|“The Africanized Honey Bee in the Americas: A
Biological Revolution with Human Cultural
American Bee Journal (2006), Five Parts, March thru July.
This document is a synopsis of the materials originally published in the American
Bee Journal by Dr. Malcolm T. Sanford. The original 48-page research paper can
be viewed at <http://home.earthlink.net/~beeactor/papers_htm/Misc/AHB%20in%
Reprinted by permission
There are a significant number of World Wide Web sites that focus on
the Africanized honey bee. Some are oriented to public safety, such
as the one by the San Bernardino, California Safety Committee.
Several other municipalities in California, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico
and Texas have also developed Web sites. The major beekeeping
indexing site Bee Hoo also has a topical index on the subject.
Another topical index is found at the Apis newsletter site. At least two
companies are advertising protection devices against honey bee
attacks. These products are the “bee protection bag” and “emergency-
use insect veil”.
Pest Control Companies are also marketing their services in
Africanized honey bee areas, including Arizona, Nevada and Texas.
California also has an innovative licensing procedure for pest control
operators. “More than 1600 licensees and government officials have
completed Africanized Honey Bee Certification Training for Structural
and Agricultural Pest Control Operators which was first offered in
January 1994. Lists of the licensees who have completed the
program are being made available to county agricultural
commissioners and other interested government bodies. Each
licensee is classified by the type of bee control that they offer, and the
licensees that they have.”
Besides individual states, other institutions have developed
information on the Africanized honey bee. Of particular interest is the
United States Armed forces. This publication uses the more neutral
term AHB extensively:
“AHBs are a real and significant threat for those who must live with
them. But they can be dealt with as long as the appropriate
precautions and control measures are taken. This Technical
Information Memorandum has been developed with the assistance
of the Texas Agricultural Extension Service to provide Department of
Defense pest management and public health officials with an
understanding of honey bee biology, the potential impact of AHBs,
and the measures we must undertake to assure the well being of our
Spread of the Africanized Honey Bee in the Americas
The Africanized honey bee has truly taken the Americas by storm. It
marched out of Brazil in the late fifties and entered the United States
in 1990, taking only a little more than 40 years to make the journey.
This was natural movement; not exacerbated by human introductions
of populations, showing that the Africanized honey bee is a migratory
insect par excellence.
Adding to the general phenomena of unpredictability in managing
Africanized bee colonies is the fact that swarms (reproductive and
migratory) are completely different in temperament than established
colonies. Many novice beekeepers have gotten into trouble when
they hived a swarm with low defensive behavior and later mistakenly
thought they could also manipulate an established colony of the
same bees using similar techniques.
The general unpredictability of the Africanized honey bee leads to all
kinds of management concerns. Dr. Eric Mussen perhaps reported it
best, quoting southern Texas beekeeper Bill Vanderput, "...25 percent
more stings, 25 percent more work and 25 percent more sweat”.
Updated Safety and Medical Procedures
The Africanized bee's increased defensive behavior has meant that
different strategies must be in place not only in beekeeping
operations, but also in Africanized honey bee areas with reference to
personal safety and medical procedures. Advice concerning
European honey bees has traditionally been conservative. Those
undergoing attack were advised to move slowly away from the
source, usually a disturbed colony. This is no longer true in
Africanized honey bee areas. Now those attacked are directed to
move as fast and as far as possible (run!) to escape being stung.
Plans for Public Safety in Other States
The University of Arizona Africanized Honey Bee Education Project
has published lesson plans and other resources, which teachers are
using in their classrooms. These include 29 information sheets and
31 proposed activities. The City of Phoenix also has published
information on Africanized honey bee. One of the most logical
organizations to deal with Africanized honey bees is the local fire
department. However, the City of Phoenix, Arizona cautions:
“Call the fire department only when emergency medical services are
needed. If someone has been stung by many bees at once or has
an allergic reaction to a bee sting, call 9-1-1. Call the fire department
if someone has become trapped in a building or car with lots of bees.
Fire trucks are equipped with a foam that can be sprayed on the bees
to drown them. DO NOT call the fire department to remove bee
colonies or hives. If you want bees removed, look in the yellow pages
under ‘bee removal’ or ‘beekeepers’.”
New Mexico’s effort is more modest. Texas A & M University
publishes most recent maps on quarantined counties and also
produces educational materials, including a resource kit.
In California, the city of San Diego has published a World Wide Web
site that includes general information on Africanized honey bees and
suggestions on their removal from a premises. The University of
California at Riverside provides information on many aspects of
Africanized honey bees. Perhaps most significant is that related to
stings. It emphasizes that how one gets the stinger out is not as
important as speed, and that rapid removal is the best first aid to
prevent delayed reactions.
There no longer is any national plan by the Animal Plant Health
Inspection Service (APHIS) to deal with Africanized honey bees in the
United States. The one proposed as far back as 1984 was never fully
implemented. APHIS generally does not get involved in regulatory
activity once an insect has been sufficiently introduced.
Nevertheless, individual states may impose quarantines or other
restrictions on beekeeping when and/or if a population of these bees
is found in certain areas. In addition, some queen producing outfits
have seen fit to only use instrumental insemination (II) in areas that
have Africanized bee populations.
