I’m no stranger to Africanized honeybees.A few years ago my dad was attacked in
Tucson while watering the plants in our backyard. Even after he frantically ran
inside, more than thirty bees followed him, and my entire family had to swat for
nearly ten minutes to get rid of them. He was stung more than thirty times.
The year before an inspector told us they were Africanized bees, but we’d never had a problem until that day.
Most people know Africanized bees as killer bees, a term UC
Davis entomologist Eric Mussen says is misleading. “They were called assassin bees in Brazil because the bees go into European honeybee colonies and wipe out the other bees, not because they kill humans.” They do pose a more serious
threat than European bees though. While you might receive up to 200 stings from
a honeybee attack you could receive up to 2,000 from Africanized honeybees,
something virtually no one can withstand. Genetically, AHB are more aggressive
in guarding the hive—they’ll follow you for up to 30 minutes and thus you’re
more likely to be stung.
In the past ten years, AHB have gradually been moving north;
so far they’ve been located as far north as central Nevada. But Mussen says
that trend is slowing and that no new migration has been recorded in recent
months. “It appears as though the Northwest expansion has slowed down to a
trickle, if not stopped,” Mussen said. “We were predicting they’d be in the Bay
Area by now, but for some reason they didn’t make it.” There’s enough pollen
and NorCal has the right climate, so entomologists don’t really know why the
bees aren’t migrating.
The good news is, beekeepers have learned how to mitigate
aggressive AHB colonies by introducing European honeybee queens, which then
cross-breed and produce gentler offspring. If only I’d had beekeeping skills
back then and could have re-queened the hive outside our house. Ok, you’re
right, I probably wouldn’t have had the gusto to suit up and try to reengineer
an entire hive. That’s something I’d happily leave up to a professional!
In the end, my dad was fine and never had to go to the hospital. But he’s jumpy around bees now and even the sound of a fly makes the hairs on his arms stand up. It’s too bad he never got the chance to meet Sunset’s bees. Even though they have their feisty moments, they’ve completely won me over.
By Lindsey Hoshaw, Sunset intern