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The Difference Between the Docile and Aggressive Honeybee

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Southern Californians and San Diegans are all too familiar with swarming honeybees in the summer months.  The honeybee population has been abundant this bee season due to the abnormal increase in rain water and blooming flowers. Honeybees have had no trouble with collecting bee pollen and producing honey during these warmer months.

As the bees continue to fly past our face or buzz near our ears this summer, one may wonder why these bees are not as aggressive as the ones heard on top news stories of bee attacks. While many different factors can send a honeybee in to attack mode, there are some traits of the two different classifications of honeybees that can determine a single bee sting (European honeybee) to a large bee swarm attack (African Honeybees).

The History of Honeybees

Initially, European honeybees were the only honeybees in the U.S. Spanish explorers brought these bees to the U.S. for their plentiful honey production. The honey was used as a food source and means of income.

The African honeybee was brought to Brazil in the 1950’s in efforts to create a surplus in honey supply. The African bees escaped and travelled north and mated with the European honeybees.  So, the current Africanized honey bee is a hybrid of the two honeybees.  Africanized honeybees were introduced to the U.S. in the 90’s and reached San Diego County in 1999.  2005 is the last time California tracked the breeding of the aggressive bees but reports have shown that the bees have moved much further north of San Diego and into East County.

The Difference

European Honey bee

The nature of the European honeybee is docile and gentle and may only send out 10-20 bees to a threat or disturbance 20 feet away.  The stings could range from 10-20 and they will usually become calm again after 1-2 hours.

They will rarely swarm throughout the year but will do so in a large group. They will generally swarm together to find areas to build a new nest and colony. Nests will typically be in cavities or voids that are protected and above ground.

Africanized Honey bee

An African honeybee is protective of its hive and will become very aggressive if provoked resulting in several hundred bees alerted to defend their colony.  The sting amounts could be as many as 6-10 times as much as the EHB. The bees will remain in aggressive mode for several days.

Their colonies will swarm often but in much smaller groups than EHB’s. They will abscond and relocate nests often. It is difficult to detect a AHB hive since they nest in small groups and usually in small underground cavities.

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