Overview

Comprehensive Description

Africanized honeybees (AHB), Apis mellifera scutellata, are the hybrid offspring resulting from the crossing of domestic or naturalized honeybees (Apis mellifera) of European descent and descendants of the more aggressive African honeybee strain, A. m. scutellata, that was intentionally brought to the New world for cultivation and later accidentally released to the environment. They are sometimes dramatically referred to as "killer bees."African honeybees have bodies that are covered in fuzz with an abdomen that is ringed with black stripes. They are very similar in appearance to European honeybees, although they are slightly smaller (Kaplan 2004, ISSG 2005).
  • Abramson C.I., Aquino I.S., Azeredo G.A., and J.M. Price. 1997. Some preliminary studies on the ability of Africanized honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) to tolerate cold temperatures when placed inside a refrigerator. Psychological Reports 81:707-718.
  • APHIS. 1993. Africanized honey bee fact sheet. Document FACTS-05. Available online.
  • Breed M.D. 2003. Animal Behavior. Online textbook available online.
  • Camazine S. and R. Morse. 1988. The Africanized Honeybee. American Scientist 76:465-471.
  • Collins A.M. 2006. Sperm storage in Apis mellifera, proteomics, genomics and technology. Invited Symposia Presentation, International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2006 Congress. Abstract available online.
  • Kaplan J.K. 2004. What's buzzing with Africanized honey bees? USDA Agricultural Research Magazine 52:4-8. Available online.
  • Kerr W.E. 1967. The history of the introduction of Africanized honey bees to Brazil. South African Bee Journal. 39:3-5.
  • Rinderer T.E. 1986. Africanized bees: An overview. American Bee Journal. 126:98-100.
  • Sanford M.T. and H.G. Hall. 2005. African honey bee: What you need to know. UF/IFAS Fact Sheet ENY-114. Reviewed: March 1995. Revised: September 2005. Available online.
  • Vergara C., Dietz A., and A. Perez-de-Leon. 1993. Female Parasitism of European Honey Bees by Africanized Honey Bee Swarms in Mexico. Scientific American 269: 84-90.
  • Villa J.D., Rinderer T.E., and J.A. Stelzer. 2002. Answers to the puzzling distribution of Africanized bees in the United States or "Why are those bees not moving east of Texas?" American Bee Journal 142:480-483.
  • Winston M.L. 1992. Killer Bees. The Africanized Honey Bee in the Americas. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. 176p.
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Distribution

National Distribution

United States

Origin: Exotic

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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The native range of Apis mellifera scutellata is the eastern and southern portions of Africa. Introduction to the New World began with the intentional importation and subsequent accidental release in Brazil followed, in turn, by spread of the strain through Central- and South America and into the southern U.S. (Sanford and Hall 2005).The known introduced U.S. range now includes portions of California, Nevada, Arizon, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Florida. The strain is considered to be officially established in Florida. As of March 2006, Africanizede honeybees had been reported from 14 Florida counties, including the southern three counties (St. Lucie, Martin, Palm Beach) of the India River Lagoon watershed.
  • Abramson C.I., Aquino I.S., Azeredo G.A., and J.M. Price. 1997. Some preliminary studies on the ability of Africanized honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) to tolerate cold temperatures when placed inside a refrigerator. Psychological Reports 81:707-718.
  • APHIS. 1993. Africanized honey bee fact sheet. Document FACTS-05. Available online.
  • Breed M.D. 2003. Animal Behavior. Online textbook available online.
  • Camazine S. and R. Morse. 1988. The Africanized Honeybee. American Scientist 76:465-471.
  • Collins A.M. 2006. Sperm storage in Apis mellifera, proteomics, genomics and technology. Invited Symposia Presentation, International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2006 Congress. Abstract available online.
  • Kaplan J.K. 2004. What's buzzing with Africanized honey bees? USDA Agricultural Research Magazine 52:4-8. Available online.
  • Kerr W.E. 1967. The history of the introduction of Africanized honey bees to Brazil. South African Bee Journal. 39:3-5.
  • Rinderer T.E. 1986. Africanized bees: An overview. American Bee Journal. 126:98-100.
  • Sanford M.T. and H.G. Hall. 2005. African honey bee: What you need to know. UF/IFAS Fact Sheet ENY-114. Reviewed: March 1995. Revised: September 2005. Available online.
  • Vergara C., Dietz A., and A. Perez-de-Leon. 1993. Female Parasitism of European Honey Bees by Africanized Honey Bee Swarms in Mexico. Scientific American 269: 84-90.
  • Villa J.D., Rinderer T.E., and J.A. Stelzer. 2002. Answers to the puzzling distribution of Africanized bees in the United States or "Why are those bees not moving east of Texas?" American Bee Journal 142:480-483.
  • Winston M.L. 1992. Killer Bees. The Africanized Honey Bee in the Americas. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. 176p.
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Physical Description

