BEE ALERT: Africanized Honey Bee Facts

Vincent Lazaneo, University of California Cooperative Extension Urban Horticulture and Pest Management Advisor, San Diego County


Africanized honey bees (AHB) -- also called "killer bees" -- became established in Texas in 1990 and are spreading to other southern states. AHB entered southern California in 1994 and are now established throughout southern California and in the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley. Although its "killer" reputation has been greatly exagerated, the presence of AHB will increase the chances of people being stung. Learning about AHB and taking certain precautions can lower the risk of being injured by this new insect in out environment.

The Africanized honey bee is closely related to the European honey bee used in agriculture for crop pollination and honey production. The two types of bees look the same and their behavior is similar in many respects. Neither is likely to sting when gathering nectar and pollen from flowers, but both will sting in defense if provoked. A swarm of bees in flight or briefly at rest seldom bothers people. However, all bees become defensive when they settle and begin producing wax comb and raising young.


  • Look the same
  • Protect their nest and sting in defense
  • Can sting only once
  • Have the same venom
  • Pollinate flowers
  • Produce honey and wax

Africanized honey bees are less predictable and more defensive than European honey bees. They are more likely to defend a greater area around their nest. They respond faster in greater numbers, although each bee can sting only once.

This is a sketch of possible nesting sites of Africanized bees like paint cans, tires, cement blocks, cans, boxes and abandoned electronics.AFRICANIZED HONEY BEES

  • Respond quickly and sting in large numbers
  • Can sense a threat from people or animals 50 feet or more from nest
  • Sense vibrations from power equipment 100 feet or more from nest
  • Will pursue an enemy 1/4 mile or more
  • Swarm frequently to establish new nests
  • Nest in small cavities and sheltered areas

AHB nest in many locations where people may encounter them. Nesting sites include: empty boxes, cans, buckets or other containers; old tires; infrequently used vehicles; lumber piles; holes and cavities in fences, trees, or the ground; sheds, garages, and other outbuildings; and low decks or spaces under buildings. Remove potential nest sites around buildings. Be careful wherever bees may be found.

img sketch of bee swarm on a branchGENERAL PRECAUTIONS

  • Listen for buzzing indicating a nest or swarm of bees
  • Use care when entering sheds or outbuildings where bees may nest
  • Examine work area before using lawn mowers, weed cutters, and other power equipment
  • Examine areas before tying up or penning pets or livestock
  • Be alert when participating in all outdoor sports and activities.
  • Don't disturb a nest or swarm--contact a pest control company or your county Cooperative Extension office.
  • Teach children to be cautious and respectful of all bees
  • Check with a doctor about bee sting kits and procedures if sensitive to bee stings
  • Develop a safety plan for your home and yard
  • Organize a meeting to inform neighbors about the AHB to help increase neighborhood safety


  • Remove possible nesting sites around home and yard
  • Inspect outside walls and eaves of home and outbuildings
  • Seal openings larger than 1/8" in walls, around chimneys and plumbing
  • Install fine screens (1/8" hardware cloth) over tops of rain spouts, vents, and openings in water meter/utility boxes
  • From spring to fall check once or twice a week for bees entering or leaving the same area of your home or yard

As a general rule, stay away from all honey bee swarms and colonies. If bees are encountered, get away quickly. While running away, try to protect face and eyes as much as possible. Take shelter in a car or building. Water or thick brush does not offer enough protection. Do not stand and swat at bees; rapid motions will cause them to sting.


  • First, go quickly to a safe area
  • Then pull or scrape stingers from skin as soon as possible (the singer pumps out most of the venom during the first minute).
  • Wash sting area with soap and water like any other wound
  • Apply ice pack for a few minutes to relieve pain and swelling
  • Seek medical attention if breathing is troubled, if stung numerous times, or if allergic to bee stings

This is an image sketch of a beekeeper with honeybee boxCONTRIBUTIONS OF EUROPEAN HONEY BEES

  • Provide 80% of the bee pollination required for fruit, vegetables, flowers, and seed crops
  • Pollinate forage crops such as alfalfa and clover which are fed to dairy and meat animals
  • Produce honey, wax, and other products

Hives of European honey bees (EHB) managed by beekeepers play an important part in our lives. These bees are necessary for the pollination of many crops. One-third of our diet relies on honey bee pollination.

Efforts taken to control Africanized honey bees (AHB) must assure the continued maintenance of beekeepers' hives. If EHB were eliminated in an area, the wild Africanized honey bees would quickly fill the gap. People can coexist with AHB by learning about the bee and its habits, supporting beekeeping efforts and taking a few precautions.

Honey bees are not the only stinging insects people may encounter. People are often stung by other bees and wasps that look and behave differently from honey bees.

If attacked by bees, leave the area quickly and find shelter in a building or car!




*actual size approximation is available on printed pamphlet


Visit out online catalog at You can also place orders by mail, phone, or fax, or request a printed catalog of publications, slide sets, and videos from

University of California's sealUniversity of California
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Communication Services
6701 San Pablo Avenue, 2nd Floor
Oakland, CA 94608- 1239

Telephone: (800) 994-8849 or (510) 642-2431
FAX: (510) 643-5470
E-mail inquiries:

An electronic version of this publication is available on the ANR Communication Services Web site at

If you wish to obtain this publication in pamphlet format, contact Vincent Lazaneo at (858) 694-2859.

©2002 by the Regents of the University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. All rights reserved.

The University of California prohibits discrimination against or harassment of any person employed by or seeking employment with the University on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, physical or mental disability, medical condition (cancer-related or genetic characteristics), ancestry, marital status, age, sexual orientation, citizenship, or status as a covered veteran (special disabled veteran, Vietnam-era veteran or any other veteran who served on active duty during a war or in a campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge has been authorized). University Policy is intended to be consistent with the provisions of applicable State and Federal laws.

Inquiries regarding the University's nondiscrimination policies may be directed to the Affirmative Action/Staff Personnel Services Director, University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources, 300 Lakeside Drive, 6th floor, Oakland, CA 94612-3550; (510) 987-0096. For a free catalog of other publications, telephone (800) 994-8849. For help downloading this publication, call (530) 754-5112.

pr-08/02-SB/VFG ISBN 978-1-60107-246-7

This material is based upon work supported by the Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under special project number 93-EXNP-1-5191.

peer revThis publication has been anonymously peer reviewed for technical accuracy by University of California scientists and other qualified professionals. This review process was managed by the ANR Associate Editor for Natural Resources.

Publication #: ANR-8068

Disclaimer and Reproduction Information: Information in NASD does not represent NIOSH policy. Information included in NASD appears by permission of the author and/or copyright holder. More