can be found in most of mid and southern Texas, about one-third of New Mexico, all over Arizona, the southern half of New Mexico and the southern third of California. They continue their northward migration.

About the Bees

The sting of the Africanized Honey Bee is no more potent than your garden variety honey bee and they look pretty much the same. What makes AHBs more dangerous is that they are more easily provoked, quick to swarm, attack in greater numbers, and pursue their victims for greater distances. The AHB colony can remain agitated longer and may attack up to a quarter of a mile away from the hive. AHB colonies can be very large, and they are not particularly selective about the location of their hives. The Queen Africanized bee can lay up to 1,500 eggs a day.

AHBs are likely to develop near canals, drainage ditches and retention basins because they like to be near water. When they sense rain, they swarm.

In Arizona, the AHB colonies have grown and the more aggressive colonies are the ones that have survived the droughts of the past few years. The summer is the peak period for bee attacks because there is less honey, and the bees become more protective of their hives.

The Statistic You've Been Waiting For

Although it is not a concrete number, the American Medical Association has said that seven bee stings per pound can be lethal. Don't forget, however, that people react to bee stings differently. There is one documented case of a man who survived over 2,000 bee stings. There are others who are very sensitive or allergic to bee stings and would certainly not fare that well. Pets are also vulnerable. So far, there have been less than 5 human deaths and a handful of animal deaths in Arizona attributed to Africanized Honey Bees.

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