bee biology

Africanized honey bees are not Apis mellifera scutellata

Apis mellifera scutellata is one of several subspecies of honey bee native to Africa and it is generally referred to as the African honey bee.

It was brought into Brazil for genetic experiments where it was accidentally released into the wild. It was able to mate with local honey bees of European stock and spread rapidly. It is the descendants of this original introduction that we call Africanized honey bees—not African honey bees. We call them Africanized because they are carrying many of the genes introduced by Apis mellifera scutellata, but they are not pure Apis mellifera scutellata—in other words they are not true African honey bees.

Think of it this way: if you cross a poodle with a collie you get a dog that is not a poodle or a collie. Now your particular cross may look like a poodle, bark like a poodle, and have curly hair like a poodle but, trust me, it’s not a poodle. The offspring of this cross has been poodlized.

Same with the bees. These new bees may sting like African bees, swarm like African bees, and chase like African bees—but they are not African bees. They exhibit an overwhelming number of African bee traits so we say they have been Africanized.



  • My bees aren’t Africanized, but within the past few days, whenever I go in the backyard, at least one or two bees will pester me by buzzing around my face and head, zig-zagging back and forth like yellow jackets until they bang into my face, my nose, my ears — my hair. Fun stuff.

    I saw this kind of behaviour last fall during a nectar dearth, but not in the middle of the summer. I can’t find any explanation for it (though I’m still looking in the books). It’s been impossible for anyone to go in the backyard without getting head-butted by a bee at some point, and ignoring the bees doesn’t make them go away.

    Do you have any idea what would bring on this kind of behaviour so suddenly?

    I’ll have to move the hives out of the backyard if this keeps up.

    • Phillip,

      I’ve been seeing the same thing for two or three weeks now. It’s usually just one or two bees per hive, but they are really annoying. I blame it on an impending nectar dearth, but it also can be brought on by humid and/or rainy weather. Hang in there; it usually stops after a while.

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