Killer Bees — Just How Aggressive Are They?

The Killer Bee — such an ominous sounding name. Killer Bees are really called African Honey Bees and are descended from southern African Bees.

These bees were imported into Brazil in 1956 by scientists who were attempting to breed a honey bee that could better adapt to the South American tropics. In a twist worthy of a horror movie, some of the bees escaped quarantine in 1957 and started to breed with the local Brazilian honey bees.

Moving at distances of over 200 miles per year, the killer bees have made it all the way up through Central America and in 1990, they infiltrated the states. Starting in Texas, and quickly appearing in Arizona and California, they are spreading over the southern United States with speed. At this point, there are said to be about 100 colonies in Texas, 6 in New Mexico, 14 in Arizona, 1 in Nevada, and 4 in California. And through swarming, which is the process by which bee colonies replicate, the killer bees are steadily moving northward.

Any bee is enough to send most people scurrying away to safety, but a killer bee takes the fear to the next notch. These African Honey Bees are known to respond quite viciously to even small disturbances, including vibration or noise from vehicles, equipment, or passing pedestrians. While the venom of the killer bee is of the same potency as a honey bee, they attack intruders in much larger numbers and ten times as quickly. They also pursue their perceived enemies for a much greater distance, going as far as 1/4 mile from their hive and for as long as 24 hours after the incident.

African Honey Bees are less picky in their choice of a nesting place than native bees and are thus thriving. They will make a hive in natural or man made objects — walls, hollow trees, attics, porches, sheds, utility boxes, garbage cans, abandoned vehicles. They are also likely to stay near canals, drainage ditches, and retention basins as they like to be near water. When the killer bees sense rain, they swarm, much more often than local honey bees. The Queen African Honey Bee can lay up to 1,500 eggs a day.

With their incredible tendency for survival, it is easy to see why so many people fear killer bees. And attacks do happen. In May of 1991, the first person to be attacked in the US was stung 18 times while moving a lawn in south Texas. In July of 1993, Lino Lopez, an 82 year old man from Texas, was the first to die in the US from killer bee stings. He was stung over 40 times while trying to remove a hive from a wall in a building on his ranch. In 1993, an older woman in Arizona was killed after disturbing a large African Honey Bee colony in an abandoned building on her property.

These bees are dangerous and can easily harm you if you accidentally disturb a colony. But they are not hunting humans or intentionally out to get anyone, so if you steer clear of hives, there is no real danger. Most human deaths from bee stings happen to people who are allergic to the insect. And we must remember, that bees are responsible for the trees, flowers and food in our life. At least one meal per person per day is possible because of the bee, and we should try to respect that.

National Geographic Killer Bees Documentary

Images from Wikipedia


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