Size

Adult Apis mellifera scutellata workers attain a body length of around 19 mm, which is only slightly smaller than the average European honeybee length. Female worker bees live for around a month while male drones survive for 5-10 weeks. Queens typically live for 1-3 years (ISSG 2005).
  • Abramson C.I., Aquino I.S., Azeredo G.A., and J.M. Price. 1997. Some preliminary studies on the ability of Africanized honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) to tolerate cold temperatures when placed inside a refrigerator. Psychological Reports 81:707-718.
  • APHIS. 1993. Africanized honey bee fact sheet. Document FACTS-05. Available online.
  • Breed M.D. 2003. Animal Behavior. Online textbook available online.
  • Camazine S. and R. Morse. 1988. The Africanized Honeybee. American Scientist 76:465-471.
  • Collins A.M. 2006. Sperm storage in Apis mellifera, proteomics, genomics and technology. Invited Symposia Presentation, International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2006 Congress. Abstract available online.
  • Kaplan J.K. 2004. What's buzzing with Africanized honey bees? USDA Agricultural Research Magazine 52:4-8. Available online.
  • Kerr W.E. 1967. The history of the introduction of Africanized honey bees to Brazil. South African Bee Journal. 39:3-5.
  • Rinderer T.E. 1986. Africanized bees: An overview. American Bee Journal. 126:98-100.
  • Sanford M.T. and H.G. Hall. 2005. African honey bee: What you need to know. UF/IFAS Fact Sheet ENY-114. Reviewed: March 1995. Revised: September 2005. Available online.
  • Vergara C., Dietz A., and A. Perez-de-Leon. 1993. Female Parasitism of European Honey Bees by Africanized Honey Bee Swarms in Mexico. Scientific American 269: 84-90.
  • Villa J.D., Rinderer T.E., and J.A. Stelzer. 2002. Answers to the puzzling distribution of Africanized bees in the United States or "Why are those bees not moving east of Texas?" American Bee Journal 142:480-483.
  • Winston M.L. 1992. Killer Bees. The Africanized Honey Bee in the Americas. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. 176p.
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Source: Indian River Lagoon Species Inventory

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Look Alikes

It is exceedingly difficult for a non-entomologist to positively distinguish Africanized honeybees from common European honeybees. Aside from genetic analysis, comparison of as many as twenty different body measurements remains the only way to distinguish the strains with certainty (Kaplan 2004).Apis mellifera scutellata are most easily recognized for their behavioral dissimilarities to European honeybees. They respond quickly and aggressively to disturbance, defend hives more intensely than European honeybees and will chase the source of the disturbance for a mile or more (Sanford and Hall 2005).
  • Abramson C.I., Aquino I.S., Azeredo G.A., and J.M. Price. 1997. Some preliminary studies on the ability of Africanized honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) to tolerate cold temperatures when placed inside a refrigerator. Psychological Reports 81:707-718.
  • APHIS. 1993. Africanized honey bee fact sheet. Document FACTS-05. Available online.
  • Breed M.D. 2003. Animal Behavior. Online textbook available online.
  • Camazine S. and R. Morse. 1988. The Africanized Honeybee. American Scientist 76:465-471.
  • Collins A.M. 2006. Sperm storage in Apis mellifera, proteomics, genomics and technology. Invited Symposia Presentation, International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2006 Congress. Abstract available online.
  • Kaplan J.K. 2004. What's buzzing with Africanized honey bees? USDA Agricultural Research Magazine 52:4-8. Available online.
  • Kerr W.E. 1967. The history of the introduction of Africanized honey bees to Brazil. South African Bee Journal. 39:3-5.
  • Rinderer T.E. 1986. Africanized bees: An overview. American Bee Journal. 126:98-100.
  • Sanford M.T. and H.G. Hall. 2005. African honey bee: What you need to know. UF/IFAS Fact Sheet ENY-114. Reviewed: March 1995. Revised: September 2005. Available online.
  • Vergara C., Dietz A., and A. Perez-de-Leon. 1993. Female Parasitism of European Honey Bees by Africanized Honey Bee Swarms in Mexico. Scientific American 269: 84-90.
  • Villa J.D., Rinderer T.E., and J.A. Stelzer. 2002. Answers to the puzzling distribution of Africanized bees in the United States or "Why are those bees not moving east of Texas?" American Bee Journal 142:480-483.
  • Winston M.L. 1992. Killer Bees. The Africanized Honey Bee in the Americas. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. 176p.
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Ecology

Trophic Strategy

Like all honeybees, Apis mellifera scutellata feeds on nectar and pollen. Pollen is the chief source of dietary protein and nectar (and honey once it is made through partial-digestion of nectar by workers), is the chief source of carbohydrate. Honey is stored in honeycombs in the hive and the honey stores are relied on heavily during the winter or when foraging conditions become poor. However, the tropical A. m. scutellata does not stockpile honey to the degree that European bees do (ISSG 2005).Africanized honeybees are more solitary in their foraging than European bees and they often forage in adverse conditions where European bees would cease foraging (Camazine and Morse 1988, Winston 1992). They are also more likely to abscond from (abandon) their nests during periods of low food availability to establish new nests elsewhere. This behavior is characteristic of tropical honeybee strains evolved in areas experiencing frequent prolonged adverse environmental conditions (Camazine and Morse 1988, Schneider 1990).
  • Abramson C.I., Aquino I.S., Azeredo G.A., and J.M. Price. 1997. Some preliminary studies on the ability of Africanized honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) to tolerate cold temperatures when placed inside a refrigerator. Psychological Reports 81:707-718.
  • APHIS. 1993. Africanized honey bee fact sheet. Document FACTS-05. Available online.
  • Breed M.D. 2003. Animal Behavior. Online textbook available online.
  • Camazine S. and R. Morse. 1988. The Africanized Honeybee. American Scientist 76:465-471.
  • Collins A.M. 2006. Sperm storage in Apis mellifera, proteomics, genomics and technology. Invited Symposia Presentation, International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2006 Congress. Abstract available online.
  • Kaplan J.K. 2004. What's buzzing with Africanized honey bees? USDA Agricultural Research Magazine 52:4-8. Available online.
  • Kerr W.E. 1967. The history of the introduction of Africanized honey bees to Brazil. South African Bee Journal. 39:3-5.
  • Rinderer T.E. 1986. Africanized bees: An overview. American Bee Journal. 126:98-100.
  • Sanford M.T. and H.G. Hall. 2005. African honey bee: What you need to know. UF/IFAS Fact Sheet ENY-114. Reviewed: March 1995. Revised: September 2005. Available online.
  • Vergara C., Dietz A., and A. Perez-de-Leon. 1993. Female Parasitism of European Honey Bees by Africanized Honey Bee Swarms in Mexico. Scientific American 269: 84-90.
  • Villa J.D., Rinderer T.E., and J.A. Stelzer. 2002. Answers to the puzzling distribution of Africanized bees in the United States or "Why are those bees not moving east of Texas?" American Bee Journal 142:480-483.
  • Winston M.L. 1992. Killer Bees. The Africanized Honey Bee in the Americas. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. 176p.
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Associations

