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Datasheet

Apis mellifera scutellata (africanized bee)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 24 September 2015
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Host Animal
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Apis mellifera scutellata
  • Preferred Common Name
  • africanized bee
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Metazoa
  •         Phylum: Arthropoda
  •             Subphylum: Uniramia
  •                 Class: Insecta
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • A. mellifera scutellata was imported from Africa to Brazil in 1956 to increase honey production, and 26 swarms accidentally escaped into the countryside where the queens mated with drones of the European honey bees. The subsequent poly-hybrid bees...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
An Africanized honey bee (dark specimen) and a European honey bee (pale specimen) on honeycomb. USA. Despite the obvious colour differences between these two individuals, they can't usually be identified by eye alone.
TitleAdults
CaptionAn Africanized honey bee (dark specimen) and a European honey bee (pale specimen) on honeycomb. USA. Despite the obvious colour differences between these two individuals, they can't usually be identified by eye alone.
CopyrightScott Bauer/ARS-USDA
An Africanized honey bee (dark specimen) and a European honey bee (pale specimen) on honeycomb. USA. Despite the obvious colour differences between these two individuals, they can't usually be identified by eye alone.
AdultsAn Africanized honey bee (dark specimen) and a European honey bee (pale specimen) on honeycomb. USA. Despite the obvious colour differences between these two individuals, they can't usually be identified by eye alone.Scott Bauer/ARS-USDA
Close-up of Africanized honey bees (AHBs) surrounding a European queen honey bee (EHB), marked with a pink dot for identification. Since AHBs arrived in Texas in 1990, they've mated with EHBs and spread throughout the Southwest. But rather than commingling, AHBs tend to replace EHBs, partly because EHB queen bees mate disproportionately with African drones.
TitleAfricanized honey bees
CaptionClose-up of Africanized honey bees (AHBs) surrounding a European queen honey bee (EHB), marked with a pink dot for identification. Since AHBs arrived in Texas in 1990, they've mated with EHBs and spread throughout the Southwest. But rather than commingling, AHBs tend to replace EHBs, partly because EHB queen bees mate disproportionately with African drones.
CopyrightScott Bauer/ARS-USDA
Close-up of Africanized honey bees (AHBs) surrounding a European queen honey bee (EHB), marked with a pink dot for identification. Since AHBs arrived in Texas in 1990, they've mated with EHBs and spread throughout the Southwest. But rather than commingling, AHBs tend to replace EHBs, partly because EHB queen bees mate disproportionately with African drones.
Africanized honey beesClose-up of Africanized honey bees (AHBs) surrounding a European queen honey bee (EHB), marked with a pink dot for identification. Since AHBs arrived in Texas in 1990, they've mated with EHBs and spread throughout the Southwest. But rather than commingling, AHBs tend to replace EHBs, partly because EHB queen bees mate disproportionately with African drones.Scott Bauer/ARS-USDA
Entomologist David Gilley is part of the team investigating the usurpation of European honey bee colonies by swarms of Africanized honey bees. Because queenless colonies are particularly susceptible to usurpation, the team maintains a group of queenless colonies to lure usurpation swarms into their apiary to be studied. David Gilley is shown here requeening one of these 'bait colonies'. USA.
TitleResearch and control
CaptionEntomologist David Gilley is part of the team investigating the usurpation of European honey bee colonies by swarms of Africanized honey bees. Because queenless colonies are particularly susceptible to usurpation, the team maintains a group of queenless colonies to lure usurpation swarms into their apiary to be studied. David Gilley is shown here requeening one of these 'bait colonies'. USA.
CopyrightScott Bauer/ARS-USDA
Entomologist David Gilley is part of the team investigating the usurpation of European honey bee colonies by swarms of Africanized honey bees. Because queenless colonies are particularly susceptible to usurpation, the team maintains a group of queenless colonies to lure usurpation swarms into their apiary to be studied. David Gilley is shown here requeening one of these 'bait colonies'. USA.
Research and controlEntomologist David Gilley is part of the team investigating the usurpation of European honey bee colonies by swarms of Africanized honey bees. Because queenless colonies are particularly susceptible to usurpation, the team maintains a group of queenless colonies to lure usurpation swarms into their apiary to be studied. David Gilley is shown here requeening one of these 'bait colonies'. USA.Scott Bauer/ARS-USDA
Entomologist Justin Schmidt examines an ARS honey bee trap used to lure Africanized bee swarms and prevent their establishment in walls of buildings. Captured swarms are easily removed or destroyed with soapy water. USA.
TitleARS honey bee trap
CaptionEntomologist Justin Schmidt examines an ARS honey bee trap used to lure Africanized bee swarms and prevent their establishment in walls of buildings. Captured swarms are easily removed or destroyed with soapy water. USA.
CopyrightScott Bauer/ARS-USDA
Entomologist Justin Schmidt examines an ARS honey bee trap used to lure Africanized bee swarms and prevent their establishment in walls of buildings. Captured swarms are easily removed or destroyed with soapy water. USA.
ARS honey bee trapEntomologist Justin Schmidt examines an ARS honey bee trap used to lure Africanized bee swarms and prevent their establishment in walls of buildings. Captured swarms are easily removed or destroyed with soapy water. USA.Scott Bauer/ARS-USDA
Northwest Fire District's Captain John Estes of Tucson, Arizona, uses a wide spray of water and chemical wetting agent as a means of subduing Africanized honey bees. Looking on is ARS entomologist Eric Erickson, who taught this control method to fire departments throughout Arizona.
TitleControl measures
CaptionNorthwest Fire District's Captain John Estes of Tucson, Arizona, uses a wide spray of water and chemical wetting agent as a means of subduing Africanized honey bees. Looking on is ARS entomologist Eric Erickson, who taught this control method to fire departments throughout Arizona.
CopyrightUSDA-ARS
Northwest Fire District's Captain John Estes of Tucson, Arizona, uses a wide spray of water and chemical wetting agent as a means of subduing Africanized honey bees. Looking on is ARS entomologist Eric Erickson, who taught this control method to fire departments throughout Arizona.
Control measuresNorthwest Fire District's Captain John Estes of Tucson, Arizona, uses a wide spray of water and chemical wetting agent as a means of subduing Africanized honey bees. Looking on is ARS entomologist Eric Erickson, who taught this control method to fire departments throughout Arizona.USDA-ARS

