How do you identify African honey bees

Africanized honey bee

Africanized American honey bees are honey bees in the tropical and subtropical zones of the American double continent. They arise again and again through the mixing (crossing) of bee colonies managed by beekeepers with occasionally added queens of European descent and drones of dominant, wild bee colonies of African descent.[1] Both this hybrid and just the wild bees are often called because of their aggressiveness "Killer bees" designated.

The honey bee was not native to either North, Central and South America before the arrival of Europeans. Nevertheless, the indigenous people, z. B. the Maya, honey won. This came from species of the stingless bees (Meliponini), which are related to the honey bees. In the course of colonization, European honey bees, mostly German or Italian breeds, were introduced. In tropical climates, however, these bees did not prove to be particularly efficient. Therefore an attempt was made to increase the productivity of honey bees by crossing African bees.


Spread of the Africanized honeybees in the USA, as of 2005

The beekeeper Warwick Estavam Kerr traveled to Africa as part of his bee research in 1955 and therefore brought a total of 120 African queen bees of the subspecies in 1956 at the request of the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture Apis mellifera scutellata from Johannesburg to Rio Claro in Brazil, which is about 22 ° south latitude, in order to obtain more productive honey bees by crossing them with bees of European origin there. In 1957, by chance, 26 flocks with African queens escaped that could not be recaptured. Part of the culpability for this disaster is also an employee who removed the bars on the beehive and who had not been properly instructed beforehand. Contrary to previous experience that honey bees could hardly establish themselves in the wild in the tropical regions of Brazil, the African honey bees proved to be able to cope well with the tropical climate. With densities of up to 100, albeit small, colonies per square kilometer, they spread rapidly across the entire continent at a speed of 300 to 500 km per year.

In doing so, they repeatedly crossed with the existing bees kept by beekeepers. Amazingly, this did not lead to the bees becoming more European, but rather the African parts completely displaced the European parts, as the queens with African genes hatch about a day earlier and thus have a greater chance of taking over the swarm. Among other differences, these African or Africanized bees are also much more aggressive towards humans than European bees, which also earned them the name "killer bees", as a very large number of bee stings can be deadly. It was only in the more moderate latitudes of South America, around the height of Buenos Aires, that a transition zone formed, in which the bees became more and more European, until they finally no longer displace the European honey bees there in cooler areas, around the height of the Bahía Blanca could. Within less than 40 years they have arrived in the south of the USA, where they will probably only be inferior to the traditional European bees in the more northern latitudes. In Europe, these Africanized bees should not have a chance to spread because the winters are too cold.

Nest of feral honey bees in Viçosa (Minas Gerais, Brazil)

The difference between the “killer bees” and other bee breeds is that when threatened, almost all the bees in the colony attack, instead of the usual small number of animals. The "killer bees" also persistently pursue their victims. This makes it very easy to reach the threshold of around 500 stings at which a child can be killed; in adults, it becomes critical from around 1,000 stings.

According to his own statements, Kerr was able to curb the aggressiveness in 1965 by crossing harmless species, but at the same time he emphasizes that it was the beekeepers who did not want more peaceful bees, since the Africanized honey bees per swarm in 60 to 80 kg of honey Year, which corresponds to four times the production of the old species. In 2005, Kerr admitted that in the past, an average of 25 people were killed by bees each year in Brazil. After the bee breeding with the "Africanized bee", the number rose to 195. However, the number is said to have decreased somewhat due to the crossing of less aggressive animals. However, the bees also settle in the wild without the aggressive genes being switched off by breeding.

When asked if he would do the crossing again, Kerr replied that the researchers had to go to all bee conventions at the time and explain to people that they should put more emphasis on protective clothing (especially gloves); in the case of further breeding, the most aggressive lines could finally be sorted out. And it should not be forgotten that Brazil ranks third in the world in terms of honey production thanks to its breeds, which is an important innovation for the poor northeast of Brazil. However, he then confirmed that he would no longer carry out the breeding in this form today.

Kerr assumes that the problem resulting from breeding, such as with accidents with sharks, is being exaggerated: “In Brazil we have almost 200 deaths every year from our bees. There are five times as many road deaths on a certain street in São Paulo. "

Beekeeping use

Wild colony (see picture above) of the Africanized honeybees transferred into a magazine hive
Africanized honey bees surrounding a European queen bee marked with a pink dot for identification

The beekeepers of South America have, of necessity, but also for economic reasons, adjusted to the Africanized honeybees. It brings very good honey yields, probably not least due to the genetic make-up of the Italian bee. Again and again, queens of this highly populous bee breed are used (insisted) in the colonies, which have then mated (crossed) with drones of the wild breed in the second generation at the latest.

To make it easier to process the bee colonies, certain times of the day are used when a particularly large number of the defensive foragers are out and about. This is mainly the early morning. In contrast to most other bee breeds kept by beekeepers, complete protective clothing (veil, suit, gloves) is still required.

see also

  • The deadly bees with a list of horror films on the subject
  • In the satirical documentary Bowling for Columbine by the American director Michael Moore, the American reporting on the subject of "Africanized killer bees" is listed as an example of mass hysteria.


  1. ↑ http: // University of Florida: African Honey Bee - What You Need to Know