Apr
16

Africanized Honey Bee – Good or Bad?

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The good or even the best part about the “Africanized honey bee” insects is due to their aggressive “foraging behavior”. It is very surprising to know that these bees can even start harvesting at a young age. Does it sound like an abuse – child labor to be more specific?

Unlike their European relatives (Apis mellifera – scientific name), Africanized honey bees are capable of harvesting greater amount of pollens – the main reason why some beekeepers have interest about them. This actually mean an increase in production of their bee products which is really good for business.

On the other hand or the bad side, Africanized honey bees are considered as “killer bees” (scientific name is Apis mellifera scutellata Lepeletier). According to the “University of Illinois’ Department of Entomology”, a result of their survey shows that there are about 40 fatal attacks caused by bee insects in the United States each year. And, one among the list is the Africanized honey bee.

Apart from their aggressiveness towards humans, Africanized honey bees are also too invasive enough to attack other colonies of bees where they can kill and replace their enemy’s queen then take over the entire hive. Although, this only happens during the “dearth” or seasons when the plants are not growing their flowers.

Who created the killer bee?

The Africanized honey bees didn’t actually exist until the year 1950. These insects was originally created by a cross-breeding program that was conducted in a laboratory in Brazil. It was done by mixing a breed of the European honeybee from the African bee (A. m. scutellata).

In 1957, an accident or carelessness of the laboratory staffs allowed 26 swarms to flee out from their quarantine facility. As a result, this new breed of species managed to thrive so well on their new outside environment. They first increased their population throughout South America and then in 1985, they also reached North America. Then on 1990, there were several hives discovered in south Texas.

The Biologist

“Warwick E. Kerr” was the biologist who headed the interbreeding program between the European and southern Africa bees. His goal was to produce a new and improved type of species that can produce more honey and capable of adopting an environment with tropical conditions.

Professor Kerr had succeeded on his experiment where he was able to create the Africanized honey bee. But in contrast to how productive these bees were, they were quite dangerous. Thus, they were confined inside a special facility at an apiary near Rio Claro, Sao Paulo which is a region from the southeast portion of Brazil.

The hives were fitted with perfectly designed “excluder screens” which was technically for the queen bee. Keeping these insects highly secured inside their enclosure was a top priority to prevent them from mating with the local bees. Professor Kerr surely knows the outcome if some of the queens or drones manages to escape.

The Escape

No matter how we put or make things into near perfection, unexpected things will always happen. In October 1957, there was a beekeeper visitor who noticed that there was something wrong with the screen excluders. He noticed that the worker bees’ were having trouble passing through it so he decided to remove the screen. As a result, a total of “26 Tanganyikan swarms” were granted freedom to go out and explore then soon populate the outside world.

The Invasion

Africanized honey bees is considered today as the “most invasive species” among all their kinds. They started increasing their population from the south going north of the American territory. In 1985, they were first discovered in California at the San Joaquin oil field. Many researchers were puzzled on how they were able to travel to this place. But according to some bee experts, they claim that the insects probably took refuge inside a load of oil-drilling pipes that were transported from South America.

From California, the invasion continued to Texas, Mexico where their first colony in the region was discovered in 1990. Their unstoppable conquest resumed reaching Tucson, Arizona where the first swarm was found in 1994. At this period of time, research study claimed that there were only 15 percent of the bees that got Africanized. However, this percentage drastically increased to 90 percent in 1997.

Characteristics of Africanized Honey Bee

They often move in Swarm

Africanized honey bees always loves to stay together. It’s like they have a strong bond with one another that they cannot afford to risk any member of their colony from getting separated from the group. So as a swarm, they fear no one which allows them to travel farther places and gather the resources they need.

They need to Migrate due to Season Changes

The major weakness of Africanized honey bees is the changing season of the environment which is the harsh winter or the dry summer. Staying on this kind of area would result to their insufficient food supply. Thus, migration is their only option to be able to sustain their needs.

Capable of relocating their colony

If they noticed that a threat or there is something that hinders their way of life, they can easily relocate their entire colony at a better and more suitable place. For this reason, it seems that they have some better IQ to make the necessary adjustments than any other species.

They are quite very defensive

Either humans or animals that are moving around within a close distance to the hive of the Africanized honey bees is perceived by the insect as a threat to their colony. And when they attack, they will relentlessly harass their target with their large number of swarms. They would even chase the deemed threat up to a distance of over 500 meters or 1640 ft.