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Apis mellifera scutellata Lepeletier

Preferred Common Name

  • africanized bee

International Common Names

  • English: African bee; african honey bee; African honeybee; Africanized bee; Africanized honeybee; Brazilian bee; killer bee
  • Spanish: abeja africanizada; abeja de miel africana
  • French: abeille africaine; abeille africanisée

Summary of Invasiveness

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A. mellifera scutellata was imported from Africa to Brazil in 1956 to increase honey production, and 26 swarms accidentally escaped into the countryside where the queens mated with drones of the European honey bees. The subsequent poly-hybrid bees were named ‘Africanized honey bees’, and over a period of 50 years, they colonized most of South America and all of Central America. In 1990, they entered the USA through Texas, and they are now established throughout the south-western states and southern California.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Metazoa
  •         Phylum: Arthropoda
  •             Subphylum: Uniramia
  •                 Class: Insecta
  •                     Order: Hymenoptera
  •                         Family: Apidae
  •                             Genus: Apis
  •                                 Species: Apis mellifera scutellata

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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Apis mellifera scutellata Lepeletier (Hymenoptera: Apidae) is one of a number of subspecies of A. mellifera (Western honey bee). The subspecies can be divided by their native continents as follows. Those originating in Europe include: carnica, caucasica, cecropia, cypria, iberiensis, ligustica, mellifera, remipes, ruttneri and sicula. Those originating in Africa include: adansonii, bandasii, capensis, intermissa, lamarcki, jemenitica, litoria, major, monticola, nubica, sahariensis, scutellata, unicolor and woyi-gambell. Those originating in the Middle East and Asia include: adamii, armeniaca, anatolica, macedonica, meda, pomonella and syriaca.

This datasheet includes data on pure Apis mellifera scutellata from its native range, but mostly on the invasive polyhybrid between A. mellifera scutellata and European honey bees (Apis mellifera) (Piereira and Chaud-Netto, 2005), commonly known as Africanized honey bees (AHB) or ‘killer bees’.

Description

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A. mellifera scutellata is ca. 10-20 mm long, and brown with black stripes; workers are 10-15 mm long, drones 15-17 mm, and queens 18-20 mm.

Distribution

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A. mellifera scutellata is native to eastern and southern Africa, from Ethiopia to South Africa. In Ethiopia, A. mellifera scutellata occupies the west, south and southwest humid midlands. Other morphoclusters in Ethiopia included A. mellifera jemenitica in the northwest and eastern arid and semi-arid lowlands; A. mellifera bandasii in the central moist highlands; A. mellifera monticola from the northern mountainous highlands; and A. mellifera woyi-gambell in south western semi-arid to sub-humid lowland parts of the country (Amssalu et al., 2004). Honey bees of Uganda represented an important biogeographical gap, defining the population structure of A. mellifera scutellata; however, morphometric analysis of worker honey bees has resolved this issue. At lower altitudes (<200 m), honey bees formed one distinct morphocluster typical of A. mellifera scutellata throughout the continent. In comparison, those at higher altitudes (>2000 m) formed a separate distinct cluster of large, dark bees as mountain ecotypes (Radloff and Hepburn, 2001). The distribution of honey bee subspecies, including A. mellifera scutellata, in Taita Taveta District, Kenya, also appears to be related to altitude, with A. mellifera monticola found to be most widespread in the highlands and A. mellifera litorea was most common in lowland areas (Oden, 2001).

A. mellifera scutellata was introduced to Brazil in 1956 and from there it and its hybrids with European honey bees have spread to much of South America, to Central America and to the southern parts of North America.

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

CountryDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferencesNotes

AFRICA

BotswanaPresentNativeMcNally & Schneider, 1996
EthiopiaPresentNativeAmssalu et al., 2004West, south & southwest humid midlands
KenyaPresentNativeMuli et al., 2005; Oden, 2001Taita Taveta District
MozambiquePresentAlcobia, 1991
NamibiaPresentRadloff et al., 1996
South AfricaPresentNativeBeekman et al., 2002; Radloff & Hepburn, 1999
TanzaniaPresentNativePiereira & Chaud-Netto, 2005
UgandaPresentNativeRadloff & Hepburn, 2001
ZimbabwePresentNativeFries et al., 2003

NORTH AMERICA

MexicoPresentIntroduced1986InvasiveCairns et al., 2005Yucatan (Quintana Roo)
USA
-ArizonaPresentIntroducedSchneider et al., 2004; Piereira & Chaud-Netto, 2005
-ArkansasLocalisedIntroducedInvasiveUSDA, 2011
-CaliforniaPresentIntroduced1994Sanford, 1994; Kim & Oguro, 1999; Piereira & Chaud-Netto, 2005
-FloridaPresentIntroducedInvasiveUSDA, 2011
-LouisianaLocalisedIntroducedInvasiveUSDA, 2011
-NevadaPresentIntroduced1998Hicks, 1999; Piereira & Chaud-Netto, 2005Clark County. Swarms in Las Vegas in July 1998.
-New MexicoPresentIntroducedPiereira & Chaud-Netto, 2005
-OklahomaPresentIntroducedInvasiveUSDA, 2011
-TexasPresentIntroducedInvasiveHunter et al., 1993; Kim & Oguro, 1999; Coulson et al., 2005; USDA, 2011
-UtahLocalisedIntroducedInvasiveUSDA, 2011