Apis mellifera scutellata co-occurs with and typically hybridizes or outcompetes the European honeybee strain in Florida.Invasion History: The history of the introduction of Apis mellifera scutellata to the Americas is well-documented. The strain was first domesticated in the scrub desert environment of central South Africa and became known as an aggressive but productive, disease-resistant strain that produced quality honey.Growth of the honey industry in Brazil In the 1950s was tempered by relatively poor performance of imported European honeybees. In 1956 the Brazilian government sent a geneticist named Warwick Kerr to collect African honeybee queens to bring back for experimental breeding. Interbreeding African queens and European drones (via artificial insemination) produced the hybrid strain that came to be known as Africanized honeybees (Kerr 1967, Winston 1992).The accidental release by a Brazilian beekeeper of more than two-dozen AHB queens in 1957 led to widespread hybridization with naturalized European honeybee populations. The reasonable assumption that outcrossing would quickly dilute the aggressive tendencies of the Africanized strain proved to be incorrect as reports of feral bee swarms attacking livestock began to multiply.Africanized honeybees spread rapidly through continued outcrossing with naturalized honeybee populations, from Brazil up though South America and into Central America and Mexico. The strain first arrived in the United States in 1990, when they were identified near Hidalgo, TX (Kaplan 2004).From 1995-2005, A. m. scutellata were captured in bait hives maintained by Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services staff at shipping ports such as Jacksonville, Miami and Tampa. Throughout this period, Africanized bees appeared unable to gain a foothold in the state (Woods 2005).As of 2005, however, established A. m. scutellata populations have been documented in more than a dozen counties in peninsular Florida. The arrival in Florida appears to be disjunct to the spread of A. m. scutellata from Texas. More likely, Florida introductions were human-facilitated as shipping, trucking, and/or rail transport may have accidentally carried undetected Africanized bees into the state. Potential to Compete With Natives: The rapid spread of Apis mellifera scutellata into new areas is largely accomplished through hybridization with naturalized European honeybees. The reproductive advantages enjoyed by A. m. scutellata (see above) typically allow it to eventually dominate areas formerly occupied by naturalized European strain colonies (Kaplan 2004).European honeybee colonies can also be directly taken over by Africanized bees. Takeovers are perpetrated by swarming or absconding queens and a contingent of workers and appear to primarily be a means to gain access to favorable nest sites, food resources, and/or large worker populations (Vergara et al. 1993). Queenless colonies and small or failing colonies are most likely to be taken over but large, strong colonies can be infiltrated as well (Rinderer and Helmich 1991) The actual process of colony takeover is complex and not entirely understood, but it involves the initial acquisition of the resident colony odor by invading Africanized bees prior to hive invasion and killing of resident queens if present (Vergara et al. 1993). Possible Economic Consequences of Invasion: Honeybees may be the most economically important insects in the world. The first European honeybees were brought to the New World perhaps three centuries ago, and the economic benefit of this historic introduction here and elsewhere throughout the world is incalculable. In addition to producing honey and beeswax, honeybees also pollinate a great many agricultural crops. A 2007 New York Times article cited a Cornell University study estimating the annual value of honeybee crop pollination in the U.S. at more than $14 billion.The notion that African honeybees are "killer bees" is largely hyperbole, although a handful of U.S. fatalities (and at least 175 from Mexico since 1985) indicate that Africanize hives should be treated with caution. Although the sting of a single Africanized bee is no worse than that of a single European bee, Africanized bees do swarm more readily and defend the hive more aggressively than European varieties.If the number of Africanized bee colonies continues to expand, takeovers of cultivated European hives by Africanized queens during periods of high swarming could cause considerable problems for Florida beekeepers. Potential economic problems for Florida beekeepers if their stocks became Africanized are probably those relating to the tendencies of A. m. scutellata for producing less stored honey and for excessive swarming and nest abandonment (absconding). None of those attributes are desirable in cultivated honeybee hives.
  • Abramson C.I., Aquino I.S., Azeredo G.A., and J.M. Price. 1997. Some preliminary studies on the ability of Africanized honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) to tolerate cold temperatures when placed inside a refrigerator. Psychological Reports 81:707-718.
  • APHIS. 1993. Africanized honey bee fact sheet. Document FACTS-05. Available online.
  • Breed M.D. 2003. Animal Behavior. Online textbook available online.
  • Camazine S. and R. Morse. 1988. The Africanized Honeybee. American Scientist 76:465-471.
  • Collins A.M. 2006. Sperm storage in Apis mellifera, proteomics, genomics and technology. Invited Symposia Presentation, International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2006 Congress. Abstract available online.
  • Kaplan J.K. 2004. What's buzzing with Africanized honey bees? USDA Agricultural Research Magazine 52:4-8. Available online.
  • Kerr W.E. 1967. The history of the introduction of Africanized honey bees to Brazil. South African Bee Journal. 39:3-5.
  • Rinderer T.E. 1986. Africanized bees: An overview. American Bee Journal. 126:98-100.
  • Sanford M.T. and H.G. Hall. 2005. African honey bee: What you need to know. UF/IFAS Fact Sheet ENY-114. Reviewed: March 1995. Revised: September 2005. Available online.
  • Vergara C., Dietz A., and A. Perez-de-Leon. 1993. Female Parasitism of European Honey Bees by Africanized Honey Bee Swarms in Mexico. Scientific American 269: 84-90.
  • Villa J.D., Rinderer T.E., and J.A. Stelzer. 2002. Answers to the puzzling distribution of Africanized bees in the United States or "Why are those bees not moving east of Texas?" American Bee Journal 142:480-483.
  • Winston M.L. 1992. Killer Bees. The Africanized Honey Bee in the Americas. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. 176p.
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Population Biology

