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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Africanized Honey Bees
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Why honey bees are important
To understand the threat of Africanized honey bees, it is necessary to know something in general about honey bees and their behavior.

Honey bees are important beneficial insects and we would be in big trouble if they were all suddenly destroyed. Unless a honey bee colony is in a location that is close to people, pets or farm animals, it should be left alone.

Most people appreciate the main product of the hive - honey. Honey production, however, isn't the only use for honey bees. They are also very important to Arizona agriculture, a sophisticated business that impacts the state's economy by about $6.3 billion annually.

In fact, one-third of our daily diet comes from crops pollinated by honey bees. Without the pollen that honey bees transport, many plants can't produce fruits, vegetables and seeds. Imagine walking into your neighborhood supermarket and finding a third of the food currently available not on the shelves!

How the African honey bee differs from the European honey bee
The behavior- not the appearance - of the AHB is different from the EHB in four major ways:

The AHB swarms much more frequently than other honey bees. A colony is a group of bees with comb and brood. The colony may either be managed (white hive boxes maintained by professional beekeepers) or wild (feral).

A group of bees that are in the process of leaving their parent colony and starting a nest in a new location is called a "swarm." Usually a new queen is reared to stay with the parent colony and the old queen flies off with the swarm. Scout bees often locate potential nest sites prior to swarming, but the swarm may spend a day or two clustered in impressive, hanging clumps on branches or in other temporary locations until the bees settle on a new nesting site. If they can't find a suitable location, the bees may fly several miles and cluster again.

Typically an EHB hive will swarm once every 12 months. However, the AHB may swarm as often as every six weeks and can produce a couple of separate swarms each time. This is important for you to know, because if the AHB swarms more often, the likelihood of your encountering an AHB swarm increases significantly.

Regardless of myths to the contrary, Africanized honey bees do not fly out in angry swarms to randomly attack unlucky victims. However, the AHB can become highly defensive in order to protect their hive, or home. Again, it is now better to consistently exercise caution with respect to all bee activity. So keep your distance from any swarm of bees.

The AHB is far less selective about what it calls home. The AHB will occupy a much smaller space than the EHB. Known AHB nesting locations include water meter boxes, metal utility poles, cement blocks, junk piles, and house eaves. Other potential nesting sites include overturned flower pots, old tires, mobile home skirts, and abandoned structures. Holes in the ground and tree limbs, mail boxes, even an empty soda pop, can could be viewed as "home" to the AHB.

The Africanized honey bee is extremely protective of their hive and brood. The AHB's definition of their "home turf" is also much larger than the European honey bee. So, try to allow ample physical distance between the hive. At least 100 feet, or the width of a four-lane highway, is a good distance. The best advice is that if you see a bee hive, start moving away immediately.

What to do if Attacked by Africanized honey bees
Remember these important steps:

1. RUN away quickly. Do not stop to help others. However, small children and the disabled may need some assistance.

2. As you are running, pull your shirt up over your head to protect your face, but make sure it does not slow your progress. This will help keep the bees from targeting the sensitive areas around your head and eyes.

3. Continue to RUN. Do not stop running until you reach shelter, such as a vehicle or building. A few bees may follow you indoors. However, if you run to a well-lit area, the bees will tend to become confused and fly to windows.Do not jump into water! The bees will wait for you to come up for air. If you are trapped for some reason, cover up with blankets, sleeping bags, clothes, or whatever else is immediately available.

4. Do not swat at the bees or flail your arms. Bees are attracted to movement and crushed bees emit a smell that will attract more bees.

5. Once you have reached shelter or have outrun the bees, remove all stingers. When a honey bees stings, it leaves its stinger in the skin. This kills the honey bee so it can't sting again, but it also means that venom continues to enter into the wound for a short time.


6. Do not pull stingers out with tweezers or your fingers. This will only squeeze more venom into the wound. Instead, scrape the stinger out sideways using your fingernail, the edge of a credit card, a dull knife blade or other straight-edged object.

7. If you see someone being attacked by bees, encourage them to run away or seek shelter. Do not attempt to rescue them yourself. Call 911 to report a serious stinging attack. The emergency response personnel in your area have probably been trained to handle bee attacks.