CENTRAL AMERICA AND CARIBBEAN

Costa RicaPresentIntroduced1983Tarpy undated
El SalvadorPresentIntroduced1985Tarpy undated
PanamaPresentIntroduced1982InvasiveRoubik et al., 2003forests
Puerto RicoPresentIntroduced1994InvasiveCox, 1994; Kairo et al., 2003
Trinidad and TobagoPresentIntroduced1979Tarpy undated; Schotman, 1989Not Tobago

SOUTH AMERICA

ArgentinaPresentIntroduced1969Tarpy undated; Diniz et al., 2003; Piereira & Chaud-Netto, 2005
BoliviaPresentIntroduced1967Tarpy undated
Brazil
-AmazonasPresentIntroducedDick, 2001
-ParanaPresentIntroducedAkatsu & Pegoraro, 2001Mandirituba
-Rio Grande do SulPresentIntroducedOutlaw et al., 2000temperate
-Sao PauloPresentIntroduced1956InvasiveGonçalves, 2004; Sanchez & Malerbo-Souza, 2004; Piereira & Chaud-Netto, 2005Ribeirao Preto; Near Rio Claro
ColombiaPresentIntroduced1979Tarpy undated
EcuadorPresentIntroduced1981Tarpy undated
French GuianaPresentIntroduced1974Tarpy undated
GuyanaPresentIntroduced1975Tarpy undated
ParaguayPresentIntroduced1965Tarpy undated
PeruPresentIntroduced1977Tarpy undated
UruguayPresentIntroduced1971Diniz et al., 2003
VenezuelaPresentIntroduced1977Tarpy undated; Cabrera et al., 2003; Thimann & Manrique, 2002

OCEANIA

Australia
-VictoriaPresentIntroducedInvasiveISSG (IUCN SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group), 2013
New ZealandPresentIntroducedInvasiveMcMillan, 2005Rangitoto Island

History of Introduction and Spread

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A. mellifera scutellata was introduced into Brazil in 1956 by Warwick Estevam Kerr from South Africa and Tanzania, to assist the honey industry there because this species was better adapted to conditions in South America than various European subspecies of A. mellifera that he was using. The accidental release of queens and workers in 26 swarms into the Brazilian countryside was followed by subsequent hybridization with local European honey bee colonies (Piereira and Chaud-Netto, 2005). A. mellifera scutellata and the hybrids have since spread rapidly from the point of the original introduction near Rio Claro, Sao Paulo, Brazil, to as far south as mid-Argentina and to the north of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, California and Nevada, USA (Kim and Oguro, 1999; Piereira and Chaud-Netto, 2005). The first record in the USA was from Hidalgo, Texas in 1993 and the bees were reported to advance at 100-300 miles (160-480 km) per year by colonizing existing hives or forming new hives in the wild (Kim and Oguro, 1999).

Introductions

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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
Sao PauloSouth Africa 1956Yes
Sao PauloTanzania1956Yes

Risk of Introduction

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A. mellifera scutellata is an aggressive invader, and its spread is facilitated by a high adaptability to variable ecological conditions (Piereira and Chaud-Netto, 2005), indicating that further spread is likely. See Kaplan (2004) and Schneider et al. (2004) for a discussion of traits and behaviours that are responsible for making this species a successful invader.

Habitat

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A. mellifera scutellata form colonies in tree hollows, rotted logs and man-made structures, such as wood and rock piles. A list of known nesting places of Africanized honey bees in the USA includes: trees and shrubs; wood pike or trash piles; flower pots; old tyres; ground holes; chimneys; storage sheds; wall cavities; attics and crawl spaces; roof overlaps and building eaves; underground utilities; water meters and sprinkler control boxes; old mine shafts or rock crevices; and evaporative coolers (UDAF, 2008). They can be found wherever such sites are found, most commonly in urban areas, agricultural land, forests (natural and managed), but also in riparian areas, coastal areas and occasionally in many other habitat types.

According to Oliveira and Cunha (2005), Africanized honey bees in the Americas are limited to regions of low altitude and cool winters, and principally occur in urban areas, and open or disturbed vegetation in Brazil, as opposed to the interior of dense forest, such as the Amazon. It was observed that Africanized honey bee workers did not visit baits in continuous forest or forest fragments, but were observed in deforested or open areas. This indicates that there is no possibility of source competition between Africanized and native bees within the Amazon forest, and also that large-scale beekeeping is unlikely to succeed in the region because the forest is not explored by Africanized bees.