Africanized honeybees have been found in 14 Florida counties and are now considered to be established in the state.
  • Abramson C.I., Aquino I.S., Azeredo G.A., and J.M. Price. 1997. Some preliminary studies on the ability of Africanized honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) to tolerate cold temperatures when placed inside a refrigerator. Psychological Reports 81:707-718.
  • APHIS. 1993. Africanized honey bee fact sheet. Document FACTS-05. Available online.
  • Breed M.D. 2003. Animal Behavior. Online textbook available online.
  • Camazine S. and R. Morse. 1988. The Africanized Honeybee. American Scientist 76:465-471.
  • Collins A.M. 2006. Sperm storage in Apis mellifera, proteomics, genomics and technology. Invited Symposia Presentation, International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2006 Congress. Abstract available online.
  • Kaplan J.K. 2004. What's buzzing with Africanized honey bees? USDA Agricultural Research Magazine 52:4-8. Available online.
  • Kerr W.E. 1967. The history of the introduction of Africanized honey bees to Brazil. South African Bee Journal. 39:3-5.
  • Rinderer T.E. 1986. Africanized bees: An overview. American Bee Journal. 126:98-100.
  • Sanford M.T. and H.G. Hall. 2005. African honey bee: What you need to know. UF/IFAS Fact Sheet ENY-114. Reviewed: March 1995. Revised: September 2005. Available online.
  • Vergara C., Dietz A., and A. Perez-de-Leon. 1993. Female Parasitism of European Honey Bees by Africanized Honey Bee Swarms in Mexico. Scientific American 269: 84-90.
  • Villa J.D., Rinderer T.E., and J.A. Stelzer. 2002. Answers to the puzzling distribution of Africanized bees in the United States or "Why are those bees not moving east of Texas?" American Bee Journal 142:480-483.
  • Winston M.L. 1992. Killer Bees. The Africanized Honey Bee in the Americas. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. 176p.
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Life History and Behavior

Reproduction

Reproduction is fascinating, complex, and an extensively studied facet of honeybee life history. A cursory overview is presented here:When queen honeybees mate with male drones, the fertilized eggs that are produced are destined to hatch into sterile female workers unless, as larvae, they are fed large quantities of royal jelly secreted by hive workers. The royal jelly diet causes larvae to mature into young reproductive queens. Queens can also produce unfertilized eggs, which mature into reproductive male drones (Breed 2003).The actual mating between honeybee queens and drones occurs during swarming events when the old queen, young queens, drones, and about half of an established colony's workers leave the nest to establish new ones. Seasonal synchrony in reproductive swarming ensures that drones from many different colonies are available to mate with emerging queens, thus minimizing the effects of inbreeding. Queens are capable of mating with multiple drones whose sperm they then store and use to fertilize eggs for their entire lifetime (Breed 2003, Collins 2006).European honeybees and Africanized honeybees exhibit important differences in swarming behavior that are key to the successful spread of the Africanized strain. Where both strains co-occur, European honeybee queens mate disproportionately with Africanized drones. This is believed to happen both because Africanized bees produce more drones per colony than European bees and also because queens inseminated by both Africanized and European drones will preferentially use the African semen first in the production of the next generation of offspring. Additionally, Africanized colonies mature at a faster rate allowing more swarms to split off from a hive in a given amount of time, again conferring an advantage upon the Africanized reproductive individuals (Kaplan 2004). Other reproductive differences conferring a competitive advantage on Africanized honeybees are described below.If young queens are isolated from Africanized colonies, they will have only resident European drones with which to mate. Such mating results in offspring with diluted African tendencies toward aggression (Sanford and Hall 2005). As the numbers of Africanized colonies increase in an area, however, the incidence of mating between Africanized queens and drones will also increase, resulting in more aggressive progeny.
  • Abramson C.I., Aquino I.S., Azeredo G.A., and J.M. Price. 1997. Some preliminary studies on the ability of Africanized honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) to tolerate cold temperatures when placed inside a refrigerator. Psychological Reports 81:707-718.
  • APHIS. 1993. Africanized honey bee fact sheet. Document FACTS-05. Available online.
  • Breed M.D. 2003. Animal Behavior. Online textbook available online.
  • Camazine S. and R. Morse. 1988. The Africanized Honeybee. American Scientist 76:465-471.
  • Collins A.M. 2006. Sperm storage in Apis mellifera, proteomics, genomics and technology. Invited Symposia Presentation, International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2006 Congress. Abstract available online.
  • Kaplan J.K. 2004. What's buzzing with Africanized honey bees? USDA Agricultural Research Magazine 52:4-8. Available online.
  • Kerr W.E. 1967. The history of the introduction of Africanized honey bees to Brazil. South African Bee Journal. 39:3-5.
  • Rinderer T.E. 1986. Africanized bees: An overview. American Bee Journal. 126:98-100.
  • Sanford M.T. and H.G. Hall. 2005. African honey bee: What you need to know. UF/IFAS Fact Sheet ENY-114. Reviewed: March 1995. Revised: September 2005. Available online.
  • Vergara C., Dietz A., and A. Perez-de-Leon. 1993. Female Parasitism of European Honey Bees by Africanized Honey Bee Swarms in Mexico. Scientific American 269: 84-90.
  • Villa J.D., Rinderer T.E., and J.A. Stelzer. 2002. Answers to the puzzling distribution of Africanized bees in the United States or "Why are those bees not moving east of Texas?" American Bee Journal 142:480-483.
  • Winston M.L. 1992. Killer Bees. The Africanized Honey Bee in the Americas. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. 176p.
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Growth

