Africanized Honey Bees (AHB) have earned a bad reputation as aggressive honey bees in recent years. Popular media portrays Africanized bees as swarms that will form together in groups and seek out targets to sting to death. Myths also exist that Africanized honey bee venom is more potent and therefore more deadly than other bees. While such stories make for great news, it is unfortunate that more often people are beginning to believe such stories.
Honey bees (including Africanized honey bees) do not hunt people down and kill them
University of Florida
Africanized honey bees are like other honey bees as they attack to protect their hive. The University of Florida’s Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences makes it clear that honey bees (including Africanized honey bees) do not hunt down people and kill them. When they sense a danger to the hive, the bees will group together and confront the perceived threat. Africanized honey bees are much more likely to form these defense groups than European bees are. When a European bee colony is threatened, only about 10% of the hive will join the defensive group that will attack a perceived threat. However, when an Africanized colony is threatened, the large majority of the bees in that colony will join the defensive group. But they will only do so when they perceive a threat to their hive.
This knowledge does not imply that one should not exercise caution and care around Africanized Honey Bees (or any other type of honey bee). It is true that Africanized bees are typically more aggressive than the more mild European honey bee species. One of the major reasons that Africanized bees defend their hives more fiercely is that they are more easily agitated than other types of honey bees. Studies cited by the Utah County Beekeepers Association have shown that Africanized bees can be agitated by perceived threats up to 100 feet from the hive. In addition, they are more likely to pursue victims, sometimes pursuing them up to a 1/2 mile from the point of the initial encounter. Africanized bees will go to greater lengths to make sure their colony is protected than will their European counterparts.
Though Africanized honey bees have more aggressive tendencies than other bees, their venom is the same as European bees. Rumors about Africanized honey bee venom being more lethal than other bee’s venom are everywhere. They are also completely false. In fact, physically Africanized honey bees are slightly smaller than other bees so they actually have less venom than other bees do.
Africanized honey bees do not have vicious intentions nor do they actively seek out targets to sting. There have been relatively few deaths associated with Africanized bee stings in the last 15 years. In 2013, Texas A&M University’s AgriLife Extension program reported that there have only been 8 fatalities from Africanized honey bee stings in the United States since 1990. That is significantly lower than the 78 U.S. deaths caused by dogs since 1990 and puts the chances of being killed by honey bees at less risk than being struck by lightning.
Africanized honey bees should be treated with prudence and respect just like any other part of agriculture or any other honey bees. It is inevitable that somewhere along the line, there will be encounters with Africanized bees. But a little more understanding of how Africanized honey bees live and operate can help prevent fatal encounters in the future.
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