Africanized Bees: Questions & Answers
Q. I have noticed a strange looking bee around my home. How can I find out if it is the Africanized honey bee that I've heard so much about?
A. The answer depends on whether you live in Texas or elsewhere. If you do not live in Texas you should contact your local county Cooperative Extension Service agent to find out who handles bee issues in your area or state. In some states, such as California, local or regional departments of agriculture handle bee issues. Most states, however, do not have the means with which to analyze samples of honey bees. They feel that it is not necessary at this point because the Africanized honey bees are not in those states yet. If you are not sure if an insect you found is a honey bee, you can ask your local county Extension agent for information on who identifies insects in your state. In Texas, a Honey Bee Identification lab is operated by Texas A&M University. Texas residents are allowed to have samples of honey bees identified free of charge. People in Texas who want to have a sample analyzed should contact their local county Extension Service agent to find out how to obtain and send a sample for analysis.
Q. What is the scientific name for Africanized honey bees and can they mate with other honey bees?
A. The Africanized Honey Bee is a hybrid of a strain of honey bees from Africa, Apis mellifera scutellata, and basicaly any other honey bee that it can mate with and produce viable off-spring. In the United States this could be Apis mellifera ligustica (Italian honey bee), Apis mellifera carnica (Carniolian honey bee), Apis mellifera caucasica (Caucasian honey bee), and Apis mellifera mellifera (Dark honey bee).
Q. There are bees building a hive near our home. We walk past their hive a lot and them seem very calm and not dangerous at all, so they probably are not the Africanized honey bees, right?
A. While bees are building a hive, they are not likely to sting. That is because they are busy building the home and do not have anything in it that they feel they must defend. Typically, honey bees only sting when they feel that something is threatening their baby bees and honey. So, until the hive is built and full, the honey bees will seem very docile or calm. That is true of both regular European honey bees and Africanized honey bees. The only way to find out if honey bees are European or Africanized is to have a sample analyzed. But you should go ahead and have a trained pest control person remove the hive that is under construction before the bees set up house and become defensive.
Q. A hive of bees seem to be building a hive in the outside wall of our house. Since they're in the wall, they probably won't bother us. Is it alright to let them live there or should we think about having them removed?
A. Bees should never be allowed to build or remain in the walls of a structure. For one thing, they will become very defensive of their hive once they have made honey and begun to develop baby bees. That means people and pets that happen by the hive could be stung by the defensive bees. But bees in walls also cause a problem with the building structure because of the massive amounts of honeycomb and honey that can be stored. Killing the bees from such a hive is extremely difficult to do without completely tearing into the wall. Also, all the honeycomb and honey has to be removed or it can become rank and attract other pests. The best thing to do is to never allow bees to build in the walls. Make a check of your home and other structures on your property to see that they are no holes that bees can enter. If you find that bees already are building in a wall, call a pest control operator immediately to get them removed.
Q. We recently found out that bees are living in the wall of our garage and want them removed. Can we kill them by spraying the hole where they enter or is there a better way?
A. No, simply spraying the hole of an entry way into any hive will not kill all the insects that are inside. Call a pest control operator who is knowledgeable about bee removal for assistance.
Q. I heard that soapy water is a simple way to kill bees. Why is that and how can I do it?
A. Soapy water is one approved way to kill bees, but it has to be done with caution. The reason that soapy water kills bees is that the outer body of the bee has a waxy coating. In just the way that some commercials show soap cutting through grease on a dirty pan, the soap works through the waxy body and allows the water to enter, in effect drowning the bee. But it has to be done with caution, because enough soapy water has to be applied at once to all the bees or they will get mad and begin to sting before the effect can take place. If most of the bees are unreachable in a hive, therefore, spraying soapy water on the few bees that can be seen outside of the hive will not have much of an impact.
Q. I was out in the yard behind my home and noticed a huge mass of bees all balled up in a tree. I've never seen a swarm like that and I'm afraid that they are going to attack my family and pets. How can I make them leave?
A. Swarms of bees is a phenomena that is most likely in the spring and fall each year. Swarms develop when a hive gets too full or crowded. The bees in the old hive make a new queen and she flies off with most of the younger bees of the colony to find a new place to live. The swarm lands on something that will enable them to stay huddled together while a few scout bees fly on to try to locate a suitable place to build a new hive. Because a swarm is in essence a group of homeless bees, they have nothing to protect. So, they are not likely to sting anything because they do not feel defensive. As for making them leave, it is best to let them stay put. Swatting at them could anger them and make them feel threatened into stinging. But just make sure that you have secured your property so that they do not feel like it would be a good place to build. And keep a watch while the swarm is near to see that the scouts haven't located a place near where people and pets will be. That way, the scout bees will keep looking until they find a place further away that is less likely to be disturbed by people and animals.
Q. My child was just stung by a bee and I'm afraid that it might have been Africanized. What should we do, and how can we find out what type of bee it is?