Africanized honeybee queens are capable of producing 1,500 eggs a day. Most of these are destined to become workers, some will become drones, and a few will become new queens. Larvae hatch out is just three days, as opposed to more than a week in European bees. Initial growth is also extremely rapid. Fed nectar and pollen by adult workers, larvae attain 900 times the initial weight of the egg in under one week (Winston 1992).
  • Abramson C.I., Aquino I.S., Azeredo G.A., and J.M. Price. 1997. Some preliminary studies on the ability of Africanized honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) to tolerate cold temperatures when placed inside a refrigerator. Psychological Reports 81:707-718.
  • APHIS. 1993. Africanized honey bee fact sheet. Document FACTS-05. Available online.
  • Breed M.D. 2003. Animal Behavior. Online textbook available online.
  • Camazine S. and R. Morse. 1988. The Africanized Honeybee. American Scientist 76:465-471.
  • Collins A.M. 2006. Sperm storage in Apis mellifera, proteomics, genomics and technology. Invited Symposia Presentation, International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2006 Congress. Abstract available online.
  • Kaplan J.K. 2004. What's buzzing with Africanized honey bees? USDA Agricultural Research Magazine 52:4-8. Available online.
  • Kerr W.E. 1967. The history of the introduction of Africanized honey bees to Brazil. South African Bee Journal. 39:3-5.
  • Rinderer T.E. 1986. Africanized bees: An overview. American Bee Journal. 126:98-100.
  • Sanford M.T. and H.G. Hall. 2005. African honey bee: What you need to know. UF/IFAS Fact Sheet ENY-114. Reviewed: March 1995. Revised: September 2005. Available online.
  • Vergara C., Dietz A., and A. Perez-de-Leon. 1993. Female Parasitism of European Honey Bees by Africanized Honey Bee Swarms in Mexico. Scientific American 269: 84-90.
  • Villa J.D., Rinderer T.E., and J.A. Stelzer. 2002. Answers to the puzzling distribution of Africanized bees in the United States or "Why are those bees not moving east of Texas?" American Bee Journal 142:480-483.
  • Winston M.L. 1992. Killer Bees. The Africanized Honey Bee in the Americas. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. 176p.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Apis mellifera scutellata

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 50
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: TNR - Not Yet Ranked

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Pollinator

Africanized honey bees are effective pollinators, and in some cases may even be more efficient than European honey bees because they are more active, move more quickly, and will forage during cloudy, cooler conditions, light rain, and much earlier and later in the day. Additionally, they carry more pollen than European honey bees and, outside of the United States, both honey - for which they hold the world record on production - and pollen are harvested from these bees. They also can effectively forage during times of weak nectar and pollen flow because they are opportunistic foragers that dart quickly and forage individually. However, commercial management of these bees is unlikely for several reasons, the first being the risk of managing them due to the bees' defensive behavior of the hive. They will defend it at a much greater distance away and have a much lower threshold for alarm behavior than European honey bees. These bees also have lower flower fidelity than European honey bees, visiting many different flower types and lowering the chances that pollination will occur. Africanized honey bees also abscond, or leave the nest to start a new one, up to 12 times a year.

  • Africanized Honey Bee, Texas A & M University Department of Entomology
  • Africanized Honey Bees, USDA Agricultural Research Service
  • What's Buzzing with Africanized Honey Bees?, J. Kim Kaplan, Agricultural Research magazine, USDA Agricultural Research Service, March 2004
  • Are Africanized Bees more efficient pollinators than European Bees?, John Carlson, Mad Sci Network, May 11, 1999
  • Behavior Characteristics of the Africanized Bees, Apis mellifera scutellata, Elizabeth L. Sears, Colorado State University
  • Focus on: Africanized Honey Bees in the Americas, Bee aware: Notes and News on Beekeeping, Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium, April 2002
  • Africanized Honey Bees, Keith S. Delaplane, The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, January 2006
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African bee

The African honey bee (Apis mellifera scutellata) is a subspecies of the Western honey bee. It is native to central and southern Africa, though at the southern extreme it is replaced by the Cape honey bee (Apis mellifera capensis).[1]

This subspecies has been determined to constitute one part of the ancestry of the Africanized bees (also known as "killer bees") spreading through America.

