Hillsborough Extension Garden Blog

Solutions you can use for your gardening problems.

The Africanized Honey Bee , Part two of Four February 19, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 11:01 am
By Nancy Ham, Master Gardener and Advanced Bee Keeper

What is the difference between the AHB and bees managed by bee keepers?  

Photo comparison of African Bee and European Bee

Comparison of an Africanized Honey Bee on left and a European Honey Bee on the right. Photo source: Scott Bauer USDA/ARS

All honey bees managed by bee keepers in Florida are descendants and hybrid mixes of the European or Western bee subspecies. They are usually fairly docile and easy to manage. That said, any colony could become defensive under certain circumstances such as harassment, rough handling, bad weather etc. Let me repeat a point made in earlier postings, and that is the Africanized Honey Bee (AHB) and the European HB (EHB) look exactly alike to the human eye. The only way to tell them apart is under a dissecting microscope and by a trained technician. This is partly why the homeowner is urged to avoid contact with even a seemingly docile swarm. The differences between the two subspecies are in their behavior. Below is a list of some of these behaviors. Dr. William Kern, Jr. of the University of Florida who is a recognized expert on the AHB supplies much of this information.

  1. The AHB can be intensively defensive of the colony. It has been observed they will pursue an intruder 10 times further than the EHB with 10 times the number of bees. (Kern, 2014)
  1. They can become defensive with an intruder at twice the distance of the EHB.
  1. AHB swarm many more times per year than the EHB. Swarming is the hives way of asexual reproduction and all bees are genetically programmed to do so. This involves the queen and half or more of the worker bees leaving the hive to establish a new colony leaving behind in the parent colony half or less of the workers and a new or emerging queen. In effect, one hive now becomes two. (Refer to a previous posting for more information on swarming)
  1. AHB will abscond more frequently if disturbed. When the colony absconds, unlike swarms, all the bees will abandon the hive sometimes leaving behind unattended brood and honey.
  1. AHB colonies grow faster than EHB colonies. The queen lays more eggs, produces more drones (males)and the development time is shorter.
  1. The AHB tends to establish colonies in smaller cavities than the EHB. They maintain smaller numbers of bees and swarm more frequently. Homeowners should be especially cautious when bees are found in meter boxes and other small cavities around the home.
  1. The AHB is more likely to establish a new home in exposed areas, such as tree limbs or outdoor gym equipment. They are also more likely to choose sites lower to the ground placing them in closer vicinity to humans.
Photo of a technician measuring an AHB wing.

Technician measuring an Africanized Honey Bee wing. Photo credit: Scott Bauer USDA/ARS

One additional characteristic of the AHB that has greatly aided in their success is their increased resistance to the pests and diseases that are devastating our EHB colonies. This is believed to be due to their evolving along side the pests and diseases the EHB wasn’t previously exposed to. References and further information: UF/IFAS Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab- http://entnemdept.ifas.ufl.edu/honeybee/index.shtml UF/IFAS African Honey Bee Extension and Education Program- http://entnemdept.ifas.ufl.edu/afbee/ Kern, W. (2014). Africanized Honey Bees (Power Point slides)

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