Habitat List

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CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Littoral
Coastal dunesSecondary/tolerated habitatHarmful (pest or invasive)
Coastal dunesSecondary/tolerated habitatNatural
Terrestrial-managed
BuildingsPrincipal habitatHarmful (pest or invasive)
Cultivated / agricultural landPrincipal habitatHarmful (pest or invasive)
Cultivated / agricultural landPrincipal habitatNatural
Cultivated / agricultural landPrincipal habitatProductive/non-natural
Disturbed areasPrincipal habitatHarmful (pest or invasive)
Managed forests, plantations and orchardsPrincipal habitatHarmful (pest or invasive)
Managed grasslands (grazing systems)Secondary/tolerated habitatHarmful (pest or invasive)
Managed grasslands (grazing systems)Secondary/tolerated habitatNatural
Protected agriculture (e.g. glasshouse production)Secondary/tolerated habitatHarmful (pest or invasive)
Protected agriculture (e.g. glasshouse production)Secondary/tolerated habitatProductive/non-natural
Rail / roadsidesSecondary/tolerated habitatHarmful (pest or invasive)
Urban / peri-urban areasPrincipal habitatHarmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial-natural/semi-natural
Natural forestsPrincipal habitatHarmful (pest or invasive)
Natural forestsPrincipal habitatNatural
Natural forestsPrincipal habitatProductive/non-natural
Natural grasslandsSecondary/tolerated habitatHarmful (pest or invasive)
Natural grasslandsSecondary/tolerated habitatNatural
Natural grasslandsSecondary/tolerated habitatProductive/non-natural
RiverbanksSecondary/tolerated habitatHarmful (pest or invasive)
RiverbanksSecondary/tolerated habitatNatural
Scrub / shrublandsSecondary/tolerated habitatHarmful (pest or invasive)
Scrub / shrublandsSecondary/tolerated habitatNatural

Biology and Ecology

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Genetics

Whitfield et al. (2006) characterized A. mellifera in native and introduced ranges using single-nucleotide polymorphisms, indicating that A. mellifera originated in Africa and expanded into Eurasia at least twice. This resulted in populations in eastern and western Europe that are geographically close, but genetically distant. The authors report that a third expansion in the New World has involved the near replacement of previously introduced ‘European’ honey bees by descendants of more recently introduced A. mellifera scutellata. Their analyses revealed differential replacement of alleles derived from eastern versus western Europe, with admixture evident in all individuals. Oden (2001) presents evidence based on morphometric analyses and PCA, DCA and RDA of wing indexes and floral characteristics, in support of the theory that African honey bees belong to a number of subspecies, and thus should not be referred to as ‘African’ bees. Diniz et al. (2003), studying honey bee populations in Southern Brazil and Uruguay, used allozyme loci and mtDNA haplotypes to characterize the populations and define a possible transition area between Africanized and European honey bees. The distribution limit of African bee colonies, i.e. populations with the African mtDNA haplotype only and a high proportion of African genes as shown by allozyme analysis, is located in northern Uruguay, with a hybridisation zone farther south in Uruguay.

Sereno et al. (2004) described the use of morphological traits to differentiate between Africanized, European and North African colonies of A. mellifera. Looking at 18 morphological variables of worker bees, they found that colonies from Spain, Madeira and North Africa form a homogenous morphological group, which differed from a group in beehives of Brazil and Portugal. Francoy et al. (2006) looked at morphometric differences in a single wing cell to evaluate the method for discrimination of A. mellifera racial types. Analysis of the results showed significant differences between commercial USA Italian bees (predominantly A. mellifera ligustica), German Carniolan bees (predominantly A. mellifera carnica) and Africanized honey bees (predominantly A. mellifera scutellata). In conjunction with morphometric analyses, Pinto et al. (2003) describe the procedure of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) assays to identify Africanized bees for regulatory purposes in the USA. Nielson et al. (2000) describes the use of a PCR-based mitochondrial genotype assay to discriminate between 4 mitotypes found in North, Central and South American honey bee racial groups. Also see Sheppard and Smith (2000) for a description of methods used to identify African-derived bees in the Americas.

Reproductive Biology

The period from egg to adult is approximately 18.5 days for worker bees and 16 days for queens, and adult longevity is approximately 30 days for workers, 5-10 weeks for drones, and 1-3 years for queens. For more details on egg, larvae and pupae production in A. mellifera scutellata colonies in Mandirituba, Parana, Brazil, see Pegoraro et al. (2001). One queen can produce 1500 eggs a day, and when a queen mates with a drone, the fertilized egg becomes a female worker bee, whereas unfertilized eggs become male drones, and larvae develop into queens if they are fed large quantities of royal jelly, a very nutritious creamy white liquid consisting of hypopharyngeal and mandibular gland secretions. Colonies reproduce by frequent swarming, and one colony can result in 17 other colonies in a year.

Human et al. (2007) reported that under queen right conditions in the field, A. mellifera scutellata worker bees exhibited greater ovarian development when feeding on aloe pollen than on sunflower pollen, but these results were not replicated in laboratory studies.

Environmental Requirements

Africanized honey bees are limited to hot tropical and warm sub-tropical habitats with separate wet and dry seasons, in comparison to hot and cold seasons in cooler temperate areas. Temperate climatic restrictions seem to be a natural limit to the expansion of Africanized honey bees at latitudes of approximately 35-40°. Radloff and Hepburn (1999) reported on A. mellifera worker bees in South Africa and described three morphoclusters: an unnamed population at >1500 m altitude; bees considered to be A. mellifera scutellata x A. m. capensis hybrids; and A. m. scutellata surrounding the mountains at <1500 m altitude. High humidity is necessary for honey bee brood development and honey bees are very efficient at regulating the biophysical parameters of their hive according to the needs of the colony. However, Human et al. (2006), studying A. mellifera scutellata, suggested that regulation of humidity is adjusted within sub-optimal limits.