The African bee is being threatened by the introduction of the Cape honey bee into northern South Africa. If a female worker from a Cape honey bee colony enters an African bee nest, she is not attacked, partly due to her resemblance to the African bee queen. Now independent from her own colony, she may begin laying eggs, and since A. m. capensis workers are capable of parthenogenetic reproduction, they will hatch as "clones" of herself, which will also lay eggs. As a result the parasitic A. m. capensis workers increase in number within a host colony. This leads to the death of the host colony on which they depend. An important factor causing the death of a colony seems to be the dwindling numbers of A. m. scutellata workers that perform foraging duties (A. m. capensis workers are greatly under-represented in the foraging force of an infected colony) owing to death of the queen, and, before queen death, competition for egg laying between A. m. capensis workers and the queen. When the colony dies, the capensis females will seek out a new host colony.[2]

Character[edit]

A single African bee sting is no more venomous than a single European bee sting, though African honeybees respond more quickly when disturbed than do European honey bees. They send out three to four times as many workers in response to a threat. They will also pursue an intruder for a greater distance from the hive. Although people have died as a result of 100-300 stings, it has been estimated that the average lethal dose for an adult is 500-1100 bee stings. In terms of industrial honey production, the African bee produces far less honey than its European counterpart, whilst producing more swarms and absconding (abandoning its nest). For this reason, African races of Honeybees are less desirable than European races, except where the proclivity of African bees give beekeepers no other option due to the Africans' tendency to invade and take over European nests.

Appearance[edit]

The appearance of the African honeybee is very similar to the European honeybee. However, the African honeybee is slightly smaller. The average body length of a worker is 19mm. Its upper body is covered in fuzz, and its abdomen is striped with black. [3]

Habitat[edit]

The native habitat of Apis mellifera scutellata includes the southern and eastern regions of Africa. The species was first imported across the Atlantic Ocean to Brazil before it spread to Central America, South America, and southern areas of the United States. The Africanized honey bee thrives in tropical areas and is not well adapted for cold areas that receive heavy rainfall.[4]

Foraging Economics[edit]

Individuals entering and exiting a nest in a rock crevasse

Energetic Benefits of Warm Nectar[edit]

Honeybees are challenged to balance energy consumption and replenishment in their pursuit of nectar. High thoracic temperatures required for foraging flight pose a thermoregulatory imbalance that honeybees attempt to alleviate by targeting particular viscosities and temperatures of nectar resources.[5] In lower environmental temperatures where energy loss is more pronounced, it has been shown through Apis mellifera scutellata that honeybees seek warmer, less concentrated and less viscous nectar, an energetically favorable behavior.[5]

Nectar that is highly concentrated in sugar is more viscous and therefore reduces the speed of consumption and the size of honeybee crop loads.[5] In cooler ambient temperatures, harvesting small, concentrated quantities of nectar does not allow honeybees to maintain the metabolism necessary for foraging flight. Harvesting warmer, less viscous nectar is advantageous because of the energy gained by heat. Honeybees are able to stabilize their body temperature and make up for the energy lost by flying.[5] In A. mellifera scutellata, it was found that crop loads were largely contained in the abdomen, though it remains unclear whether this balances out the aforementioned energy loss from the thorax during flight.[5]

It appears that the cost of harvesting less viscous nectar is that it is also less concentrated in sugar and would be an energetic loss for the honeybees. However, this is not the case; the speed of harvesting nectar with less viscosity increases the quantity harvested at a given time.[6] The relative advantage is so great that it is still more energetically favorable for a honeybee to collect warm nectar even at low sugar concentrations (10%.)[7] Honeybees are energetically rewarded by harvesting nectar that is warmer than ambient temperatures because they make up for energy loss during foraging and obtain more nectar more easily.

The bumblebee’s ability to differentiate flower warmth by color and target warmer flowers is one noted precedent for nectar temperature selection in honeybees.[8]

Significance of Foraging[edit]

It has been noted that A. mellifera scutellata have higher rates of colony growth, reproduction, and swarming than European honey bees (A. mellifera ligustica and A. mellifera mellifera), a fitness advantage that allowed them to become an invasive species.[9] A study by Fewell and Bertram was conducted to understand the source of these differences. The differences in fitness strategy were thought to be accounted for by the fact that African worker bees have a greater preference for pollen over nectar, which is a direct food resource for the emerging brood.[10] Another important factor was thought to be differences between the species in age polyethism, or the allotment of different tasks as a honey bee ages.[10] Young worker bees focus on in-hive assistance such as brood care, and the relatively younger African bee populations were thought to be one explanation for the emphasis on reproduction and colony expansion in the species. The study was also interested in the role different colony social environments and different genetic variation might play in the fitness discrepancies between the two sub-species.[10]

Behavioral differences[edit]

The main difference found between African and European honey bees were a few behavioral traits in the worker bees that were all related to the workers’ food preference.[10] It was found that Apis mellifera scutellata workers focused on pollen processing behaviors while European workers focused on nectar processing behaviors. African bees were also more likely to store pollen while European bees stored honey. The study found that worker food preferences determined whether the colony maintained a certain reproductive rate.[10] For example, having fewer or relatively older workers who prefer nectar means that the colony will not have the resources available to rapidly or efficiently feed new broods. Worker food preferences have been connected to genotypic variation[11] at specific quantitative trait loci.[12]

