More on Nesting Bees

Adult African honey bees

Adult African honeybees, ©UF/IFAS

By Dr. Jamie Ellis and Catherine Nalen

The reason the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) recommends eradicating swarms or nesting honey bee colonies located in close proximity to people or animals is because of the presence of African honey bees in Florida. African honey bees and European honey bees (the kind beekeepers keep) cannot be distinguished from one another with the unaided eye. The only way to identify African bees is to send a sample of 50 freshly collected bees in alcohol to the Apiary Section of FDACS (Jerry Hayes, hayesg@doacs.state.fl.us). Once there, the samples undergo rigorous morphological computerized testing to determine the bee race. Obviously, it is not safe to tell a customer to collect a sample of bees from a living bee colony. As such, the state recommends that the suspect colony be eradicated to avoid any negative encounter.

Additionally, European and African honey bees are capable of interbreeding, meaning a hive that has been in a tree quietly for years may become Africanized suddenly if, following a swarming of the colony, the new queen in the colony mates with Africanized drones during her mating flight.

Besides general safety, nesting honey bees and swarms become a liability issue for the homeowner. If the suspect bees are Africanized and attack a neighbor’s child, pet, etc., the homeowner is liable for the attack because they knew the nest was there and chose not to follow state recommendations. In Texas, 50 percent of African bee attacks are reported to occur on victims who knew the nest was there but did nothing about it since "the bees seemed calm."

The state does not recommend that beekeepers collect these hives or swarms as they once did. It only takes about five seconds for African bees to become defensive if disturbed, and they will travel much farther from the nest than European bees. The Pest Control Operators on the FDACS list have been trained to handle nesting honey bee colonies and should know the proper procedures for handling an African bee nest.

Many people are aware that honey bee populations are suffering from what has been termed "colony collapse disorder" (CCD) and see a dichotomy between the "save the bees" and "eradicate the bees" messages. However, this dichotomy is false, as CCD is a managed bee problem and not an African bee one. So eradicating a nesting colony on one's property does little, if anything, to the total number of wild honey bee colonies in Florida. Homeowners often assume that a newly arrived swarm "can’t be Africanized because they haven’t bothered anyone." The problem is that neither African nor European swarms are defensive for the first several weeks, but once baby bees are present in the comb, African colonies become dangerously defensive. This behavior will often first show itself in a dangerous attack.

For more information on honey bees and beekeeping, see UFhoneybee.com. For additional information on African bees, please visit our African Bee Extension and Education Program website at AFBEE.com.

Learn more about CCD from the USDA Agricultural Resource Service.

Sources

Thanks to Dr. Jamie Ellis and Catherine Nalen from the UF Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab for providing this information.