 

Climate

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ClimateStatusDescriptionRemark
A - Tropical/Megathermal climatePreferredAverage temp. of coolest month > 18°C, > 1500mm precipitation annually
B - Dry (arid and semi-arid)Preferred< 860mm precipitation annually
C - Temperate/Mesothermal climateToleratedAverage temp. of coldest month > 0°C and < 18°C, mean warmest month > 10°C

Latitude/Altitude

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
4035

Rain Regime

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Summer
Uniform
Winter

Natural Enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Varroa destructorParasiteAdult Female/Adult Maleto genus

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Small hive beetles (Aethina tumida) are pests of honey bees and can damage combs, stored honey and pollen. A study by Neumann and Hartel (2004) showed that A. mellifera scutellata remove unprotected eggs and larvae of the beetles and this behaviour plays an important role in the apparent resistance of African honey bees towards infestations by small hive beetles. They are also affected by the mite Varroa destructor in the same way as other bee subspecies

A number of bacteria are associated with honey bees and in a study of those associated with A. mellifera capensis and A. mellifera scutellata by Jeyaprakash et al. (2003), Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium were found. These have also been reported from other honey bee subspecies; however, other sequences were found associated with honey bees for the first time, e.g. Bartonella, Gluconacetobacter; Simonsiella/Neisseria; and Serratia. Another bacterium, the parasitic microbe Wolbachia, is found in workers and drones of A. mellifera scutellata and hybrid workers of A. mellifera capensis and A. mellifera scutellata (Hoy et al., 2003).

Gene sequencing of a microsporidium from honey bees in Zimbabwe has found Nosema apis, a fungal parasite of honey bees, causing nosemosis or nosema (Fries, 2002; Fries et al., 2003).

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Natural Dispersal (Non-Biotic)

Honey bees disperse readily by swarming frequently. During times of nectar abundance, reproductive swarms may disperse from old colonies every 6 weeks. New queens are produced prior to swarming and as soon as the virgin daughter queens are ready to emerge, the mother queen and approximately half the workers leave the parental nest to establish a new colony (Beekman et al., 2008). Throughout its range in the New World, the Africanized honey bee swarms more often than, and shows a great ability to displace, resident European honey bee colonies. It can advance at 100-300 miles (160-480 km) per year by colonizing existing hives or forming new hives in the wild (Kim and Oguro, 1999).
 
Accidental Introduction
 
A. mellifera scutellata was accidentally released into the Brazilian countryside after being intentionally imported into Brazil to aid the honey industry (Pereira and Chaud-Netto, 2005). Within 50 years this race had colonized most of South America and all of Central America.
 
Intentional Introduction
 
A. mellifera scutellata was intentionally introduced to Brazil in the 1950s to assist the honey industry because this subspecies was considered well-adapted to the climate of southern Brazil.

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Breeding/ propagationFrom South Africa & Tanzania to BrazilYesYesPiereira & Chaud-Netto, 2005
Escape from confinement/ garden escapeFrom South Africa & Tanzania to Brazil, then escaped into the Brazilian countrysideYesPiereira & Chaud-Netto, 2005
Intentional releaseFrom South Africa & Tanzania to Brazil ,to aid honey bee production in BrazilYesPiereira & Chaud-Netto, 2005
People sharing resourcesYesPiereira & Chaud-Netto, 2005

Economic Impact

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A. mellifera scutellata negatively affects the beekeeping industry because it competes with European honey bees (A. mellifera), invading nests and causing A. mellifera to produce less honey. Labour costs are high because harvesting of A. mellifera scutellata honey requires handling aggressive bees and frequently re-queening colonies. However, once these obstacles are overcome, beekeeping with A. mellifera scutellata is considered to be a good investment (Goncalves, 2004).

A possibly more significant negative economic impact is caused by livestock fatalities resulting from Africanized bee stings, of which there have been very many thousands, though the exact number and the actual economic cost have not been fully estimated.

A. mellifera scutellata has a positive economic effect in pollinating valuable tropical crops. It is considered that they are superior pollinators to A. mellifera, for example of cotton (Gossypium hirsutum) in Brazil (Sanchez-Junior and Malerbo-Souza, 2004). A. mellifera scutellata has also been observed to show typical behaviour of a pollinator during foraging activity on the female flowers of Schinus terebinthifolia (Lenzi and Orth, 2004).

Environmental Impact

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Impact on Habitat

In pristine and fragmented Amazonian rainforest, tropical rain forest trees characteristically occur in low population densities and rely on animals for cross-pollination. However, Dick et al. (2003) studied pollen dispersal and found that in highly disturbed habitats, A. mellifera may expand genetic neighbourhood areas and so link fragmented and continuous forest populations. For example, Dinizia excelsa was found to thrive in pastures and forest fragments in Manaus, Brazil even in the absence of native pollinators, and A. mellifera scutellata was the predominant floral visitor in fragmented habitats, also replacing native insects in isolated pasture trees. Gene flow over 3.4 km was reported in pasture indicating the significance of this bee in possibly altering the genetic structure of remnant populations via frequent, long-distance gene flow (Dick, 2001).

Impact on Biodiversity

A. mellifera scutellata is spreading throughout tropical and subtropical America, hybridizing with and for the most part replacing European honey bees (mainly Apis mellifera mellifera and Apis mellifera ligustica).
 
A. mellifera scutellata out-competes native pollinators when it invades their territory. In Mexico, human-induced disturbance lead to lower species richness of stingless bees, and where there was greatest anthropogenic disturbance there was a higher degree of dominance of A. mellifera scutellata (Cairns et al., 2005). The area with the most intact ecosystem had the highest diversity of stingless bees, and aggressive competitive behaviour was used by A. mellifera against stingless bees, indicating that the former are adopting new behaviour to better compete with dominant native pollinators.

