Killer Bees of Arizona

Killer bees are Africanized honey bees. They are called killer bees because of their aggression toward people or animals who approach their territory.

African bees were brought to Brazil in the 1950s by scientists trying to develop a honey bee that would adapt to tropical climates. Some of the bees escaped and bred with local bees, multiplied, and migrated through South and Central America.

Africanized honey bees, known as killer bees, were first seen in the US in 1990 in Texas, and soon spread to the southwestern US and California. They are all over Arizona and can be very dangerous. They are easily provoked and will attack in great numbers from a long distance, sensing the presence of carbon dioxide expelled by mammals. They can also respond to noises, scents, and vibrations by swarming and attacking. If you jump into water, such as a pool, the bees will wait for you to surface and continue to attack. Their venom is no stronger than a honey bee, and they can each sting only once, the female dying after stinging.

One must be vigilant of straying into their territory when doing yardwork, and they like to form hives in attics or vents of houses. Because bees are very important insects, we should not try to destroy them, but seek the help of a professional. In Bisbee, we have such an expert, The Killer Bee Guy. He’s rather famous and has demonstrated his technique for removal on several televsion shows. He has a shop where he sells products he makes from the honey of the bees he has removed, not exterminated. Sometimes in an inconvenient or urgent situation, he has to sacrifice the bees, but he generally safely removes them. He puts the bees to work and makes everything from honey butter to lip balm.

Yesterday at my friend Janice’s house in rural Hereford, AZ, we noticed a huge swarm of thousands of killer bees near a peach tree. We grabbed the dogs and got them inside. The bees formed into a writhing mass on the side of the tree, we believe it was to protect their queen. Of course we were extremely careful not to disturb them—we barely breathed and used the zoom.

Mass of Africanized honey bees (killer bees) on side of a peach tree.

Mass of Africanized honey bees (killer bees) on peach tree. A few bees buzz around the mass as guards. This entire mass is constantly moving and shifting. It's quite something to behold.

Mass of Africanized honey bees on peach tree. They form a mass in the heat of the day in a shady spot to protect their queen. This group of bees are looking for a place to build their hive.

30 responses to “Killer Bees of Arizona

  1. Very interesting. Did the Killer Bee Guy remove the swarm? How does he keep his bees from becoming agitated?

    • Hi Leonard, I wish I knew his secrets. I think beekeepers are special, I have read stories where they have no fear and the bees know that. He has a website and videos and stories.

      But no, Janice did not call him. These bees have not settled and may be on the move—hopefully way out to the desert where they call pollinate all they want without scaring people.

  2. This shows what happens when Dr. Science gets it on with Mother Nature! I remember when I lived in California every so often somebody would uncover one of these hives in a wall of a building or something. They let out an audible hum you could hear from quite a distance.
    I’m glad there are guys like the Killer Bee Guy around to deal with them. I wasn’t aware they actually made honey, wax or anything other than terror!

    • Hi Harry, I have to agree about messing with Mama. When new species are introduced into a nonnative habitat, trouble always ensues. Sometimes it happens by accident such as on ships, sometimes unwittingly by settlers who want to hear the sound of a bird or animal from their home.

      I think the killer bees are just like any other bees except much more aggressive!

  3. Indigo Spider

    I think I’ve seen the Killer Bee Guy on some shows on Animal Planet or Nature or some such thing. I don’t think I’d be brave enough to take photos even with a zoom lens!

    Mother Nature knows the delicate balance of life. Too bad she is ignored too often.

    • Hi Indigo, Oh the sacrifices I make for my blog! Just had to risk my neck getting these shots, as I may never see something like this again. All I could think of was “I have to post these!” One of these days I’m going to walk off a cliff trying to get a good picture.

      Yes, creatures evolve in specific areas for a reason!

  4. Is there a way to tell a killer bee from a regular bee? That swarm definitely looks scary.

    • Hi Thomas, the killer bees are definitely bigger, and to us they look darker than the innocuous little golden honey bees we had back east. These bees are sort of the Mad Max version!

      Yes they are scary, and another good reason to keep your yard cleaned up. People tend to collect piles of junk in their yards here, forming perfect hideaways for hives.

  5. Scary little guys. Great pics too. When I lived out in the desert we had a woman who was like your Killer Bee Guy, only they weren’t killer bees. She used burning camel dung to make the bees drunk and passive, and would then relocate the swarm, moving the queen with her bare fingers. It was quite amazing to witness, which I did on two occasions. When I asked her why the bees picked a particular spot to settle, she expained that it was ususally along a leyline or to do with water nearby. Very useful to know out in the desert!

