How to Protect Your Beehive from Killer Bees

1 of 7 in Series: The Essentials of Managing Beehive Pests

The “killer” bees with the bad PR are actually Africanized Honey Bees (AHB), or Apis mellifera scutellata, if you want to get technical. The “killer bee” pseudonym was the doing of our friends in the media.

The AHB problem started in 1956 in Brazil. A group of scientists was experimenting with breeding a new hybrid resulting in superior honey production. They were breeding the notoriously aggressive honey bee from Africa with the far more docile European honey bee. But a little accident happened. Some African queen bees escaped into the jungles of Brazil. The testy queens interbred with European bees in the area, and the AHB become a force to deal with.

In the half-century since “the accident” in Brazil, AHBs have been making their way northward to the United States. In 1990, the first colonies of AHBs were identified in southern Texas. Killer bees have been verified in quite a number of the southern states.

There is speculation as to how far north these bees are capable of surviving (after all, they are a tropical species). In any event, they have arrived amid great publicity. Beekeepers and the public will have to learn how to deal with them. For an up-to-date map of the progress, go online to www.usda.gov and search “Africanized Bees.”

Here are some helpful hints about safe beekeeping in areas known to be populated by AHBs:

  • If you live in an area where AHBs have been seen, do not capture swarms or populate your hive with anything other than package bees from a reputable supplier. Otherwise, you may wind up with the hive from hell.

  • If you are unlucky enough to disturb a colony of AHBs, don’t stick around to see how many will sting you. Run in a straight line far away from the bees. AHB are fast flyers, and you will have your work cut out for you when you attempt to outrun them. Don’t jump into water, because they’ll be waiting for you when you surface. Instead, enter a building and stay inside until things cool off.

  • In the areas where the AHB has been introduced, diligent beekeepers are the community’s best defense against the AHBs spread. By systematically inspecting her hive to spot her marked queen, a beekeeper knows that her colony remains pure. Only when an unfamiliar queen (perhaps an AHB) is introduced is the colony’s genetic integrity at risk. More than ever, backyard beekeepers are needed to ensure that the AHB doesn’t become a problem in any community.

  • If you join a local bee club, encourage the club to publish information educating the public about the benefits of beekeeping. Teach the community the real story about the AHB. Take positive steps to quell the fear that may lurk in some people’s minds. Let them know how important it is to have beekeepers who can help control the spread of the AHB. A good education program is a beekeeper’s best defense against local legislation restricting beekeeping in the community.

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The Essentials of Managing Beehive Pests

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