What Makes a Mean Bee Stay Mean?
By Kim Kaplan
February 26, 2007
Is the highly defensive behavior of Africanized honey bees simply
genetic, or it is due to their social environment?
That's a question that Agricultural Research Service (ARS) entomologist
DeGrandi-Hoffman is trying to answer. She is the research leader of the ARS
Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson, Ariz.
Africanized honey bees (AHBs) more ardently defend their nests than do
the European honey bees (EHB) that are common to the United States. AHBs sting
in greater numbers with less provocation.
No honey bees are native to the New World. European colonists brought
honey bees with them, some of which became feral. But honey bees are essential
to U.S. agriculture, pollinating more than 90 crops. That pollination leads to
yield and quality improvements worth more than $14 billion annually.
DeGrandi-Hoffman is marking EHB worker bees just as they emerge from
their pupal stage and placing them in AHB hives, and vice versa. Then she
tracks the age at which the bees first forage and exhibit defensive
Once these behaviors are exhibited, she quick freezes the bees and
sends them off to a collaborator at the University of Illinois who analyses them for
There are very minor genetic differences between African and European
honey bees, but it is not yet known whether these differences govern the honey
bee traits that people are most concerned about.
about the research in the February 2007 issue of Agricultural Research
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.