August 4, 2008

Bee Aware of Africanized Bees

By Pam Brown, Urban Horticulture Extension Agent

With the news lately of Africanized Honey Bees (AHBs) attacking and killing a dog in Largo, you need to be aware of the hazards they pose and what you should do in case you come in contact with these aggressive bees. You may also hear these bees referred to as “Killer Bees”.

Did you know that honey bees are not native in the United States? Honey bees were brought into this country in the 1600’s by European settlers. With their gentle nature making them easy to manage, they soon became one of our most economically beneficial insects. However, due to the escape of the aggressive Africanized Honey Bees in Brazil in the 1950’s, we now see these bees established in Pinellas County and much of Florida. AHBs breed and compete with the European strains of honey bees that normally inhabit our state. Because Florida's AHB population is increasing, it is important to become familiar with AHBs and their behavior.

There have been a number of swarms and hives of AHB captured and exterminated in the Tampa Bay area. Commissioner Charles Bronson says, “it has become clear that the Africanized honey bee population has grown and will continue to grow in Florida due to its numerous pathways into the state and the lack of effective eradication products or techniques.” If you have a swarm of honey bees on your property, they must be exterminated by a trained pest control company due to their dangerous nature. Africanized Honey Bees and European Honey Bees (EHB) are the same genus and species. They look alike, so you cannot tell them apart, and they contain the same venom. Since both of these bees have the same venom, if you are allergic to EHB stings, you will be allergic to AHB stings.

Like most animals, Africanized bees react defensively only when their home is threatened. If pursued, the best thing to do is run away as quickly as possible, covering your head, neck, and mouth. Africanized honey bees will fiercely protect an area around their nest and will chase a perceived threat as far as 300 yards – the length of three football fields. These bees can sense vibrations from equipment like lawn mowers, weed eaters, sirens, and all terrain vehicles. They will then respond quickly to these disturbances. Initially they visually see the victim, then they target the exhalation of carbon dioxide, attacking the mouth, nose, eyes, and ears of the victim. By pulling your shirt up over your head, you can protect your head and neck, which are the most sensitive.

Obviously, those who are most at risk during an attack are the elderly, children, handicapped persons and pets that are confined and cannot get away. Once alarmed, these bees can attack any human and/or animal in their way. This makes it very important to have any hives found exterminated by a trained pest control operator.

Please become familiar with the AHB behaviors listed below:

  • AHB are more defensive and will defend their nests with less provocation and more bees over longer distances.

  • AHB swarm as many as sixteen times per year – EHB swarm only once or twice a year. Swarming is the behavior that occurs when bees are looking for a new nest site.

  • AHB are not selective of nesting sites – they will quickly inhabit empty spaces, holes or cavities, or will build exposed nests. EHB are more selective and prefer drier sites three to four feet above ground.

  • Bees release an “alarm pheromone” after they sting which signals other bees to come and attack. In the case of AHB, this could be the entire hive.

  • Bee swarms are not likely to attack because they do not have a home or young to protect.

  • Established colonies that are producing wax, honey, and rearing young present the greatest potential stinging threats.

  • With AHB, it is extremely important not to swat or wavy your arms at the bees – swatting may provoke the bees even more.

When outdoors, be aware of your environment and take precautions to protect yourself against stinging bees.

  • Have a plan and communicate it with your family for avoiding/responding to stinging insects.

  • In case of allergy, have a bee sting kit available.

  • Eliminate potential nesting sites.

  • Remain alert for bees. Look around for bees before using power equipment like lawn mowers and weed eaters – vibration and noise excites bees.

  • If bees begin to chase you, run away in a straight line, cover your head, particularly your nose and mouth and hide in a car or building. A few bees coming in with you will not be as dangerous as the large number waiting outside. AHB will follow for about the length of three football fields. Do not jump into a pool or other water – the bees will wait longer than you can hold your breath.

  • Remove a stinger by scraping it out with a fingernail or credit card; squeezing the stinger will release more venom.

  • Contact a local pest control operator (PCO) to remove the nest – do not attempt to remove it yourself. This link takes you to the listing of PCOs trained to remove AHBs: This is an Excel file so you need to scroll at the bottom for Pinellas County.

  • See a doctor if breathing is difficult, if you are stung multiple times, or if you are allergic to bee stings.

Additional information can be found at the UF/IFAS Extension web site: or the
Florida Bureau of Plant and Apiary Inspection web site: Honey Bee FAQs can be accessed on the web at:
You may also call the Pinellas County Extension help line at 727 582-2110 Tuesday through Thursday from 9 a.m. – 12 N and 1 – 4 p.m.

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