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Africanized Honey Bees, aka "Killer Bees"

"A Brief Introduction Providing Information on Killer Bees"

By: Jason Abels – Assistant Director www.tigerhomes.org Animal Sanctuary

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Honey Bees, especially African Killer Bees, have always fascinated me. Most people do not realize that “Killer Bees” are really Africanized Honey Bees. They are basically a hybridization of the aggressive African Honey Bee with the European Honey Bee. These “African Bees” are highly aggressive and defensive compared to the mellow European variety, which have been used primarily by Bee Keepers for honey production and for agricultural pollination. Killer Bees are known to viciously swarm, attack, and in some cases sting to death, an animal or person that inadvertently wanders into their territory. These bees are so aggressive that they do not have to be provoked to attack. In fact, in many cases the mere sight of an animal or person is enough to provoke them to attack. Even noise or a vibration can provoke a Killer Bee attack!

Killer Bees were first introduced into the American continent in 1956, when a few specimens were imported into Brazil for study. Brazilian scientists and Bee Keepers wanted to create a bee capable of adapting to tropical climates. One year later, in 1957, a few Africanized Bees escaped and started breeding with the local Honey Bees. Since this time, the Africanized “Killer Bees” have multiplied and spread to other areas, infiltrating and taking over native Bee Hives composed of the less aggressive European Honey Bee. Unfortunately, the Killer Bee is now in the US. The very first swarm of Killer Bees was discovered back in 1990 in Hidalgo, Texas. Currently they are found throughout New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, parts of California and they are working their way North.

Bee Stings can be extremely dangerous, especially to allergic individuals. An interesting fact about Killer Bee Stings is that their sting is no more potent or dangerous then the regular everyday honeybee. The primary difference is that the Killer Bee is not only more readily fired-up or predisposed to sting you, more of them are going to sting you at the same time. I have heard that it can take less then 8-bee stings per pound of victim to kill. Of course if you are allergic to bees even one bee sting can be fatal.

As I said above, I have always found bees and honey production interesting. I love watching educational TV shows on Bumble Bees, Honey Bees, Killer Bees and Bee Keepers. I even like watching shows like “Fear Factor” where contestants have to interact with honey bees, in some cases wearing huge “Bee Beards” with hundreds if not thousands of swarming bees landing on their faces to form a live, buzzing beard of bees.

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I myself had an interesting bee experience recently. One of the Sanctuary’s primary Veterinarians Dr. Don Harris and his son Adam are experienced Bee Keepers. At age eight, Adam decided to go into business with his father keeping bees and harvesting honey to sell. I thought this was ingenious, especially coming from such a young child. Adam is one of those incredibly smart and creative children with a super sharp mind that really thinks “outside the box”. Adam and his father were very successful selling their honey and still produce jars of honey today. Recently, there was a terrific news report about Adam and his business. I was completely impressed by Adam and his business ideas. Then, several months ago, Dr. Harris asked me if I would temporally house one Bee Colony at my house because I have a large piece of land. Of course I said, “Sure, bring’ em over! I love bees”.

Finally the day came and Dr. Harris called to say he was on the way over with the Bee Hive. I ran out to open my gate, eagerly anticipating his arrival, while thinking I would help him unload and set up the bee box. This turned out to be a MAJOR BONEHEAD MOVE on my part. I looked down the road and saw Dr. Harris heading my way in a rented pick-up truck followed by a massive swarm and cloud of bees surrounding the truck. He was driving the truck wearing a full Bee Suit and face shield. This swarm encompassed both lanes of traffic and looked like a large, building-sized mass of flying bees. Little did I know that the bees were also VERY PISSED-OFF and disturbed about being transported!  The moment Dr. Harris’s truck entered my property, every bee immediately stopped following the hive and pounced on me. They were like cartoon bees, flying at me stingers first, with evil little smiles on their faces. I had thousands of angry bees attacking me. I started running like a mad man down the road with hundreds of bees chasing and stinging me from head to toe. I ran about ½ a mile before they stopped stinging me. I was stung about 100+ times, mostly on my head and back. Every time I started walking home, the bees would re-attack! I later learned that when a bee stings, it releases a pheromone that signales the swarm to attack. In any case, I am sure I reeked of bee “attack pheromone,” as I was stung relentlessly. Talk about a learning experience. The cool thing is that just by chance, David drove by. I immediately hopped inside his truck and he gave me a ride back to my house, delivering me to my front door. I ran inside and started pulling out numerous, still pulsating stingers from my head and hair. Dr. Harris ended up removing the bee colony to another facility. It took a few days for the remaining stragglers to leave my yard. In all fairness, Dr. Harris did tell me to stay inside the house. Like an idiot, I thought he was joking and that I would be able to help him unload and set up the 100-pound bee hive, Duh!

Bees are amazing and beneficial insects and this incident has in no way changed my high opinion of them. I was careless and did not think, after watching a bunch of cute models on Fear Factor playing with bees, that these bees would be so angry. Of course, the ones on TV were not from relocated hives with the bees chasing their home for a few miles on the back of a moving truck. Again, duhhhhhhhh! I think that I have now confirmed that I am not allergic to bee stings or bee venom. Luckily! If this were a Killer Bee attack, I would have been stung thousands of times, not merely a 100 and probably could have run miles without the bees giving up their attack.

Bee scientists have been studying ways to eradicate the Africanized Honey Bee in the US and South America with little success, as the African variety of bee is virtually identical to the European variety with primarily “behavioral differences” existing between the two types. I recently watched an interesting wildlife documentary on Killer Bees and learned of an interesting approach to destroying Killer Bee colonies. Bee Keepers in Africa noticed that a colony of African Cape Bees, which were only known to live in cooler South Africa, migrated and infiltrated a Killer Bee colony further north. They observed about 90 percent of the Cape Bees being attacked and killed by the highly aggressive Killer Bees. The remaining 10 percent actually infiltrated the Killer Bee hive. These Cape Bees then bred with the Killer Bees “Queen Bee.” This is what was so interesting. With most varieties of honey bees, the “Worker Bees” are male and produce primarily male bees to mate with the queen. With Cape Bees it seems that the norm is primarily female bees. So after a period of time, the Killer Bee colony stops being productive and viable because it becomes almost 100% female, not capable of reproduction. When this happens, all the Killer Bee bloodlines are eliminated. The new, all female colony of Cape Bees then, dies off as well, as there are now no male Cape Bees to breed the Queen Bee. I thought that was an interesting approach, using insects to eliminate an insect problem.

Bees are truly remarkable insects with a fascinating social structure and hierarchy system. The art of Honey Production and Bee Keeping is amazing and has been practiced by numerous cultures since the first meeting between bee and human. One day, I think it would be fascinating if David and I add a “Bee Web Cam” to our large list of “Exotic Animal Web Cams” set up in the Animal Sanctuary’s large tiger, lion, leopard, Mountain Lion and lemur habitats.

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We hope you found this educational and enjoyable. David and I thank you for your interest in wildlife and habitat conservation and your continued support of our Animal Sanctuary. We hope you’ll take the time to read additional “Educational Content” and get to know all of the Sanctuary’s “Animal Residents” personally, by observing their naturalistic behaviors incognito through our World renowned “Habitat Cams”. If you are up to it, try taking a “Snap Shot” directly from one of our many web cams. You can even post your pictures in our “VIEWER SNAP SHOT GALLERY” and win a chance each month to receive a free copy of one of three Wildlife Videos filmed and produced by the Tigerhomes Animal Sanctuary.

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