bee biology

Is Africanized honey bee venom more toxic?

No. The venom of Apis mellifera scutellata, the so-called Africanized honey bee, is no more toxic than any other Apis mellifera subspecies. The problem with Africanized honey bees lies in their behavior:[list icon=”sign-in”]

  • they respond more quickly to disturbances of the hive
  • they defend a larger area around a hive
  • they send out more defensive bees in response to a disturbance
  • they will pursue an intruder for longer distances[/list]

In short, it is the number of stings, not the toxicity of the stings, that causes a problem.

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  • Rusty:

    Do you have any knowledge of this? About 45 days after acquiring a neighbor’s swarm, when I went in (again) to check on them on about July 10, in a NE suburb of Seattle, they attacked me right away. There were immediately far more of them, extremely aggressive. (For comparison, two flanking adjacent colonies inspected 10 minutes later were more typically behaved.) For the first time in 7 years of beekeeping involving about 12 colonies off and on, within 15 seconds of lifting the lid, they stung me through the bee gloves, through thick denim jeans, and somehow found a way into my bee suit. They pursued me further, much more vigorously, and for a longer time, than ever before.

    Do you suspect these may be Africanized? Most important to me, I’m anxious to know what you would have done in response to this episode?

    Thanks much.

    • Lee,

      Last question first: I would run.

      I think most probably the bees were already upset for some reason and your appearance in the hive just set them off. I would check on them again after a couple weeks to see if you get a similar response or if they calmed down. I’ve had colonies show unexpected aggressiveness from time to time, for no reason I can explain, but it always seemed to be an isolated event. That said, you have to wonder how long Africanized bees will stay down south. Certainly since so many bees are raised from southern queens, sooner or later the genetics will show up in more northerly locations.

  • I’m a beekeeper from Kenya and was just wondering why of late bee swarms have become so aggressive and are always attacking, especially at schools, forcing kids to scamper all over.