By Nancy Ham, Master Gardener and Advanced Bee Keeper
What is being done to protect our human population and the managed colonies of European bees?
The Africanized Honey Bee (AHB) is believed to have entered Florida in 2002. It probably entered the state as a stowaway on a cargo ship in one of the deep-water ports. Since its arrival, it has spread throughout the state and has been reported in all counties south of the Tampa Bay area, including Hillsborough County, and certain counties as far north as the panhandle. It is unknown how far the species can spread due to its poor adaptability to cold.
As noted in a previous post, homeowners need to “bee- proof” their property to discourage feral swarms from establishing colonies near humans. This of course does not guarantee swarms will not find a home in an inappropriate place. A true swarm usually leaves within a few hours or days and if left alone will leave. However, once the swarm starts building a new home, they will become defensive as they now have something to defend.
I have spoken to many homeowners who enjoy having feral hives near their homes and report no contact between humans and bees. I understand their delight and even the possibility of increased pollination. However, the official recommendation is to have the colonies removed if close to human activity.
With the introduction of the AHB into Florida, it is estimated most feral colonies are Africanized. The risk of allowing these colonies to remain near humans must be carefully weighed, as the potential consequences cannot be known.
How can a feral colony be removed?
Florida law allows any registered bee keeper to remove swarms and colonies. A homeowner can locate a registered bee keeper themselves or can access The Florida Department of Agriculture, Consumer Services Bee Removal list – entnemdept.ifas.ufl.edu/afbee/resources/homeowners.shtml
Also on the same list are the names of Certified Pest Control Operators who specialize in bee eradication.
What else is being done to control this invasive species?
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) maintains swarm traps around Florida’s deep water ports, along Interstate 10 and along the Alabama border. These traps are checked periodically, the bees eradicated and samples sent to their lab in Gainesville to determine the probability of Africanization.
The fast growing hobby of backyard bee keeping is also a means of control. Whenever a void occurs in nature some species will move into the area to take advantage of any resources. When an area has managed bee colonies with European genetics, the competition for resources can discourage feral hives from settling in an area. Recognizing this to be true has resulted in Florida laws that allow bees to be kept in urban areas.
Ultimately, we must recognize we will probably never eliminate the AHB from the state. We will have to be smart in protecting families and ourselves. Registered bee keepers know what steps to take to minimize Africanization of their managed hives and homeowners need to do their part.
References and further information:
UF/IFAS Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab-
UF/IFAS African Honey Bee Extension and Education Program-