African bees are “precocious foragers;” A. mellifera scutellata bees begin foraging for pollen significantly earlier than their European counterparts A. mellifera ligustica, and this is thought to be related to the fact that African colonies have a younger, skewed age distribution by comparison.[13] However, this is not a direct cause for the different subsistence strategies between the two subspecies.[10]

Trade-offs of two different strategies[edit]

Over time, distributions of the genotypic traits for worker food preference must have clustered around those conferring a proclivity towards resources that improved the fitness of the subspecies. The balancing of evolutionary costs and benefits have shaped the distribution of these genotypic traits. A bee population must strike a balance in the distribution of resources towards the growth of the current colony members versus reproduction. If too much energy is expended on the maintenance of an adult colony, the bees will lose the chance to expand through reproduction but they will have older workers who specialize in nectar resources for energy (honey.) If too much energy is spent on reproduction, such a colony will be less equipped to survive drastic seasonal changes because they have younger workers who specialize in pollen for feeding the brood, not energy storage.[10]

Evolution of life history strategies[edit]

These two strategies have been adopted by the European and African bees respectively. European bees must survive the winter, an annual event with predictable mortality outcomes. Trying to meet the energetic needs of the colony and reproduction might decrease their overall survival during the winter and it is more evolutionarily favorable for them to store nectar and honey.[14][10] African bees are more vulnerable to less predictable times of scarcity or attack and it is therefore to their advantage to produce as many young as possible, increasing the likelihood that some or even many will survive.[15][10] Such circumstances would have favored the worker bees who preferred harvesting nectar in European colonies and pollen in African colonies, providing an explanation for how a divergence in worker behavior and age distribution evolved in Apis mellifera scutellata and Apis mellifera ligustica.[10] Fewell and Bertram’s study is significant in that it provides a plausible method through which the fitness characteristics of the subspecies could have evolved from a small number of behavioral differences in worker bees.

Parasitization[edit]

A strain of Apis mellifera capensis has monopolized social parasitism of Apis mellifera scutellata hosts in South Africa. Specifically, a strain of A. mellifera c. workers produce crucial pheromones, achieve reproductive status, and overthrow an A. mellifera scutellata queen. Social parasitism in the social insects can involve various forms of exploitation that disrupt the normal division of labor in the colony.[16] The recent development of technology to study the genetic makeup of colonies has revealed that the offspring contribution of reproducing worker parasites merits closer attention.[17]

In 1990, 400 A. mellifera c. colonies were moved into the vicinity of A. mellifera s. species. Ten years later, a single clonal…worker lineage[18] was found to be devastating A. mellifera scutellata colonies in northern South Africa.[19] The monopoly of this single lineage shows that they were able to subvert queen regulation of reproduction and worker recognition mechanisms. Dietemann et al. was able to prove that A. mellifera c. worker parasites were able to produce mandibular pheromones that mimic that of A. mellifera s. queens while in their presence. The resulting breakdown of the division of labor leads to dissertion or death of the parasitized colony.

Method and Results[edit]

Although many pheromones contribute to reproduction, pheromones made in the mandibular gland of queens have been closely linked to reproduction, and they are produced by workers that reproduce. The pheromones prevent others from attacking them, induce workers to recognize them as queen, and give them access to higher quality foods. They also stop other workers from turning reproductive.[20][21] A. mellifera c. worker parasites create female clones and usurp the A. mellifera s. queen. The worker parasites and their increasing number of clones become the sole reproductive individuals in the colony. The destruction of the division of labor leads to reduced resources that eventually force the colony to leave or perish.[22]

Evolution of Pheromone Production[edit]

The single lineage of parasitizing A. mellifera capensis may have gained evolutionary advantage because, compared to other related species, it is not susceptible to the host queen’s pheromonal reproductive suppression of workers. The non-invasive varieties of A. mellifera c. produce less mandibular secretions than the invasive strain. In addition, they produce secretions that are not as similar to that of A. mellifera s. queens as that of the invasive strain. The single lineage was selected for its greater resistance to and greater ability to mimic and overwhelm the pheromonal regulation by host queens.[18]

Pheromonal Differences[edit]

It was discovered that A. mellifera s. queens produce more pheromones than A. mellifera c. queens, suggesting that quality or content of pheromones rather than quantity may explain how A. mellifera c. workers are able to disregard host queen signals. Pheromonal differences between the subspecies is a subject that requires more in-depth investigation to understand how such parasitization is made possible. As mandibular pheromones were a focus of the Dietemann et al. study it is probable that different glands contribute to the pheromones related to reproductive status.[18]

Evolutionary Advantages and Disadvantages[edit]

The multifaceted aspect of communication in social insects makes social insect colonies easy to hijack.[23] Especially in the case of closely related species and subspecies, the biology and organization of potential host species are similar to that of potential parasitizing species making them easier to infiltrate. On the other hand, potential parasites face the challenge of being discovered by the host queen, usually the sole reproductive individual in the colony. The existence of A. mellifera capensis worker parasites is an example of an alternative evolutionary strategy that allows them to increase their “direct fitness in foreign colonies rather than inclusive fitness in their natal nests."[18] Workers usually focus their efforts on raising and caring for larvae that are related to them, thus preserving the propagation of their genes and contributing to their inclusive fitness. The parasitic model is more advantageous by comparison because it allows workers to directly reproduce offspring that are more closely related to them and greater in number, so they are a component of direct fitness.[24]

