Bee Aware!

January 12, 2011

When it comes to saving bees in Florida, FDACS/DPI has a unique plan of action. Consumers who call the Division of Plant Industry Helpline with concerns of a bee swarm or infestation are often shocked when the helpline operator tells them that eradication is the best option. Callers want to know why an agency that protects Florida’s apiary industry would remotely suggest eradicating bees. Well, there is a method to the perceived madness.

The Division of Plant Industry supports managed bee hives. We know that without properly managed bee colonies, agricultural productivity would suffer. Further, without managed bee hives, Africanized honey bees could easily move into areas without managed colonies. The Africanized honey bee is not only dangerous to the apiary industry, but also Floridians who might come in contact with the insect. Though the Africanized honey bee is established in Florida, through education, trapping programs, and the help of managed European honey bee colonies, we can attempt to keep Africanized honey bee populations low.

What’s the difference between European and Africanized honey bees?

European honey bees (left) and Africanized honey bees (right) can be difficult to distinguish.

Honey bees brought to the U.S. in the 1600s by European settlers soon became one of the most economically beneficial insects, and their gentle nature made them easy to manage. In the 1950s, African honey bees (AHB) were imported to breed with European honey bees (EHB) in order to produce a honey bee better suited to tropical conditions. Researchers expected that when African honey bees were bred with European honey bees, the African bees would lose their defensive nature. However, this was not the case, and since the 1950s, Africanized honey bees have become established in the southeastern region of the United States. It is very difficult to distinguish Africanized honey bees from European honey bees, and the species can only be verified through USDA identification testing.  AHB are more defensive, and defend their nests with less provocation, in greater numbers and for longer distances. AHB swarm as many as 16 times per year. EHB only swarm once or twice per year. (Swarming is a reproductive behavior that occurs when bees are looking for a new nest site.) AHB are not selective of nesting sites and will quickly inhabit empty spaces, holes or cavities. EHB are more selective and prefer drier sites three to four feet above ground.

Protect Yourself from Stinging Insects

Always survey your surroundings, especially when outdoors, for stinging insects. It is easy to understand wanting to swat at a stinging insect, but it is important not to provoke Africanized honey bees. Bees release an “alarm pheromone” after they sting, which signals other to come and attack. For AHB, this could mean the entire hive. Follow these guidelines to protect yourself:

  • Have a plan and communicate it with your family for avoiding/responding to stinging insects.
  • In case of an allergic reaction, have a bee sting kit available.
  • Eliminate potential nesting sites. Check walls and eaves of structures. Plug holes.
  • Remain alert for bees. Look for bees in work areas before using power equipment such as weed eaters, lawn mowers and chain saws. Noise excites bees.
  • If bees begin to chase you, run away in a straight line, cover your face (particularly your nose and mouth) and get inside a building or vehicle. Even if a few bees get in with you, it is better than remaining outside where there is greater potential for larger numbers of bees and stings.
  • Contact a licensed pest control operator to remove the nest.
  • Remove the stinger by scraping it with a fingernail or credit card. Squeezing the stinger will release more venom.
  • See a doctor if breathing is difficult, if you are stung several times, or you are allergic to bee stings.

Be aware of your environment and stay safe. Call 888-397-1517 for more information, or print out this brochure or reference.

Bee Aware of where bee hives could be located in your surroundings.


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