If you have heard about Africanized bees in conversation or the news only once or twice, you might not know what they are, where they are from, or what they are doing. For a brief history of them and the growing threat they pose, keep reading the following paragraphs.
Africanized bees are also known as Africanized honey bees, Africanised honey bees, and also colloquially as just “killer bees.” They are a hybrid species crossbred from Western honey bees with African honey bees and a few European species, such as Italian and Iberian bees.
This brand of honey bees was brought to the South American nation of Brazil sometime during the 1950s. The hopes were that it could increase the production of honey there. However, there was an accident in 1957, and 26 known swarms were able to escape their quarantined environment.
Free to roam in nature, these swarms began reproducing and travelling north, spreading throughout both South America and the Central American nations. They got to North America in 1985, and were detected in the California community of Lafayette in late 2015.
The initial release was an accident, the result of a visiting beekeeper to the apiary in Sao Paulo, where the ancestor swarms were kept in heavily screened enclosures due to their hostile nature. After their release, their spread across two continents came completely unaided by humans, putting Africanized bees among the more successful of all known biologically invasive species in history.
While they were confirmed in California in 2015, they’ve been in the United States for 30 years. An oil field in the same state found them in 1985, possibly having traveled with a South American shipment of piping. Permanent colonies were discovered later in Texas and Arizona in the early 90s.
Africanized bees have overtaken other species as the predominant pollinators in South and Central America. Highly defensive, these swarms travel farther and more together than most other bees, always likely to pick up as a group and move on as a response to stressful stimuli.
These swarms also guard their hives very aggressively, with unusually large amounts of space around the hive alert for attack. Compared to other bees, these swarms deploy much higher numbers for defensive purposes.
While these swarms have spread over two continents, they can not last long without forage, so regions with dry summers or hard winters have yet to see these bees.
Several deaths have resulted from encounters with these bees, including 2010 in Georgia, and 2013 in Texas. While they have spread, they have mixed with indigenous bees, but often kill the native queen and take over the hive for themselves.
Due to the United States having colder weather climates in some places than the tropics though, the spread seems to have hit a wall. On the East Coast in particular, Africanized bees seem to go no further north than the Virginia Tidewater area. On the West Coast, some beekeepers have relocated from California’s southern half for the northern mountains to spare their populations exposure.
Now that you have read this article, you know what killer bees are the next time someone mentions them. Know that they are aggressive, but their spread seems to be limited to certain states, largely in the South.