Honey bees have been of interest to humans far into history, and hopefully into the future. We have managed to harness and domesticate the European honey bee, although they still do sting us, which makes sense. We are taking their livelihood, honey, for ourselves. It is programmed deep into their very basic survival instincts to sting and protect when the colony is threatened. European honey bees were introduced to the US in the early 1600’s. Before that, it was native bees, which did and do not produce honey. An interesting fact I must mention, as I just read about this today, all honey bees have ancestral links to Africa. Migrations of these populations of bees lead to European and Asian honey bee populations (“Research Upsetting Some Notions About Honey Bees” Science Daily, 2006). This was discovered through DNA sequencing, and isn’t that interesting as we begin today’s post regarding the history of Africanized honey bees (seems rather redundant to distinguish using Africanized now).
Killer bees haven’t always been a problem for North America. In fact, they weren’t really a problem for South America until a biologist by the hame of Warwick E. Kerr began crossbreeding African honey bees with European honey bees in Brazil. His motivation was to find a way to increase honey production, not to terrorize innocent people. He succeeded as the Africanized bees were producing more honey, but they were also exceptionally more aggressive. Here is a great example of a double-edged sword!
Things were great in 1956; the bees were doing what Kerr wanted and all was well. That was short-lived as 26 swarms escaped research quarantine in 1957. They quickly spread through South, Central, and North Americas, breeding and creating more hybrids with feral (wild) and commercialized European honeybees. Now much of the southern parts of North America have Africanized bee populations. We hear almost daily during the Spring months, that a swarm of bees has attacked someone or a group of people. You will now notice that many of these stories are occurring in southern states. I have read headlines from Arizona, Florida, California, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more to add to that list. This can stir up, naturally, a great deal of anxiety in people, and the urge to find a way to do away with killer bees.
Okay, so it is unfortunate that Africanized bees attack and that we have one more hazard to look out for, but here’s another angle to consider. European honey bees are struggling to survive, the populations are dwindling, and that is due to many things humans have done wrong. Is it really a bad thing to have Africanized honey bees, if it means they will carry the honey making torch into the future? As is true with all wild creatures, we need to gain a better understanding of this species, so we can coexist. I venture to guess that early European honey bees were more aggressive than today’s population, and that Africanized honey bees are more representative of the honey bee ancestry. This begs the question, can we then harness and domesticate these bees too?
Please join me again tomorrow as I will present more about the characteristics of this species of bees. Thank you for joining the movement!
If you’d like to read more about the history of the killer bee, there is a great explanation on wikipedia via this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Africanized_bee, as well as the Smithsonian website via this link: http://www.si.edu/encyclopedia_si/nmnh/buginfo/killbee.htm