8. If you have been stung more than 15 times, or are feeling ill, or if you have any reason to believe you may be allergic to bee stings, seek medical attention immediately. The average person can safely tolerate 10 stings per pound of body weight. This means that although 500 stings can kill a child, the average adult could withstand more than 1100 stings.

Preparing schools for Africanized honey bees

Africanized honey bees have arrived in Arizona. Schools may want to take a few precautions to help protect their students. The following are some guidelines for planning for Africanized honey bee safety on and around campus.

1. Designate a school monitor to walk around school grounds daily to look for Africanized honey bee colonies or swarms. Make sure the monitor is trained to recognize honey bees and is properly equipped (has a bee veil available).
   The monitor should look for sites that may be attractive to bees for nesting, and report to maintenance to remove, cover or repair them. The monitor should remember that honey bees may nest in a variey of sites, ranging from animal burrows in the ground, to hollows in block walls, or over-turned flower pots. Utility boxes, water or irrigation valve boxes, playground equipment, and drainage pipes are also possibilities. Private property around the school may need to be examined as well, particularly lots or vacant buildings that may be high traffic areas for students arriving at or leaving from school.
   Keep holes in the ground filled, cover water valve boxes, rain spouts, etc. with #7 mesh or finer screen. Fill or caulk holes that may give bees access to an internal cavity. Bees may enter a hole as small as a pencil eraser (3/16" in diameter).

2. If the monitor finds a honey bee swarm or colony, he or she should notify all teachers to keep everyone away from the area. Arrange to have swarms or colonies remove and/or destroyed immediately, even if they haven't been a problem in the past. School administrators may want to look in the Yellow Pages under bee removal or pest control for bee removal services. Some monitors may be able to remove swarms if properly trained.

Do not allow anyone to try to remove an established colony unless they are a licensed professional pest control operator or bee keeper. Do not allow untrained individuals to spray the colony with pesticides or dump kerosene on the bees. This will only arouse the bees and make them defensive.

3. Plan to use noisy equipment, such as lawn mowers, when students are indoors or away from campus, if possible.
Bees are alarmed by vibrations or loud noises produced by equipment such as weed eaters, chainsaws, or electric generators. Honey bees may also be disturbed by strong odors, such as the odor of newly-mown grass. Thus, bees are often aroused during landscape maintenance operations.

4. Establish a plan of action for a stinging incident.
Teach students to leave bees alone, and if they find a bee nest, not to throw rocks at or otherwise disturb it. If students do accidentally arouse an Africanized honey bee colony while at school, they should know what to do.
   Encourage the students to run indoors if stung. A few bees will follow them indoors. However, if they run to a well-lit area, the bees will tend to become confused and fly to windows.
   Call 911 or local emergency service personnel. They have been trained to respond to Africanized honey bee emergencies.
Designate an area away from classrooms (preferably a large, well-lit room with high ceilings, such as the cafeteria or gym) where students should go. Have a trained person available there or nearby with vacuum cleaner hose on hand to immediately remove any bees that remain. If no hose is available, bees may be killed with soap and water solution (3% to 6% soap) in a spray bottle. The nurse should also be nearby to take care of stinging victims.
   Teachers should be trained in the proper method of removing stingers. Honey bees leave their stinger in the skin when they sting. This kills the honey bee, so it can't sting again, but it also means that venom continues to be pumped into the wound for a short time. Do not pull stingers out with tweezers or fingers, because it will squeeze more venom into the wound. Instead, scrape them out using a finger nail, the edge of a credit card, a dull knife blade or other straight-edge object.

5. Make sure the school nurse is ready.
The school nurse should know the proper way to remove bee stingers and train others. He or she should also know the signs of allergic reactions, because even one bee sting may be fatal if the victim is allergic. If possible have an anaphylactic kit, bee suit and bee veil available for emergencies.

6. Educate the students and faculty about what is being done, and reassure them that most people will never encounter Afracized honey bees and those that do are rarely seriously injured. Have "bee drills" so students know where to go and what to do.

How to subdue attacking bees - a guide for Fire Fighters and Rescue Personnel

A Guide for Fire Fighters and Rescue Personnel

Africanized honey bees (AHB) are spreading in Texas. Their attacks can be a life- threatening emergency. Fortunately, rescue personnel can help people under attack by using (with slight modification) equipment and materials common on fire trucks, ambulances and hazardous materials response vehicles.

