Facts about Africanized Bees

The Africanized Honey Bee is a hybrid of one of the several European Honey Bee subspecies (Apis mellifera mellifera, A.m.carnica, A.m.caucasia, or A.m.linguica) and the African Honey Bee (Apis mellifera scutellata). The hybrid is virtually indistinguishable in the field from the common honey bee. The AHB will set up colonies in all the same areas as the European Honey Bee and will also nest close to or in the ground. The most noticeable difference between the two types of bees is that AHB is extremely aggressive in defense of the colony. At any perceived threat, bees can "swarm" out of the colony and attack, stinging in large numbers, sometimes in the hundreds.

Some people are allergic to bee stings. If you start swelling or have trouble breathing, see a doctor. If you are stung many times, see a doctor whether or not you have symptoms.

Map of Confirmed Africanized Honey Bees in Oklahoma

History of Africanized Honey Bees

African honey bees were first imported to the Americas in 1956 by the prominent Brazilian geneticist, Warwick Kerr.  He thought there was a good possibility that he could utilize African stock to produce a new breed of honey bees, which would be less defensive than the wild African bees but which would be more productive than European honey bees (EHB) in Brazil's tropical setting.  Kerr was able to acquire 63 live queens from South African beekeepers. These were later taken to a quarantine area at an agricultural research station near Rio Claro, where 48 queens survived till the next year. 

Through selective breeding with European drones, Kerr and his associates had produced a number of first generation hybrids, now known as Africanized honey bees.  After several months of this activity, natural attrition had reduced their stock of Africanized honey bees to 29 which were maintained in hive boxes equipped with queen excluders.  In October of 1957 (according to Kerr), a local beekeeper wandered by, noticed the queen excluders and removed them. In any case, as the story goes, the removal of the excluders accidentally released 26 Africanized honey bee queens with small swarms into the nearby forest.  Kerr hoped the escaped bees would either perish in the wild or mate with European honey bees and eventually lose their African characteristics.

Within a few years, however, reports began arriving from surrounding areas of wild bees relentlessly attacking farm animals and even humans. Many poor Brazilian farmers suffered livestock losses, and, eventually, there were human fatalities as well. By the early 1960s, it was clear that a rapid expansion had occurred among feral bee colonies and that the Africanized honey bees were moving quickly into other parts of the country.  While European honey bee swarms might disperse only a few miles and then look for an ideal place to establish themselves, swarms of Africanized honey bees can move 60 miles or more at a time and build their nests in a variety of locations. In October 1986, they reached Mexico.

On October 15, 1990, the first wild colony of Africanized honey bees was found in the United States, near Hidalgo, Texas. By 1993, naturally occurring swarms were recovered in Arizona and New Mexico, and the following year California confirmed arrival of this invasive species. By 2009, over 100 counties in Texas, 13 counties in New Mexico, every county in Arizona, 14 counties in California, 3 counties in Nevada, 2 counties in Utah, 28 counties in Oklahoma, 3 counties in Louisiana, 1 county in Arkasas, and 16 counties in Florida were infested with AHB.