How Can You Tell if Bees are Africanized?

Africanized Bee in Florida

The term ‘Africanized’ is used to describe a hybrid species of honeybee. The Africanized honeybee is a mix of the East African lowland honeybee with various other European honeybee species. This hybrid honeybee is also sometimes referred to as the ‘killer bee’ because of how defensive and aggressive it can be. Africanized bees have been known to chase people and animals for up to a quarter of a mile and have been responsible for the death of both humans and animals. So how can you tell if bees are Africanized?

Do You Have Africanized Bees?

The Africanized honeybee was the result of breeding in Brazil during the 1950’s in an effort to increase honey production. Unfortunately, twenty-six swarms escaped, subsequently spreading across the South American continent. In 1985, the Africanized honeybee was found in Texas and by 1990 were found in other hives across North America.

Africanized honeybees do not look any different to other honeybees, which makes it hard (especially for new beekeepers) to tell whether they are of this species or not. Another thing to consider is the fact that certain parts of the U.S. are considered to be ‘Africanized’ zones, which basically means where this species is more prevalent. If you live in such a zone, there is a fair chance that your queen will mate with an Africanized drone from the area. Her offspring are likely to have some of the drone’s genetics and may hence start to become more aggressive.

There is also a chance that your original queen will swarm or die and consequently be replaced by a new queen who could have some of the aggressive genes. And if your new queen is becoming defensive and aggressive, it could then start to become a problem.

How defensive your bees are will give you an indication of whether or not they are Africanized. A hive of European honeybees is likely to be gentler and will not usually see you as a direct threat unless you are less than five feet from the hive or are standing directly in front of the entrance. If your bees have been chasing you and trying to sting you when you are near, this is a good indication that they may be Africanized.

Africanised Bee in Tanzania
Africanised Bee in Tanzania

If your bees are angry or agitated, they will typically bounce off your veil and fly quickly around you. They might even begin to cluster around your head. If they are lazily circling you, they are unlikely to be Africanized. If you are new to beekeeping, it is easy to become confused about what is aggression and what is normal behavior in bees that have just been disturbed. If you get to know the mood of your bees when you are about the hive, you will quickly notice the difference if they have become Africanized.

Aggressive colonies will also chase you after you have closed the hive. If your bees are docile, they may not chase you at all and will rarely follow you for more than 25ft, if they even go that far. However, Africanized bees will chase much further and will usually still be agitated for days after you have inspected the hive. If anyone approaches in the days after an inspection, they are at risk of being attacked.

Should You Kill Africanized Bees?

As mentioned a few times already, Africanized bees are much more aggressive than European honeybees and many beekeepers, particularly those new to the hobby, have been attacked by their bees when conducting inspections. Africanized honeybees in urban areas may also attack unwitting passersby who happen across the hive in the days after an attack. Some people assume that the best way to deal with an attacking bee is to kill it, but this is a big mistake. In fact, when a bee is attacked, it releases an alarm pheromone (scent) which alerts other bees from the colony. This scent attracts other bees and could mean an attack by more bees.

Africanized Honey Bees Pollinating a Yellow Beavertail Cactus Flower
Africanized Honey Bees Pollinating a Yellow Beavertail Cactus Flower

It is better to run away from bees that are attacking and, if possible, seek cover in an enclosed space such as a building or car. As Africanized bees are willing to chase for up to a mile, you will need to keep running until they stop following you. Try not to wave your arms about as this can make things worse by aggravating the bees.

Africanized bees will target the head area and tend to go for the nose, ears, mouth, and eyes, so it is advisable to cover your head with a jacket or your shirt. Cover as much of your head area as you can while not impairing your vision.

How do You Get Rid of Africanized Bees?

If your beehive has become excessively aggressive due to Africanized bees, it may be necessary to have them safely removed. It is not recommended that you try to get rid of these bees yourself as they can become extremely aggressive when disturbed. Instead, contact local pest control company to see if they can remove the bees for you.


Anthony is a content creator by profession but beekeeping is one of his great passions.

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