Threatened Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Apis mellifera ligusticaNo detailsUSACompetition; HybridizationMartin & Kryger, 2002
Apis mellifera melliferaNo detailsUSACompetition; HybridizationMartin & Kryger, 2002

Social Impact

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A. mellifera scutellata swarms were given the common name ‘killer bees’ after causing death in pets, livestock and humans. In Brazil, accidents caused by A. mellifera scutellata have been attributed to high swarming frequencies and the variety of shelters available to them in urban areas (Piereira and Chaud-Netto, 2005). Massive envenomations by honey bees can cause multiorgan dysfunction as a result of the direct toxic effects of the large venom load received, although the mechanisms behind this are not clearly understood (Betten et al., 2006). The Africanized honey bee is the most commonly implicated species in such attacks. Although reports of deaths vary, the first victim of Africanized honey bees was in 1991, with the first death in 1993, and to date they have apparently killed some 1000 humans in Brazil, with 175 deaths in Mexico since 1985, and seven deaths in the USA since 1993.

Advice given to people in the USA in the event of being attacked includes: run away in a straight line, run through tall grass or small trees to reduce the attack, do not stand and swat at bees, cover face and eyes, get into a car or other shelter and stay there, do not jump into water as the bees will wait for you at the surface.

A more minor social impact is the nuisance caused, and the need to have swarms removed from in and around homes and other building in urban areas, and the associated cost.

A positive aspect of A. mellifera scutellata found in Venezuela is that its honey showed antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli, Bacillus subtilis, Listeria monocytogenes and Proteus mirabilis (Cabrera et al., 2003).

Risk and Impact Factors

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Impact mechanisms

  • Allelopathic
  • Causes allergic responses
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Hybridization
  • Induces hypersensitivity
  • Interaction with other invasive species
  • Pest and disease transmission
  • Poisoning

Impact outcomes

  • Changed gene pool/ selective loss of genotypes
  • Conflict
  • Damaged ecosystem services
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Negatively impacts human health
  • Negatively impacts livelihoods
  • Reduced amenity values
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of native species

Invasiveness

  • Abundant in its native range
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Capable of securing and ingesting a wide range of food
  • Gregarious
  • Has a broad native range
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Invasive in its native range
  • Is a habitat generalist
  • Long lived
  • Pioneering in disturbed areas
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Reproduces asexually
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc

Likelihood of entry/control

  • Difficult to identify/detect in the field
  • Difficult/costly to control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally

Detection and Inspection

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Some beekeepers paint a small dot on the European queens in their hives and check every year to make sure that the Africanized honey bee has not invaded and taken over the colony (UDAF, 2008).

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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A. mellifera is similar to A. mellifera scutellata, and it is very difficult for the layperson to positively distinguish Africanized honeybees from common European honeybees, as apart from genetic analysis, a comparison of up to as 20 different body measurements is the only way to distinguish subspecies with any certainty (Kaplan, 2004). Also, the Africanized honey bee is more defensive around its nests than the European bee and has a tendency to sting in large numbers. A. mellifera can withstand colder temperatures compared to A. mellifera scutellata. A. mellifera scutellata is slightly smaller than A. mellifera and less selective in habitat selection.

A. mellifera scutellata is also morphologically similar to the Cape honey bee (A. mellifera capensis) and these subspecies are very difficult to separate (PaDIL, 2007). The most accurate method for identification is by determining the geographical location of the population source. A. mellifera capensis is usually confined to the south-west corner of South Africa and along the southern coast to Port Elizabeth. A. mellifera scutellata is found throughout most of the remaining areas of South Africa (Hepburn and Radloff, 2002). A. mellifera capensis workers have more than five ovarioles/ovaries, on average, and a spermatheca diameter of 0.3 mm, whereas spermathecas of the other Apis spp. are vestigial (PaDIL, 2007). In South Africa, there appear to be three subspecies of A. mellifera: A. mellifera capensis, A. mellifera scutellata and an unnamed ‘mountain form’ (Radloff and Hepburn, 1999; Hepburn and Radloff, 2002).

Oden (2001) describes the use of morphometric characters to discriminate between honey bee subspecies in Kenya: Cubital index (Ci) and Discoidal angle (Da). Seven measurements were taken from the right forewing of the honey bees to calculate the Ci and the position of the radial vein crossing was taken for the Da.

For a fact sheet documenting the differences between the Africanized honey bee and the European honey bee refer to Delaplane (2006). Also Suazo and Hall (2002) describe nuclear DNA PCR-RFLPs that distinguish African and European honey bee groups of subspecies (see also Suazo et al., 2002). Jones (2002) produced a document outlining basic physical, behavioural and nest characteristics of a range of stinging insects, including A. mellifera scutellata.

Prevention and Control

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Prevention

Early warning systems

Behavioural studies of A. mellifera scutellata have been undertaken with the aim of creating informed strategies for dealing with Africanized honey bees and educating the public (Mello et al., 2003). The removal of bee colonies and swarms in Sao Paulo, Brazil was positively correlated with average temperature and degree of insolation, and negatively correlated with relative humidity and rainfall, and it was shown to be likely that colonies nested in artificial constructions, whereas wandering swarms tended to nest in trees. Such results can be used to predict times of the year when people should be more alert for activity of the bees. State Agricultural Departments in the USA have been tracking and studying Africanized honey bees since their introduction, and in particular, the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food has been setting traps since 2003 as an early warning line (UDAF, 2008).

Public awareness

Public awareness facilitated by studies such as that by Mello et al. (2003) will hopefully lead to the removal of structures seen as potential nesting sites for the bees and avoidance of areas possibly harbouring swarms. Africanized bees are much more likely to attack to defend their colonies compared to European honey bees and attacks are provoked by vibration, noise or motion within 50 feet of the nest. Offending origins of such sounds include lawn mowers, leaf blowers and hedge trimmers, and the odour of freshly cut grass or citrus may also be a source of provocation. Animals and humans may be pursued for up to a quarter of a mile and bees remain agitated for up to 8 hours after disturbance (UDAF, 2008).