This guide can also be used to protect people from swarms of wasps and domestic honey bees, which to the naked eye are indistinguishable from the AHB.

Protective Clothing

Conventional heavy turnout gear worn by most fire fighters protects all areas of the body except the head and neck. Consequently, veils are essential, but they must be adapted to the headgear worn. Bee veils are available from beekeeping supply houses. Mosquito veils can be obtained from military surplus and sporting goods stores. Seal the veil at top and bottom with string or duct tape. Tape should also be used around the waist, wrists and ankles, and to close any other gaps. Leather areas of turnout gear, such as gloves, may antagonize the bees. Plastic or rubber gloves are best.

Disposable hazardous materials suits, such as those made of Chemrel R, Saranex R or Tyvek R, provide good protection, especially if worn over street clothing or uniforms.

Reflective aluminum suits work but may limit movement, and veils and duct tape are needed.

Wetting Agents

Bees are easily immobilized and killed by wetting agents (surfactants) - including commercial liquid dishwashing detergent. Nonfoaming fire control chemicals and fire fighting foams with surfactant characteristics such as the aqueous film-foams (AFFF) also work.

Not all commercially available products have been tested, but most such wetting agents should be equally effective. Chemicals tested so far include: original Palmolive dishwashing liquid, 9-55 R fire control chemical, Silv-ex R foam concentrate and FC-600 Light Water brand ATC/AFFF. All had a light but distinctive odor. A one percent solution was sufficient to immediately immobilize honey bees and apparently kill them within 60 seconds.

If there is doubt whether a particular chemical will work, rescue personnel should enlist the aid of a local beekeeper. Clearly, human and animal safety must be the most important consideration. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has conditionally approved detergents for use against AHB¹s.

Victim Rescue

After arriving at a site, rescue personnel first should assess the situation from within their vehicles. Then they should retreat several hundred yards, put on protective clothing and move any onlookers to a safe distance.

Each situation is unique, but to rescue a victim, two things must be done as quickly as possible: establish an adequate insect barrier, and neutralize the insects¹ alarm odor - which consists of chemical components of venom that enable more bees to find and attack the victim.

Fire and rescue units responding with standard fire fighting equipment can quickly accomplish both objectives by using water plus a non-toxic wetting agent.

Using standard fire fighting procedures, set up a line with an educator capable of delivering a one to three percent spray of one of the foaming/wetting agents and a nozzle capable of delivering a wide fan patter. A light initial application to the victim will stop the attack by most of the insects on or near the victim within 60 seconds. These insects, unable to fly, will begin to suffocate and can be quickly brushed aside.

If an obvious line of insect flight can be determined, a vertical wall of spray 20 to 30 feet in the air should intercept further flight activity. Or, the nozzle can be inverted near the victim to provide a curtain of safety.

Rescuers wearing proper protective gear then can carry a victim into a house, van or ambulance for treatment and transport. Many bees, however, will follow to continue their attack.

In a house, vacuum up bees attracted to windows by light. In a rescue vehicle, drive away and then roll down the windows and chase the insects out.

Sting Removal

Once the victim is protected, remove stings as quickly as possible. Otherwise, the white, translucent, venom sac - with its nerves and muscles attached - will continue to pump venom into the wound for a minute or more. Removing the victim¹s outer layer of garments may help because stings embedded through the fabric will be dislodged in the process.

The best way to remove stings is to simply scrape them away with a fingernail, credit card or similar instrument. Never pinch, tweeze or otherwise attempt to pull stings out, as this will simply inject the remaining contents of the venom sacs.

After sting victims have been cared for, rescuers should launder the bees¹ alarm-odor chemical from suits, veils and equipment.


Fire and rescue personnel should familiarize themselves with normal activities of stinging social insects in their area. Local bee experts or beekeepers can provide extremely valuable advice and assistance, particularly when unusual situations arise. All states have active beekeeper organizations, as do many local communities, and they usually welcome requests for assistance.

Most beekeeper groups would welcome an invitation to help develop training exercises, where bees would be used to simulate an actual attack and allow rescuers an a opportunity to practice their skills.

Map of the spread of Africanized honey bee by year

Last Modified: 11/10/2011