Back to Nature (Published on - Aug. 16, 2007)
Africanized honeybees invade Florida
Photo by Rick Tremmel
The gentle, calm European Honeybee collects pollen from a flower.
Extremely dangerous and aggressive Africanized honeybees have become established in Tampa Bay. Prepare a safety plan for your family and work place.

Africanized bees were discovered in Florida in 2002. The 2003 studies indicated a distinct increase in colonies. Five years ago the Africanized honeybee hybridized with the calmer, gentler European honeybee.

But recently the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services reported there have been numerous findings of Africanized bee nests and swarms throughout the state.

As well, there have been reports of stinging incidents. An Africanized honeybee attack poses a six to ten times increase in stings and may follow you for three hundred yards to a quarter of a mile.

Africanized bees were imported to Brazil in 1950 as an experiment to breed a hardier bee for tropical climates. After being accidentally released, they spread to South and Central America, Mexico eventually migrating to the south western U.S. Due to the locations and ports that Africanized honeybees have been discovered, it is believed they arrived in Florida via cargo ships and shipments from South and Central America.

Africanized honeybees (AHB) differ from European honey bees (EHB) in behavior and habitat requirements, but visually look the same. EHB’s, which are managed by professional bee keepers, are essential for pollinating and growing crops in Florida.

We are all familiar with the typical white honeybee boxes. It is crucial that we continue to protect the European honeybee to sustain agriculture in Florida. It is also imperative to control the Africanized honeybee. These insects will become a permanent fixture in Florida. It is vital that residents and visitors be aware of the dangers associated with them and learn how to protect themselves and their pets and livestock.

Africanized honeybees differ in many ways from European honeybees. Their habitat requirements are use less space to build their nests which can be found in almost any opening or cavity, including eaves, cracks in walls, barbecue grills, boats, sheds, utility boxes, concrete power poles, and many other locations near homes.

Because of the smaller space requirement,  Africanized honeybees have faster colony growth and spend much less time producing honey. AHB’s swarm and abscond more frequently. Absconding means they move from their nest site for another. AHB’s can inhabit a nest the size of a coffee cup, as opposed to the EHB’s colony size ranging up to ten gallons.

AHB’s behave differently from EHB’s. Africanized bees are extremely dangerous to Floridians, pets and livestock because of their easily inflamed and defensive nature.

They are exceedingly defensive in protecting their nests. As well, AHB’s may remain in “attack mode” for up to twenty four hours after being disturbed and to a distance of one hundred and fifty yards from the nest colony. They are easily agitated by noise from items such as lawnmowers, chain saws and weed-eaters, poising a danger and heightened concern for personnel working in construction, landscapers, surveyors, military, sports and rescue. Animals such as dogs kenneled in a back yard or horses corralled unable to escape these attacks are at tremendous risk.

Check out any area before you use it. Be especially cautious around unused sports and recreation training facilities, barbecue grills and sheds.

What should you do if you are being attacked by Africanized honeybees? “RUN, RUN, then RUN some more!” is the motto of state officials and entomologists such as Dr. William Kern, Jr., Ft. Lauderdale R.E.C., Entomology and Nematology, University of Florida.

Run to the nearest closed vehicle or structure. Ten bees in a car are preferred to being outside with three-thousand intensely angry, stinging bees in attack mode. As well, do not jump into a pool or pond.

Dr. Kern advises, “They will wait for you.” 

You will come up out of the water only to find you have surfaced right into the swarm. Small children and the elderly are especially put at risk since they can’t run as fast or as far. Remember AHB’s may follow you for three hundred yards to a quarter of a mile. Prepare a safety plan for your family and work place.

Seek immediate emergency medical help if you have been attacked by AHB’s. Do not squeeze the stinger. Squeezing releases more poison into your system. Remove stinger with a scraping action. Wash affected area with soap and water. Applying ammonia may reduce the pain. Apply ice pack to reduce swelling. If you suspect a colony of AHB’s notify a professional. NEVER try to remove an AHB colony yourself. Improper removal is extremely dangerous. AHB’s pose a hazard, not to only you, but to your neighbors, your neighbor’s children and the rescue and first response teams that will be called to try and save you.

As for first response teams, paramedics, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and police, the University of Florida has prepared an invaluable “must see” video: “What Every First Responder Needs to Know About Africanized Honey Bees”, Presented by Dr. William Kern, Jr., University of Florida,

Florida’s New Motto 2007: Bee Smart – Bee Safe - Back to Nature.

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