Control

As Africanized honey bees move into more temperate conditions, their adaptation to tropical climates is less advantageous. They would not establish a domain in temperate conditions and thus their control status is deemed ‘minimal priority’. A control level of ‘medium priority’ is recommended for North America’s southern semi-tropical area (Ojar, 2002). Thoenes (2002) described four types of bee control service: reactive bee control; preventative bee control; nuisance bee control; and sting emergency control, which are in demand with the advent of A. mellifera scutellata becoming a pest in urban areas.

Cultural control and sanitary measures

In apiculture, yearly re-queening of a hive ensures that beekeepers rear docile European honey bees (Apis mellifera) and not the aggressive Africanized honey bees (UDAF, 2008), and drone-flooding can also be used to maintain European bee stock. Large numbers of the common European honey bee are maintained in areas where commercially-reared queen bees mate, thus limiting mating opportunities between European queens and Africanized drones (Ojar, 2002). Beekeepers can also exterminate wild bee nests to protect their managed bees from resource competition (Ojar, 2002).

Biological control

The ectoparasite Varroa destructor has been found on A. mellifera scutellata in Venezuela (Principal et al., 2004). However, using a honey bee-mite simulation model, Martin and Medina (2004) showed that the adult longevity of Africanized honey bees (21 days) requires >12 000 mites to kill a colony.

Martin and Kryger (2002) found that in cells of A. mellifera scutellata workers, V. destructor produced 0.9 fertilized females per mother mite, which is equivalent to susceptible European honey bees, but greater than cells containing A. mellifera capensis worker pseudoclones (0.4). Increased mite mortality was the main factor causing low mite reproductive success in cells of pseudoclones. Male protonymphs and some mothers were trapped in the upper part of the cell due to the pseudoclone being 8% larger than their host and not due to their short development time. It was concluded that mite populations in A. mellifera scutellata and A. mellifera capensis honey bees in South Africa are expected to increase to levels seen in Europe and the USA.

Cape honey bees (A. mellifera capensis) pose a threat to A. mellifera scutellata (Oldroyd, 2002) and commercial beekeeping of A. mellifera scutellata in north-eastern South Africa (Hepburn, 2001). They are socially parasitic and have caused dramatic losses in managed populations of A. mellifera scutellata when Cape honey bees were moved from southern to northern Africa in 1990 (Martin et al., 2002b). There is a concern that wild populations may also be affected. Based on their surveys of beekeeping areas and nature reserves, it was concluded that the latter may provide important refuges for wild populations of A. mellifera scutellata (Hartel et al., 2006).

Mechanisms underlying the parasitism include the ability of A. mellifera capensis to activate their ovaries in host colonies and lay eggs that evade being killed by other workers (Martin et al., 2002a). Neumann et al. (2000) explored the role of reproductive dominance in hybrid colonies (A. mellifera scutellata and A. mellifera capensis) by thelytokous laying workers of A. mellifera capensis. Also see papers by Moritz (2002), Martin et al. (2002b) and Wossler (2002) for example, documenting A. mellifera capensis parasitism on A. mellifera scutellata.

Chemical control

Gervan et al. (2005) reported on the effects of a pheromone from the mandibles of A. mellifera queens. The queen mandibular pheromone (QMP) influences worker behaviour and physiology. The authors observed calming of colonies and a reduction in stings in the presence of synthetic QMP. Their experiments were carried out using A. mellifera ligustica, which showed decreased defensive behaviour after exposure to liquid QMP in colonies with queens. In the absence of queens, exposure to liquid QMP did not affect the number of stings, but there was a decrease in the number of guard bees. Synthetic lures of QMP had no effect on the colonies tested. Obviously, a method to control defensive behaviour would be important to handling Africanized honey bees.

Traps and chemicals have been used in an attempt to control A. mellifera scutellata, but have proved inefficient.

References

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Links to Websites

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WebsiteURLComment
Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG)http://www.issg.orgThe ISSG is part of the Species Survival Commission (SSC) of The World Conservation Union (IUCN). It is a global group of 146 scientific and policy experts on invasive species from 41 countries and provides advice on threats from invasives and control or eradication methods to IUCN members, conservation practitioners, and policy-makers.
Africanized ‘killer’ bees: a problem for North Carolina?www.ncagr.com/plantindustry/plant/apiary/ncahb_files/VersionForPublic.ppt
Africanized Honey Beeshttp://www.ars.usda.gov/Research/docs.htm?docid=11059

Contributors

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22/05/08 Original text by:

