Africanized Honey Bee (Killer Bee)

( Apis mellifera scutellata )

Characteristics

SIZE: The killer bee measures about one-half inch in length. Distinguishing African bees from honey bees cannot be done by the human eye. Typically, DNA analysis or chemical and immunological comparisons must be done.

COLOR: Africanized honey bees are golden-yellow, with alternating darker bands of brown. Some bees might be a darker shade of brown than others.

BEHAVIOR: Unlike other naturally distributed honey bees in Central and Western Asia, Africa and Europe, the African honey bee is a mix and not a purebred. They are the result of a 1956 experiment by Geneticist Dr. Warwick Kerr to create a bee that could survive better in tropical conditions. Modern killer bees, including those that have moved into the United States, are probably more aggressive today than the original swarms of bees that first escaped in 1956.

What sets these bees apart from their purebred counterparts is their level of aggression. Worker bees, which include only sterile females, are responsible for protecting the hive. Both honey bees and Africanized bees will defend their territory when they feel threatened. However, while the regular honey bee might send out a small group of bees to protect the area surrounding a hive under threat, an Africanized hive might send out a swarm of 10,000 to 15,000. All of those bees might be prone to attacking. Bee venom in such large quantities can cause anyone to die.

A person that is hypersensitive or allergic to bees can die from just one bee sting. In this case, killer bees are no more and no less deadly than a regular honey bee. A honey bee can only sting once before it dies. In most cases, honey bees don’t sting in large numbers, making them generally harmless to those without hypersensitivities or allergies. However, the African honey bee has earned its reputation as a killer because it will strike in large groups.

Being surrounded by new areas has also caused these bees to have heightened senses, which may explain why they are willing to attack a threat as far away as 150 feet, when other honey bees would require a threat to be much closer. According to the Mallis Handbook of Pest Control by Arnold Mallis, killer bees will also chase their victims for longer distances, traveling as far as 500 feet, while other honey bees typically don’t travel further than 80 feet.

Habitats

In the wild, these bees mostly nest in the cavities of trees, but sometimes choose caves or cracks in rocks. Occasionally they will nest in crawl spaces, attics, wall voids or chimneys in your home. Killer bees have established a presence from Southern California to Texas. Some colonies have been discovered in Florida and other Southeastern states, but have been eradicated quickly.

Tips for Control

These more aggressive bees sometimes go undetected. If you have a beehive near your home, you might suspect that they are killer bees if they exhibit more erratic flight patterns or post a large number of guard bees outside of the colony. Because of their aggressive nature, it is best to call a pest management professional if you suspect there is a hive of bees near your home. Do not try to control them on your own.