AHB will defend the nest nearly ten times as far away and with ten times as many guard bees. AHB are more sensitive to vibration and smells from weed eaters, lawnmowers and vehicles. AHB will chase intruders up to a mile or more. Africanized bees also swarm or abscond four times more frequently than European bees. Because they are more likely to be in the smaller spaces than European bees and even living in the open, we are more likely to encounter African than European colonies.
Africanized bees have been in Florida for a while and we have developed a plan to stay safe – Look, Listen, and Run! Look for stinging insects under eaves, in meter boxes, grills, drums, everywhere they can build comb. Listen for the buzzing activity, or screams of someone already running away. Run away from the area. Seek shelter in a building or vehicle. Do not run back outside just because a few followed you in. There are more outside than inside. Do not lock the door. Bees do not open doors but the Fire Department may need to. Do not hide underwater. You will run out of air and come up gasping to encounter the angry bees waiting.
What should we do about Africanized bees? Make time to learn about bees as you are today. Injuries and death are more likely when there is no way to run. Elderly, young children, penned, corralled, caged, tethered animals cannot escape. Remove possible nesting sites by sealing openings and removing places they can live. Take an extra look before entering an area or using power equipment, or restricting animals. Most importantly never disturb any nest of bees.
If you find feral bees, get away quickly. Protect your face and airway if they are chasing you. Take shelter in a house or vehicle. Once inside, remove any stingers as quickly as possible. If you are with a child or allergic person help them first. Call 911 if you cannot breath. Bee removal is not an emergency so call a pest control operator to remove the nest.
African, Africanized, AHB, “hot” are all terms used to describe defensive bees with some scutellata genetics. Apis mellifera scutellata is the scientific name of one of ten sub-species of bees on the African continent. Scutellata developed their defensive trait after centuries of predation by birds, a few mammals, and probably worst of all man destroying the hive for the honey. Africanized bees we might encounter are not pure scutellata, but mixed with European races.
The African scutellata is native to the same latitudes as South America so they were considered for breeding with the European bees to improve survivability. Several African queens were accidentally released in 1957 by one of Dr. Warwick Kerr’s workers. The African bees were so successful in the tropical regions of South America that they quickly spread across the continent and North. Africanized bees entered Texas in the early 1990s. In 2001 they hitched a ride on a ship entering the Port of Tampa from Guatemala.
African and European bees are so closely related you cannot tell the difference without measuring the wing veins. The AHB is actually slightly smaller than the European. AHB are known for their defensive response near the hive. Still it is not enough to say a defensive hive is Africanized. European bees that are regularly assaulted by skunks, bears, robbing bees, and various threats can seem just as “hot” as AHB.