The invasive lineage of A. mellifera c. succeeded either because of an inability to recognize the host A. mellifera s. queen signal correctly or a resistance to the signal. Ultimately this is an interesting example of a preexisting weakness towards social parasitism by A. mellifera capensis in A. mellifera scutellata.[18] Organisms evolve reproductive strategies that ensure the survival and propagation of the organisms’ genes. Successful reproductive strategies cope with particular economic constraints experienced by the organism. The parasitic relationship between A. mellifera scutellata and A. mellifera capensis is an example of how a normally successful strategy of chemical recognition and maintenance of a reproductive division of labor can be undermined by competing, exploitative strategies.[25]

Evolution[edit]

The underlying hypothesis for the aggressive behavior of African bees is based on the idea that this race of bees evolved in an arid environment, where the bee's food was scarce. Under this situation, selection favored more aggressive colonies, which protected their food source and hive from predators and robber bees from other colonies. This behavior allowed more aggressive colonies to survive where the less aggressive colonies eventually were selected against by natural selection.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ruttner, F. 1988: Biogeography and Taxonomy of Honeybees. Springer Verlag, Berlin
  2. ^ [1] Moritz, R.F.A (2002) The Cape honeybee Apis mellifera capensis From laying workers to social parasites Apidologie Special Issue 33 (2), 99-244
  3. ^ Materson, J. "Apis mellifera scutellata". Smithsonian Marine Station. Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  4. ^ Masterson, J. "Apis mellifera scutellata". Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce. Retrieved 12/8/13. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Nicolson, Susan; Leo de Veer; Angela Kohler; Christian W. W. Pirk (2013). "Honeybees prefer warmer nectar and less viscous nectar, regardless of sugar concentration". Proc. R. Soc. B: 1–8. 
  6. ^ Shafir S., Afik O (2007). "Effect of ambient temperature on crop loading in the honey bee, Apis mellifera (Hymenoptera: Apidae)". Entomol. Gen. 29: 135–148. 
  7. ^ Heyneman, AJ (1983). "Optimal sugar concentrations of floral nectars: dependence on sugar intake efficiency and foraging costs". Oecologia 60: 198–213. 
  8. ^ AG, Dyer; Whitney HM; Arnold SEJ; Glover BJ; Chittka L (2006). "Bees associate warmth with floral colour". Nature 442: 525. 
  9. ^ Winston, ML; OR Taylor; GW Otis (1983). "Some differences between temperate European and tropical African and South American honeybees". Bee World 64: 12–21. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Fewell, Jennifer H.; Susan M. Bertram (2002). "Evidence for genetic variation in worker task performance by African and European honeybees". Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 52: 318–325. 
  11. ^ Page, RE; Robinson GE (1991). "The genetics of division of labour in honey bee colonies". Adv Insect Physiol 23: 118–169. 
  12. ^ Hunt, G; Page R; Fondrk M; Dullum C (1995). "Major quantitative trait loci affecting honey bee foraging behavior". Genetics 141: 1537–1545. 
  13. ^ Giray, T; Guzman-Novoa E; Aron CW; Zelinsky B; Fahrbach SE; Robinson GE (2000). "Genetic variation in worker temporal polyethism and colony defensiveness in the honey bee, Apis mellifera". Behav Ecol 11: 44–55. 
  14. ^ Seeley, TD (1978). "Life history strategy of the honey bee, Apis mellifera". Oecologia 32: 109–118. 
  15. ^ McNally, L; Schneider S (1996). "Spatial distribution and nesting biology of colonies of the African honey bee". Environmental Entomology 25: 643–652. 
  16. ^ Schmid-Hempel, P (1998). "Parasites in social insects.". Princeton University Press. 
  17. ^ Hartel, S; Neumann P; Raassen FS; Moritz RFA; Hepburn HR (2006). "Social parasitism by Cape honeybee workers in colonies of their own subspecies (Apis mellifera capensis Esch.)". Insectes Soc. 
  18. ^ a b c d e Dietemann, Vincent; Jochen Pflugfelder; Stephan Hartel; Peter Neumann; Robin M. Crewe (10/6/06). "Social parasitism by honeybee workers (Apis mellifera capensis Esch.): Evidence for pheromonal resistance to host queen's signals". Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 60: 785–793. Retrieved 10/23/13. 
  19. ^ Hartel, S; Neumann P, Kryger P, von der Heide C, Moltzer, G-J, Crewe RM, van Praagh JP, Moritz RFA (2006). "Infestation levels of Apis mellifera scutellata swarms by socially parasitic Cape honeybee workers (Apis mellifera capensis Esch.)". Apidologie. 
  20. ^ Hoover, SER; Higo HA; Winston ML (2006). "Worker honeybee ovary development seasonal variation and the influence of larval and adult nutrition". J Comp Physiol B 176: 55–63. 
  21. ^ Schafer, MO; Dietemann V; Pirk CWW; Neumann P; Crewe RM; Hepburn HR; Tautz J; Crailsheim K (2006). "Pollen consumption and worker reproduction in Cape honeybees (Apis mellifera capensis Esch.)". J Comp Physiol. 
  22. ^ Neumann, P; Moritz RFA (2002). "The Cape honeybee phenomenon: they sympatric evolution of a social parasite in real-time". Behav Ecol Sociobiol 52: 271–281. 
  23. ^ Holldobler, B; Wilson EO (1990). "The ants". Springer. 
  24. ^ Davies, Nicholas B. (2012). An Introduction to Behavioral Ecology. West Sussex, UK: Blackwell Publishing. pp. 307–33. ISBN 978-1-4051-1416-5. 
  25. ^ Dawkins, Richard (2006). The Selfish Gene. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 66–88. ISBN 978-0-19-929115-1. 
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