Why are Africanized honey bees called "killer bees"?
Although a good part of this reputation is due to Hollywood and press sensationalism, people and animals have died after stinging incidents. Africanized honey bees - and all honey bees - will sting when their nest is threatened by invaders. However, African bees defend their nests with less provocation, in greater numbers and for longer distances than their cousins, the more docile European honey bees that we have in the U.S.
Are Africanized honey bees in Georgia?
Although we believe it is unlikely that Africanized honey bees (AHB) are established in Georgia, we cannot state this with 100% certainty. Africanized honey bees were determined to be established in several central Florida counties in 2005. From 2005 to 2010, the Georgia Department of Agriculture deployed traps to capture swarms along the Georgia - Florida border. Although several swarms were captured, none were identified as Africanized.
However, on October 21, 2010, a 73-year-old man in Dougherty County died from numerous bee stings he received after disturbing a feral (or wild) bee nest. Laboratory tests later determined the bees were Africanized. The Department sampled over 100 bee colonies in and around Dougherty County and identified two additional managed hives that laboratory tests indicated were Africanized. In 2011, an Africanized colony was found in Bainbridge. However, no additional feral (or wild) colonies or swarms have been detected in the state.
What role can beekeepers play?
Managed bee hives are our best defense against Africanized honey bee establishment. Nature does not like vacuums and without the European honey bee strain in an area, AHB are free to become established. Beekeepers that manage hives are best trained determine if AHBs are in an area. Key behaviors that indicate AHBs are in an area include:
How can I identify Africanized Honey Bees?
- Frequently finding small swarms
- Bees nesting in odd areas
- Finding managed colonies that have been taken over by AHB
Africanized honey bees are not giant bees with deadly stings. The AHB is slightly smaller than our domestic bee, but it takes a laboratory test to measure the difference. A single AHB sting is no more venomous than a single European bee sting. The most important difference is in their behavior. Africanized honey bees produce more offspring, defend their nests much more fiercely and in greater numbers and are more likely to abandon the nest (abscond) when threatened by predators or adverse environmental conditions.
Africanized honey bees will often build a nest in man-made cavities or in the open while European honey bees need a larger volume nesting site, and tend to nest in hollowed tree cavities.
Africanized honey bees nesting sites include:
What do I do if I suspect my hive is Africanized?
- water meter boxes
- exposed tree branches
Your queens should be marked. Re-queen any colony that is unacceptably defensive or contains an unmarked queen and use only queens from a known European source. The hive may need to be depopulated if the bees are too defensive.