Honeybees are not native in the America's. European settlers
brought the honeybee with them in the 1600's. It is believed that all honeybees came from
Southeast Asia, then spread to Europe and Africa and adapted well to their new environments.
In the 1950's Brazil made an attempt to improve the domestic
bees, in the area, to increase honey production. Queen bees were selected and taken to Brazil,
from Africa, by a Brazilian geneticist. These bees died on the trip to Brazil. Other bees from
Africa were sent to Brazil to replace the loss. Twenty-six swarms were accidentally released,
and others dispersed to bee-keepers, and established themselves in the Brazilian environment.
African and European bees were able to breed because they are members of the same species. The
hybrids were African-like where there were less European bees. Hence, the range of Africanized
bees expanded as populations' grew. Africanized honey bees have been found in many climates,
from deserts to rain forests and low to high elevations. In the United States, Africanized bees
first appeared when a swarm was captured and destroyed on October 15, 1990.
Africanized honeybees and European honey bees belong to the same
species Apis mellifera. Both exhibit the same basic behavior, biochemistry, and structure. There
are significant differences between the bees due to characteristics being more dominant or
occurring more frequently. The most publicized difference is the defensive behavior of
Africanized bees. This defensive behavior is probably why the media has termed the Africanized
bee the "killer bee." The AHB is quicker to defend its hive and will go after the
intruder a larger distance. Animals or venom of an AHB is the same as EHB venom. Vibrations,
caused by machinery, has also been known to provoke Africanized bees into defensiveness and
stinging. The bees die after stinging.
Honey production is also a difference among AHB's and EHB's.
Amount and quality of nectar that is available to bees is the dependent factor. AHB's are not
considered effective honey producers because of the tropical climates they live in, where
nectar is usually low quality and flows irregularly. Honey, as well as pollen and bee's wax
(which is necessary for the survival of the colonies), is widely sought after by humans and
African honeybees are known as quick colony producers which also means they swarm more often
than the European honeybee. African colony production is affected by the bees' shorter
development time and their energy focused towards producing more bees other than their food
Africanized bees and European bees also differ in body size and
color. Most Africanized bees are darker in color than European honeybees. This characteristic,
though, is not considered reliable for identifying bees. Official identification is done by
comparing the body by size between AHB's and EHB's. The AHB is smaller than the EHB.
Measurements of wings, wing angles, morphometrics and can be an integrated math and science
activity in the classroom.1
1Information was obtained from U.S.D.A. factsheets and Dr. William
L. Rubink. Complete source information can be found at the end of this document.