Bee Aware! African Honey Bees
Becoming Established in Florida

July 16, 2005

Part I African Bee

African honeybees – also known as killer bees - have entered Florida, and a University of Florida researcher says the aggressive insect may eventually spread throughout the state and move into other areas of the southeastern United States.

The bees, which tend to sting in large numbers, have been found and stopped at various Florida ports over the past decade, but now it looks like they’re here to stay, said Glenn hall, an associate professor of entomology at University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. He said Florida’s warm climate is ideal for the bees, which could be bad news for the states’s $16 million honey bee industry.

African honeybees vs European - How are the different?

Though they look identical and share common behavior, there are some notable differences between African honeybees and European honey bees:

  • African honeybees tend to swarm more times per year than the European honeybees. They will also fly further before establishing a new hive.
  • African honeybees have a shorter development time. They go from egg to emerging adult in fewer days than the European honeybees.
  • African honeybees fill a higher percentage of their comb with developing bees (brood) as opposed to storing honey for winter as the European honeybees are known to do.
  • African honeybees (on average) are slightly smaller than European honeybees, but only an expert can tell them apart.
  • The difference that concerns us most, is the more aggressive nature of the African honeybees when their hive is disturbed.

African honeybees respond more quickly when disturbed than do European honeybees, they send out three or four times as many workers in response to a threat. They will also pursue and intruder for a greater distance from the hive. An important thing to remember is that the behavior of even a single AHB or EHB colony can vary greatly on any given day.

Inappropriately labeled “killer bees”, the sting of the African honeybee is no more venomous than that of the European honeybee. They acquired the name “killer bees” because they will viciously attack people and animals who unwittingly stray into their territory, often resulting in serious injury or death. Each delivers only one sting - females die after stinging. African honeybees are more aggressive and more bees deliver stings than European honeybees, resulting in more venom. Although people have died as a result of 100 - 300 stings, it has been estimated that the average lethal dose for an adult is 500- 1,100 bee stings.

It is not necessary to disturb the hive itself to initiate an African honeybee attack. In fact, AHB have been known to respond viciously to mundane occurrence, including noises or even vibrations from vehicles, equipment and pedestrians. Once disturbed, colonies may remain agitated for 24 hours, attacking people and animals within a range of a quarter mile from the hive.