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Why Are Killer Bees Considered Killer?

Killer Bee Swarm

We’ve all heard tales about Africanized honeybees, better known as killer bees. Not that long ago, Larry Goodwin, a 62 year old farmer in Moody, Texas, made headlines after being stung to death by a swarm of killer bees. Many have been left to wonder, what exactly causes a killer bee attack? Usually Africanized honeybees are not a threat to humans, as long as you play by their rules. In this instance, Goodwin accidentally disturbed their hive when he drove his tractor on a neighbor’s land. The number one thing to remember when dealing with Africanized honeybees: They do not like to be disturbed. This is an important fact to take note of if you live in an area where Africanized honeybees have been spotted, because their hives aren’t always out in the open where they can easily be seen.

Why are Killer Bees “Killer”?

Africanized honeybees are extremely defensive and dominant bees – definitely something you want to contend with. It doesn’t take much to rile them up from the hive – these bees are extremely sensitive to loud noises and vibrations. The sound of a lawnmower being revved up several houses down from the hive’s location can set off alarms for the colony – and once an alarm has been detected, Africanized honeybees have extra soldiers ready to respond to said alarm. Although slightly smaller than honeybees, killer bees carry the same load of venom in their stingers. It’s sheer numbers alone which proves to be devastating. The typical adult human can withstand 7-10 bee stings per pound of weight; when attacked by a swarm of 40,000 bees, the odds aren’t good.

What Makes Killer Bees “Killer”?

When a European colony is disturbed, a person may be stung up to 20 times, or 200 times if the entire colony is knocked over. With Africanized honeybees, however, a person risks being stung up to 2,000 times if the colony merely senses a threat.

Another threat from a killer bee attack lies in the venom itself. About 50 percent of the venom is comprised of Meletin, a pain-inducing compound. Another component, called phospholipase A2, gives the venom tissue-damaging properties. The results? Killer bee stings can be so severe that the venom can overload the kidneys, possibly causing kidney failure days after the victim was stung – meaning that if the sheer amount of stings don’t kill you in the first place, kidney failure might do you in.

How Did Killer Bees Become “Killer”?

So how did Africanized honeybees become so potent? To put it short, they are the result of a bee breeding experiment that went terribly wrong. They are the hybrid of European and African bee subspecies that were imported to Brazil in the 1950s; since then they’ve managed to migrate further north and south, as far down as Argentina and as high up as the United States. They were observed entering Texas in 1990, spreading to Arizona and New Mexico in 1993, and finally to California in 1994. Their population continues to grow and spread throughout the U.S., due to mixed colonization with uncontrolled populations of European honeybees.

If you live in an area where Africanized honeybees have been known to dwell, it’s important to take extra precautions during bee season. Avoid making loud noises and other disturbances in open areas, or areas with lots of brush. Avoid trampling through hedges, bushes, and other plant life where a hive might be hiding. And most importantly, if you do happen to disturb a killer bee hive, don’t hesitate – run for cover.

About the author: Chris is writer for a New Jersey pest control company.

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August 9, 2013 - 9:28 PM No Comments