Honey bees brought to the U.S. in the 1600s by European settlers soon became one of the most economically beneficial insects. Their gentle nature made them easy to manage.

In 1956, researchers in Brazil imported honey bees from Africa in an attempt to create a honey bee that would be better suited to tropical conditions. The African honey bees were bred with European honey bees. Researchers expected that when mated with European honey bees, the African honey bees would lose their more defensive nature. However, that was not the case, and in 1957, 26 African queen bees escaped from a breeding program in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The hybrid Africanized honey bees became established and expanded their range through South and Central America. The first report of Africanized honey bees in the United States was made in Hidalgo, Texas, in 1990. Since then,
they have been found throughout the southern U.S.

Africanized Vs. European Honey Bees

It is difficult to visually distinguish Africanized honey bees from European honey bees. Only through U.S. Department of Agriculture ID testing can the species be verified.

  • Africanized honey bees are more defensive — they defend their nests with less provocation, in greater numbers and for longer distances.
  • Africanized honey bees swarm as many as 16 times per year, whereas European honey bees swarm only once or twice a year. Swarming is the reproductive behavior that occurs when bees are looking for a new nest site.
  • Africanized honey bees are not selective of nesting sites — they will quickly inhabit empty spaces, holes or cavities. European honey bees are more selective and prefer drier sites 3 or 4 feet above ground.

Safety Tips: Look, Listen and Run

There are precautions you can take to protect yourself against stinging insects:

  • Have a plan and communicate it with your family for avoiding/responding to stinging insects.
  • In case of allergic reaction, have a bee-sting kit available.
  • Eliminate potential nesting sites. Check walls and eaves of structures. Plug holes.
  • Remain alert for bees. Look for bees in work areas before using power equipment such as weed eaters, lawnmowers and chainsaws — noise excites bees.
  • If bees begin to chase you, run away in a straight line, cover your face, particularly your nose and mouth, and get inside a building or vehicle. Even if a few bees get in with you, it is better than remaining outside where there is a greater potential for larger numbers of bees and stings.
  • Contact a licensed pest control operator to remove the nest.
  • Remove stinger by scraping it out with a fingernail or credit card; squeezing the stinger will release more venom.
  • See a doctor if breathing is difficult, if you are stung several times, or you are allergic to bee stings.

Benefits of Managed Honey Bees

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) is the regulatory agency responsible for protecting the beekeeping (or apiary) industry. Without honey bee pollination, the food we eat could decrease by a third.

We know that without properly managed honey bee colonies, agricultural productivity would suffer. But there would be another serious outcome — Africanized honey bees could easily move into areas without managed colonies.

Though the Africanized honey bee is established in Florida, through education, trapping programs, and the help of managed European honey bee colonies, we can attempt to keep Africanized honey bee populations low.

We can learn to live with them, as we have learned to live with other dangerous stinging insects such as imported fire ants and yellowjackets.