Perhaps the most intensive management plan in Latin America was
the one developed by Panama in the middle 1980s as the Africanized
bee invaded that country. One advantage at the time was the great
amount of resources available through the Panama Canal
Commission, then run by the U.S. Government. The Commission’s
plan was developed by the staff of the Sanitation and Grounds
Management Division. A reporting network was established and
procedures developed to report all swarms that might be found on
land or the numerous ships plying the canal. Special “swat” teams
were also developed. The program was deemed a success. Some
19,771 swarms were handled by under the Commission’s plan for
the years 1982 to 1985. This was not done without incident,
however. For example, from July 1982 through 1985 a total of 157
firemen received medical treatment due to multiple bee stings. In
addition, there was a 35.5 percent decline in colony numbers and a
67.5 percent decrease in honey production.
Plans to Deal with the Africanized Honey Bee
Africanized bees were also found in nest sites in places European
bees would not inhabit, confounding even those who had some bee
management experience. These included ground and open-air
nests in trees. Many stinging incidents were the results of this kind of
nesting behavior. A North American example is that almost every
underground water-metering device in the city of Tucson, Arizona now
is reported to have or predicted to have a nest of these bees in the
future. Migrating swarms are also common, and more and more
bees are found in human conveyances like heavy trucks, railroad
cars and ships.
Immediate concerns in areas invaded by the bee are the changes the
Africanized honey bee will demand of a local beekeeping industry
and public safety. In essence the bees will not change; the people
dealing with these insects must adapt their behavior.
Dr. Taylor said that in the tropics, a zone of temporary hybridization
may first appear along the feral African bee invading front, but that
population becomes more African-like over time. How much of a
hybrid African-European feral population will eventually persist
across the southern tier of states in the United States, as is now
found in northern Argentina, he stated, is unknown at present.
Trapping technology has been well studied, and there is evidence
that selecting proper trap sizes in conjunction with using a Nasanov
pheromone lure is quite effective in intercepting swarms in urban
environments. Traps are now available commercially based on
USDA Agricultural Research. A current program of the Division of
Plant Industry in the state of Florida, for example, is to maintain traps
in every major sea port and also on the state line.
According to S. Thoenes, in the Tucson, Arizona area in 1994, only 15
percent of the trapped swarms were Africanized. By 1997 almost 90
percent were this kind of bee. Latest information from Tucson,
Arizona, the area most affected by wild honey bee migration, is that
several separate pest control companies in Western states are
regularly monitoring traps and destroying feral nests of Africanized
Deaths due to honey bee stings have also traditionally been because
of allergy and subsequent anaphylactic shock with European honey
bees. Stories of those dying because of this tended not to be
sensationalized; most were never covered by television or print
media. However, because Africanized honey bees may attack en
masse, a condition called toxic envenomation can occur. This means
that the body has received so much venom, it may affect the
circulatory and excretory systems.
“Treatment of multiple sting victims represents a serious challenge
because of limited medical information and experience, and specialty
consultation is indicated. Physicians need to be particularly aware of
the potential for AHB patients to experience severe allergic and toxic
reactions, and for complications developing up to several days after
the stinging incident. Patients should be monitored closely for up to
two weeks, or until all laboratory work normalizes, following apparent
clinical recovery. The most aggressive management for severe
cases is plasmapheresis (or exchange transfusion) which helps to
remove circulating venom and/or mediators of inflammation,
especially if done within 48 hours of stinging.
Another area of concern is risk to pets from Africanized honey bees,
especially when animals are confined and cannot escape. According
to J. Schmidt and L. B.Hassen, reporting on the death of a dog,
“Death is the ultimate result of toxic envenomation. An untreated
animal should be able to survive up to 13 stings/kg and will very likely
die if it receives 25 or more stings/kg. We suggest using the
following rule of thumb:
less than 14 stings/kg = survival
14-24 stings/kg = critical condition
more than 24 stings/kg = death
“Using this guideline, the dog described could have survived up to
481 stings but could not have survived more than 888. In this case,
the dog received four times the number of stings required for almost
There is little question that the Africanized honey bee is here to stay in
the Americas. The biological revolution fostered by release of
queens in Brazil from African honey bee stock, most probably Apis
mellifera scutellata, has resulted in a new kind of honey bee.
Although still a honey bee, morphologically Apis mellifera, the
Africanized honey bee is radically different in behavior than its
European cousins that were first introduced to the American
continents. This introduction of a migratory, tropical honey bee has
wrought enormous biological change. Honey bees now exist, indeed
flourish, in the wild in the American tropics where they did not before.
From a relatively few colonies has emerged a biological revolution of
almost mythic proportions, resulting in an insect migration of
thousands of miles in a few short decades, almost saturating tropical
America with honey bees.
The story is also complicated by the fact that the Africanized honey
bee often displays erratic or unpredictable behavior. This
compromises its manageability, the basis for modern beekeeping
systems. Examples are widespread, especially the very different
reports of defensive behavior that has emerged from a large number
of observers in the field. The insect has also defied experts’
analysis, especially in North America, where a decade after its arrival,
the insect has not migrated east of the Mississippi River.