A. First of all, make sure to remove the stinger. Scrape it out sidewise so that you don't pinch the venom sack and make it squirt more venom into your child. Refer to our First Aid page to find out more. Treatment for honey bee stings is the same regardless of whether the bees are Africanized. Refer to the information above on how to have bee samples analyzed.
Q. My friend and I are having a disagreement. Are Africanized honey bees bigger than regular honey bees? Please settle our argument.
A. Africanized honey bees actually are smaller, slightly, than regular honey bees. It is not possible to tell them apart just from looking at them with the naked eye. The bees must be analyzed in a lab through a process of dissection and measuring various body parts that are then compared against a huge database of measurements to determine if the bees fall into the range of bees that have proven in the past to be Africanized.
Q. Is the venom from an Africanized honey bee more poisonous than a regular honey bee?
A. No, the venom from both honey bees is chemically the same. And, because the Africanized honey bee is slightly smaller than the regular honey bee, it actually has slightly less venom.
Q. Can Africanized honey bees sting more than once?
A. No, worker honey bees, whether Africanized or regular European, only sting once. That is because the edges of their stinger are jagged. So, when a worker honey bee penetrates the skin with its stinger, the jagged edges get caught and can not be pulled back out. The worker honey bee tries and tries to free herself anyway and eventually she pulls her body away from the stinger. That means that she "bleeds" to death while the stinger remains in the body attached to a muscle and venom sac that continues to pump venom until it is empty or the stinger removed.
Q. We're thinking about buying some property in Central Texas. I heard that the Africanized honey bees have been found there. Should we buy there or consider some other place where the bees haven't migrated?
A. Bees first migrated to Texas from Mexico in 1990. In that time, the people who live along the border have learned how to live there and avoid being stung. They are an example for the rest of us. Africanized bees now have spread to more than half of Texas and into parts of New Mexico, Arizona and California. In those states, too, people have learned how to avoid being stung by honey bees. So, go ahead and purchase property where ever you want, but be sure to learn how to avoid all kinds of stinging insects.
Q. How many people have died from Africanized honey bee stings?
A. So far, the lab in Texas has positively identified one case in which Africanized honey bees stung a man who later died. In two other fatalities, the bees involved in deaths have been identified as European Honey Bees with African introgression, indicating a mixing of the breeds. Typically in Texas since figures have been kept for more than 40 years, about two people per year die from regular honey bee stings (usually the person who is stung is allergic).
Q. I'm doing a paper for school on Africanized honey bees. Can you send me all the information you have on them?
A. All ton of information on Africanized honey bees can be found by (clicking here). That site also has information on how to order additional materials.
Q. Why are Africanized honey bees called 'killer bees'?
A. The name "killer" was first used in a news magazine report several decades ago when it was reported that several people died after having been stung by the bees. The name was only used once at that time and was greatly exaggerated. A B-grade movie then was made in which the "killer" bees attacked Houston and caused a lot of death and destruction in that city. Though the movie was complete fiction, the widespread perception of the Africanized honey bees being killers was launched.
Q. Why don't researchers think of a way to kill all the Africanized honey bees?
A. Africanized honey bees, like their cousins the regular European honey bee, actually are useful in helping to pollinate plants. Scientists still are trying to learn more about the value of Africanized honey bees, and in some South and Central American countries and in their native African, these bees are maintained for honey production. Even if they never are used for honey production in the United States, it would not be possible to kill one kind of honey bee without killing other types. And because the population of regular honey bees has been greatly harmed by a deadly mite in recent years, honey bees are desperately needed to pollinate our crops and flowers.
Q. My friend says that honey bees are actually good to have around, but I am afraid of them. How can they be good for us when they are so likely to sting?
A. Honey bees are the best pollinators of our crops and flowers. Without honey bees, we will have inferior fruit and vegetable crops, both commercially and in our home gardens. History has shown us that we can learn to live with honey bees safely.
Q. How does temperature and altitude affect Africanized bees ? Do they hibernate? Can they live in cold climates?
A. It is not known how far north AHB can live in the US. They have been found to be able to live in the Andes Mountains in South America. The limiting factor seems to be that they tend to not store food as other honey bees do. So, when it becomes winter and there are not flowers blooming from which to make honey, they starve to death.
Q. Are bee stings acidic or alkaline? What about wasps stings?
A. Bee and wasp venoms consist of complex mixtures of biogenic amines, protein(polypeptide) toxins and enzymes. The stinging effects are not due to the acidity or alkalinity of the venom per se.
Q. What is the genus, species, etc (proper science classification) for killer bees?
A. The Africanized honey bee is a hybrid of a strain of honey bees from Africa, Aphis mellifera scutellata, and basically any other honey bee that it can mate with and produce viable off-spring. In the United States this could be Aphis mellifera ligustica (Italian honey bee), Aphis mellifera carnica (Carniolian honey bee), Aphis mellifera caucasica (Caucasian honey bee), and Aphis mellifera mellifera (Dark honey bee).