Claire Beverley, CABI, Nosworthy Way, Wallingford, Oxon OX10 8DE, UK

Distribution Maps

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Distribution map South America: Present
Schotman, 1989Argentina: Present, introduced
; Diniz et al., 2003; Piereira & Chaud-Netto, 2005Australia
See regional map for distribution within the countryBolivia: Present, introduced
Brazil
See regional map for distribution within the countryBrazil
See regional map for distribution within the countryBrazil
See regional map for distribution within the countryBrazil
See regional map for distribution within the countryBotswana: Present, native
McNally & Schneider, 1996Colombia: Present, introduced
Colombia: Present, introduced
Costa Rica: Present, introduced
Costa Rica: Present, introduced
Ecuador: Present, introduced
Ethiopia: Present, native
Amssalu et al., 2004French Guiana: Present, introduced
Guyana: Present, introduced
Guyana: Present, introduced
Kenya: Present, native
Muli et al., 2005; Oden, 2001Mexico: Present, introduced, invasive
Cairns et al., 2005Mexico: Present, introduced, invasive
Cairns et al., 2005Mozambique: Present
Alcobia, 1991Namibia: Present
Radloff et al., 1996New Zealand: Present, introduced, invasive
McMillan, 2005Panama: Present, introduced, invasive
Roubik et al., 2003Panama: Present, introduced, invasive
Roubik et al., 2003Peru: Present, introduced
Puerto Rico: Present, introduced, invasive
Cox, 1994; Kairo et al., 2003Puerto Rico: Present, introduced, invasive
Cox, 1994; Kairo et al., 2003Paraguay: Present, introduced
El Salvador: Present, introduced
El Salvador: Present, introduced
Trinidad and Tobago: Present, introduced
; Schotman, 1989Trinidad and Tobago: Present, introduced
; Schotman, 1989Tanzania: Present, native
Piereira & Chaud-Netto, 2005Uganda: Present, native
Radloff & Hepburn, 2001USA
See regional map for distribution within the countryUSA
See regional map for distribution within the countryUSA
See regional map for distribution within the countryUSA
See regional map for distribution within the countryUSA
See regional map for distribution within the countryUSA
See regional map for distribution within the countryUSA
See regional map for distribution within the countryUSA
See regional map for distribution within the countryUSA
See regional map for distribution within the countryUSA
See regional map for distribution within the countryUSA
See regional map for distribution within the countryUruguay: Present, introduced
Diniz et al., 2003Venezuela: Present, introduced
; Cabrera et al., 2003; Thimann & Manrique, 2002Venezuela: Present, introduced
; Cabrera et al., 2003; Thimann & Manrique, 2002South Africa: Present, native
Beekman et al., 2002; Radloff & Hepburn, 1999Zimbabwe: Present, native
Fries et al., 2003
  • = Present, no further details
  • = Evidence of pathogen
  • = Widespread
  • = Last reported
  • = Localised
  • = Presence unconfirmed
  • = Confined and subject to quarantine
  • = See regional map for distribution within the country
  • = Occasional or few reports
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Distribution map (asia)
Distribution map (europe)
Distribution map (africa) Botswana: Present, native
McNally & Schneider, 1996Ethiopia: Present, native
Amssalu et al., 2004Kenya: Present, native
Muli et al., 2005; Oden, 2001Mozambique: Present
Alcobia, 1991Namibia: Present
Radloff et al., 1996Tanzania: Present, native
Piereira & Chaud-Netto, 2005Uganda: Present, native
Radloff & Hepburn, 2001South Africa: Present, native
Beekman et al., 2002; Radloff & Hepburn, 1999Zimbabwe: Present, native
Fries et al., 2003
Distribution map (north america) Mexico: Present, introduced, invasive
Cairns et al., 2005Puerto Rico: Present, introduced, invasive
Cox, 1994; Kairo et al., 2003El Salvador: Present, introduced
Arkansas: Localised, introduced, invasive
USDA, 2011Arizona: Present, introduced
Schneider et al., 2004; Piereira & Chaud-Netto, 2005California: Present, introduced
Sanford, 1994; Kim & Oguro, 1999; Piereira & Chaud-Netto, 2005Florida: Present, introduced, invasive
USDA, 2011Louisiana: Localised, introduced, invasive
USDA, 2011New Mexico: Present, introduced
Piereira & Chaud-Netto, 2005Nevada: Present, introduced
Hicks, 1999; Piereira & Chaud-Netto, 2005Oklahoma: Present, introduced, invasive
USDA, 2011Texas: Present, introduced, invasive
Hunter et al., 1993; Kim & Oguro, 1999; Coulson et al., 2005; USDA, 2011Utah: Localised, introduced, invasive
USDA, 2011
Distribution map (central america) Colombia: Present, introduced
Costa Rica: Present, introduced
Guyana: Present, introduced
Mexico: Present, introduced, invasive
Cairns et al., 2005Panama: Present, introduced, invasive
Roubik et al., 2003Puerto Rico: Present, introduced, invasive
Cox, 1994; Kairo et al., 2003El Salvador: Present, introduced
Trinidad and Tobago: Present, introduced
; Schotman, 1989Florida: Present, introduced, invasive
USDA, 2011Venezuela: Present, introduced
; Cabrera et al., 2003; Thimann & Manrique, 2002
Distribution map (south america) Argentina: Present, introduced
; Diniz et al., 2003; Piereira & Chaud-Netto, 2005Bolivia: Present, introduced
Amazonas: Present, introduced
Dick, 2001Parana: Present, introduced
Akatsu & Pegoraro, 2001Rio Grande do Sul: Present, introduced
Outlaw et al., 2000Sao Paulo: Present, introduced, invasive
Gonçalves, 2004; Sanchez & Malerbo-Souza, 2004; Piereira & Chaud-Netto, 2005Colombia: Present, introduced
Costa Rica: Present, introduced
Ecuador: Present, introduced
French Guiana: Present, introduced
Guyana: Present, introduced
Panama: Present, introduced, invasive
Roubik et al., 2003Peru: Present, introduced
Paraguay: Present, introduced
Trinidad and Tobago: Present, introduced
; Schotman, 1989Uruguay: Present, introduced
Diniz et al., 2003Venezuela: Present, introduced
; Cabrera et al., 2003; Thimann & Manrique, 2002
Distribution map (pacific) Victoria: Present, introduced, invasive
ISSG (IUCN SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group), 2013New Zealand: Present, introduced, invasive
McMillan, 2005