They prefer to live inside the ground cavities

If most of the local honeybees prefers to build their hives hanging on the trees, not for the Africanized honey bees. These breeds are more comfortable at building their hives underground or inside ground cavities.

What do you do if you get stung by a Killer Bee?

Obviously, you should run

If you notice that the killer bees perceived you as a threat and they started to put their attention towards you, then there is no time to even pause for a sec but to immediately run quickly as you can. You have to run like your life is at stake or depended on it. If somehow that you extremely got shocked and cannot move your feet to run, the bees will alert all the members of the hive to launch an aggressive attack towards you. So the longer you wait, more of the bees will come so you better wake up and run.

Cover your head

If you are wearing a jacket, sweater or if you are holding a certain object that you can use to cover your head then use it right away. You have to know that it is natural for any kind of bees to target your head first. So cover your face and eyes but not in a way that it blocks your vision while you are running for your life.

Go Indoors

If there is a closed shelter nearby such as a house, building, car, or shed then you should aim for them as you try to outrun the aggressive killer bees. Thus, don’t panic and just run around in circles. If you managed to get inside a shelter, immediately close all the windows and doors to prevent the flying insects from getting inside.

Keep Running

On the other hand, if it happens that there are no nearby shelters around then you have no other option but to keep running straight away from the hive. As already mentioned above, Africanized honey bees can chase their target to over 500 meters away from their hive. So if you manage to run and cover this distance with your powerful leg, then they won’t follow you any longer.

Never Swat the Bees

If you learned Kung-Fu or any other form of martial arts, don’t ever think that you can swat them with your highly trained hands just like in the Anime movies. Once you attempt to do that, the killer bees will even get a lot more aggressive where they will perceive you as a very serious threat to their colony. As a result, they will most likely going to land a sting.

Don’t dive underwater

If it happens that there is a certain body of water nearby, don’t ever think that you will be safe down there for a long time. Killer bees will actually wait you out from the surface of the water. They seem to know that you will soon going to be out of breath where you will need to resurface to inhale some air. But if you do that, they will sting your head that will first pop out from the surface of the water. On this situation, you have a huge chance of getting drowned.

Call for help

If you have a companion but unfortunately, he is unable to run fast like you do then surely, he will be the primary target. What you can do is to help him out by covering all exposed skin or susceptible areas of his body then run fast and call for help.

Assuming that you managed to flee from the swarm, there is always a huge chance that you got stung. If you are going to take a close look into them, you will notice very tiny pieces of embedded objects. These are called “stingers” which is a part of the insect’s body pulled out from their abdomen upon delivering their sting. At one end of the stinger, there is a tiny sac which contain the venom that automatically pumps its content into your body. Thus, it is crucial that you need to immediately remove them once you are at a safe place.

If you got stung for just a few times then you can treat yourself at home and simply observe if your body will incur any unfamiliar symptoms. Washing the stung portion of your body with soap and water is highly advisable to prevent infections. And to reduce swelling and pain, you should apply ice packs.

But, if at some point that you received multiple stings then you should immediately seek medical attention. Individuals who are allergic to bees should go straight away to their doctor even if you got stung just once.

Do Killer Bees Die when they sting you?

The answer is, “Yes”. Killer bees do die after delivering their stinger. This reminds me of the previous World War II between the Allied Forces against the Japanese Imperial Army. The Japanese pilots were feared by many due to their incomparable guts of committing suicide known as the “kamikaze”.

When it comes to the bees, the main reason why they die is due to their stinger being pulled out from their bodies. Along with the stinger, some of the insect’s vital abdominal parts such as the digestive tract, nerves and muscles are also pulled out. This is the main reason why they have to die after stinging.

How to Stop the Spread of Africanized Honey Bees?

As a highly dangerous specie of bees, anyone should have the concern to stop the Africanized honey bees in spreading their colonies particularly at residential areas. Doing so will prevent any accidents from swarm attacks.

Abandoned Structures or Man-Made Cavities

Africanized honey bees are unlike any other bees around that can live in boxes constructed by beekeepers. They actually prefer to build their nest inside abandoned structures or man-made cavities. So these kind of places should always be inspected but it will be a lot much better if they get permanently removed.

Always Observe of Bee Presence around your Surroundings

The presence of bees even just a few of them could indicate a potential nest is being built nearby. If you have a keen eye for a fast moving insect then you can try to follow their directions when they go back.

Call for a Professional Pest Control Service

If it happens that you located a hive, the first important step is to keep your distance away from it. You should also warn others or perhaps you can put a warning sign about the presence of the hive. The second step is to call for a professional pest control service that deals with the killer bees.

