What are African honey bees?

Image Credit: 
Main Image: 

Just as there are hybrid varieties in plants, the cross fertilization amongst the insects and even animals at times leads to a hybrid that carries combined features of both the original forms. The African honey bee is one such hybrid variety of honey bees that is supposed to have evolved from coupling of European honey bee subspecies. The subspecies are Apis mellifera mellifera, A.m.caucasia, A.m.carnica, or A.m.linguica. Cross fertilization amongst these subspecies  is  responsible for the creation of Apis mellifera scutellata or the African honey bee. It is virtually impossible to differentiate between the regular honey bee and the African honey bee from a distance unless you are well aware of some of their unique physical characteristics. These bees nest very near to the ground in areas similar to the European honey bee. One of the most noticeable dissimilarity between the two species is that the African honey bees are highly aggressive and swarm out in huge numbers when it comes to defending their colony as compared to European honey bees . The original species of lived in Europe and Africa, and Southern parts of Sahara Desert.



What is the classification of African honey bees?

Common Name: Africanized Honey Bee (AHB), Africanized Bees, Killer Bees, Brazilian Bees
Scientific Name: Apis mellifera scutellata

Phylum or Division: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Apidae
Subfamily: Apinae




How African honey bees were created?

Around 1957, Brazilian scientists called for a group of honey bee queens from the South of Africa so as to develop honey bees that can sustain in tropical climate.  But by mistake couple of bees from the container escaped and bred with the local bees from Brazil. And thus, Africanized honey bee was produced. Since they were adaptable to the tropical climate, they grew very fast and by 1980s they had spread all over South America. Apart from the high adaptability to the climatic conditions, another factor that also indirectly contributed in increasing the number of African honey bees was that there were no competitors or predators that could halt their growth. By 1990s the whole range of AHB had made entry into all quarters of the United states.



What are the physical characteristics of African honey bee?

The African honey bee generally has the same appearance as the European honey bee but is slightly smaller. The bees are 3/4th of an inch long, robust, brownish with black indistinctive stripes having a covering of fuzz. The middle section of the body is thorax to which the four clear wings are attached and six legs are joined to the thorax bottom. The stinger is the end point of abdomen which is the largest organ, bigger than the thorax with comparatively smaller head attached to the front. The compound eyes are big and bulbous allowing these bees to see  beyond ultraviolet rays so that they can fly and see clearly during the night. The structure of the bees vary depending upon their position in the  hive. The largest is the queen bee followed by the male bees or drones and the female bees or workers.




Why are African honey bees known as ?killer bees??

African honey bees are comparatively aggressive species than other honey bee sub species and if they feel slightest threat to their hive, they attack both humans and animals in large number. They can identify a predator from very long distances and can inflict an attack very early. That is the reason why the bees have become commonly termed as killer bees by the scientists and media. Anything like operating power tools, lawn equipments, etc at a distance of 100 feet can trigger off the attack. The African honey bees sting in more groups than the European honey bees  and are known to chase its victim for around ½ mile. These bees remain in agitated state for more than an hour.




What to do when attacked by African honey bees?

Some of the dos and don’ts when attacked by the African honey bees:

  • Run as fast as you can. Try to enter a building or an automobile if possible
  • Cover the face and head while you are on the run
  • Call 911
  • The moment you are safe from the bees start removing the stingers by pulling, scarping or by means of sticky tape. This will help reduce the amount of venom. Do not let a single part of the stinger stay inside your skin because as long as it is inside it will keep on injecting the painful venom.
  • Do not jump into the water when you are being followed by the African honey bees as they are clever enough and will wait for you to come out.
  • Don’t panic or stop


Click below to learn more on Bees: 

Different Types of Bees

Bee Swarming

Sweat Bees: Why they are attracted to humans

Facts on Honey Bees

Help Bees from Vanishing

External References
Related Videos: 
See video
Related Images: