Africanized honey bees - sensationalized and labeled "killer bees" by Hollywood hype - are a sub-species of the honey bee (Apis mellifera). What we commonly call the "European honey bee" is actually three sub species, Apis mellifera ligustica (or the Italian bee), Apis mellifera carnica (the Carniolan honey bee), and Apis mellifera mellifera, the dark bee of northern Europe and brought to North America in colonial times. Africanized honey bees are the result of honey bees brought from Africa (Apis mellifera scutellata) to Brazil in the 1950s in hopes of breeding a bee better adapted to the South American tropical climate. These honey bees reached the Brazilian wild in 1957 and then spread south and north until they officially reached the United States on October 19, 1990.
Africanized and European honey bees are similar in that they:
- look the same.
- sting in defense of themselves or their nest.
- can only sting once.
- have the same venom.
- pollinate flowers.
- produce honey and wax.
Africanized honey bees will live about anywhere they can find shelter. This means that the Africanized honey bee is more likely to be found in trees, in the sides of buildings, in drain pipes, in water meter valve boxes, in old abandoned appliances, in piles of junk, and even in holes in the ground.
In addition, Africanized honey bees:
- respond more quickly and more bees sting.
- can sense a threat from people or animals 50 feet or more from their nest.
- sense vibrations from power equipment 100 feet or more from nest.
- may pursue a perceived enemy 1/4 mile or more.
- swarm frequently to establish new nests.
- nest in smaller cavities and sheltered areas.
- move their entire colony readily (abscond) if food is scarce.
Africanized honey bees are very protective of their colony. If someone gets too near a hive, some bees may become disturbed and react by stinging them. A problem with Africanized honey bees is that they will defend a larger area around their colony, are more easily disturbed, and will respond in greater numbers once an intruder has been detected. To be safe, students should stay away from areas where they have seen groups of bees.