There are some simple instructions of doing it on your own by simply using ordinary tools that you can find at your home but, I do not recommend it when dealing with the Africanized honey bees. The best solution is still to call the professionals to do it for you.

Africanized Honey Bee Impact on Environment

When it comes to the agricultural side, Africanized honey bees are more superior in all aspects when compared to their local European counterpart. In fact, beekeepers who finally managed to adapt proper techniques in keeping and harvesting their honey products have gained them good reputations.

Studies have also shown that environments invaded by Africanized honey bees such as Florida results in higher or increased production of their honey products.

The negative impact is perhaps the growing number of fatalities caused by these killer bees. Their superiority can also cause the extinction of the other bees.

Deaths Caused by Africanized Honey Bees

In the last 50 years, there were already countless number of deaths that were recorded. This proved that the Africanized honey bees are the type of insects that you should never attempt to mess around or they will kill you.

The first person who was attacked by the Africanized honey bees was Jesus Diaz while mowing a lawn back in May 1991. This incident occurred at the border city of Brownsville, Texas. According to his medical report, Diaz suffered a total of 18 stings. Gladly, he was immediately rushed to the hospital and got treated.

Lino Lopez was the second victim and the first person killed by the Africanized honey bees in July 15, 1993 and it happened in the US. According to the report, Lopez was trying to get rid of the killer bees’ hive that they built on the wall of an abandoned structure situated near his ranch at Harlingen, Texas. As a result, he got swarmed and was stung for more than 40 times which caused his death.

How to Identify Africanized Honey Bees?

Size

The size of an Africanized honey bee is almost similar to the local European honey bee when compared with the naked eye. But by using a special measuring instruments used in the laboratory, the size between the two species can be distinguished. The killer bee is known to be 10 percent smaller than their local counterparts.

Aggression

As already described above, Africanized honey bees are quite aggressive when it comes to any possible threat to their hives. When dealing against a serious threat, local bees will typically deliver just an average of 10 to 20 stings. Whereas for the killer bees, they can deliver up to a thousand stings which is ruthless.

Agitation

A disturbed colony of local honey bees will eventually stay calm after 20 minutes but not for the Africanized honey bees. As long as they perceive the threat within 500 meters distance from their colony, they will remain agitated. If the threat managed to get away, the swarm will stay aggressive for several hours before they can calm themselves down.

Time

Killer bees would prefer to forage early in the morning and during sunset. Sudden changes on the environment such as overcast, cold weather and light rains won’t stop them from foraging. While, European bees chose to forage during sunny days and they will immediately retreat back to their shelter upon noticing changes to their environment’s condition.

Swarm

All types of bees will naturally swarm when their queen decides to leave their hive to find a much suitable place to build their new nest. Common species of bees do this at least once in a year while the killer bees does it for about 6 to 12 times a year.

Interesting Facts about Africanized Honey Bees

Some of the interesting facts about the Africanized honey bees are already discussed above. Thus, they are no longer covered on the list below.

– Africanized honey bees possess four wings which should allow them to easily navigate around when they fly. But according to some experts, they aren’t really good flyers.

– They usually live in a very large colony that may consist of up to 80, 000 total members which is an incredible amount of number. Some experts claim that their aggressiveness in terms of foraging has something to do with their large colony.

– They can be easily provoke with other various objects like shiny jewelries, loud sounds, dark clothes and even perfume. This is why many people describe them as “bees with bad temper”.

– When a killer bee had successfully delivered its stinger to a certain victim, the insect will at the same release a scent that is similar to a ripe banana. This will alert its fellow bees to land more attacks on that vulnerable spot.

Royal Jelly and Africanized Honey Bee

There is really nothing that separates the Africanized honey bees from any other species. Their colony works just exactly the same where they do have workers responsible in nursing their larvae. Among these larvae, they will choose several of them that would fit the criteria of succeeding their old or weakening queen.

The selected lucky larvae are then feed with very special substance known as royal jelly. By feeding them purely with royal jelly, the small larvae will undergo “queen morphology” where their ovaries are developed for the purpose of laying eggs.

Moreover, recent reports revealed that European honey bees are becoming extinct. Nobody can really explain why. In 2007, beekeepers noticed that about 30 to 70 percent of their European honey bees were dying without a cause. Anyway, some experts claim that the new breed or the Africanized honey bees just happens to be the perfect replacement.

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