    • Yes I’ve heard of using smoke. I think bee people are a bit magical, I’m so impressed with them. These killer bees here seek water too, they’ll often settle near washes in the desert, where the monsoon rains flow down from the mountains. Where there is no water, they must get their fluids from nectar. They pollinate plants same as honeybees so I hate to see them destroyed. But after seeing this swarm, I am going to be much, much more careful walking outside. Have to think of my animals too. One of my dogs ate a scorpion the other night and hasn’t been the same since, and then there’s the rattlers…but I’m sure Namibia has its share of dangerous critters. Gotta watch your step every minute!

  6. Where I live keeps looking better all the time. I can’t believe your dog ate a scorpion. Hope (s)he’s ok.

  7. Hi Patti,
    Yeah life is pretty harsh out here and you learn to toughen up. I never saw myself living in such a dump as I do now.

    I think Blitz was stung in the throat by a scorpion because he’s been hacking for a few days, and I saw the scorpion. I can’t afford to take him to the vet and they probably wouldn’t do anything except give him an anti-inflammatory shot like Prednisone. There are many birds and desert creatures that eat scorpions, so they are generally not poisonous but their bites are irritating. I’m on a wait-and-see program now.

  8. I have seen honey bee hives in transit a couple times when I was a kid but those bees were not tagged with ‘Killer’. Our neighbour who owned the apple orchard next to my parents on two occasions removed hives that were in transit to grey beehive boxes. It was fascinating watching the entire process. The cutting of the limb, carrying the branch and hive to the box. Removing the queen and placing her into the core. An then watching the entire hive take up residency in the box hive with their queen. A great experience, for a wide eyed kid.

    It must have been exhilarating observing these Africanized honeybees. A little unnerving am sure but what an experience, am glad that you got the chance to see them up close safely and not come across them unexpectedly.

    • Hi Hudson, I’m not sure but they don’t seem to like cold weather so I don’t think you have to worry about them in Canada! I think we’re stuck with them here though. Because pollination is so important to life, there isn’t (thank goodness) a mass mismanaged campaign of destruction against them, but I pity a wild animal lookin’ for a little honey. Run like hell is the advice I read. I wonder why they evolved to be so aggressive in the first place?

      People who work with bees are the closest thing we have to good witches, real ones, not the goofy goth self-named pagan witches. I would love to see one of them at work. A great experience for a wide-eyed kid or curious adult!

      It was incredible to see the thousands of bees in a swarm—and how fast they formed this mass. They all knew exactly what to do, protect their queen. When they were swarming there were birds I did not recognize swooping around catching and eating them. So bizarre that they didn’t get attacked, another mystery from Mama.

  9. (shudder). I wasn’t aware we were rehabilitating em, just sterilizing em. Our normal honey bees are sorts like cats, they just come around and ask “hey, whatcha doin?” These aggressive types are more like, “you need to stop doing that right now.” Great pics. Great balance 🙂 There’s something beautifully ethereal about insects out of doors. So one of the keys to dealing with them is to avoid greenhouse gases (the worst public relations disaster in human existence (other than new Coke), was calling carbon dioxide green house gases. Sort of an anti-euphemism, a malphemism, so to speak. Good luck in having your curious furry sapients avoiding these gangs.

    • Hi Joel, what do you mean sterilizing them? That cross-breeding would produce sterile bees?

      I rather like bugs myself too (except for fleas and ear mites and scorpions and some nasty spiders) and never kill them. When I’m cleaning a house I go around them or put them outside! But lately I’ve been reading about this new bedbug infestation all over the US, ew.

      What do you mean about avoiding greenhouse gases in regard to dealing with insects? That greenhouse gases aid in insect overpopulation or aggression? I’m confused.

      • Sorry, I’m compulsive in joking. The greenhouse gas in question is simply carbon dioxide, which you mentioned early in the piece attracts the killer bees. The sterilization procedure for undesirable insects asks them to sign a consent form (again, compulsive humor) – no, sometimes, insects are sterilized by “preparing” a “crop” of sterile mates; the insects mate with the sterile insects, and no progeny ensues. This is usually done as an environmentally neutral means of controlling certain insect populations. I’ve never heard of it being used in hive insect cultures, tho.

  10. From what I have read, your run of the mill ‘leave me alone or you’ll piss me off ‘ honeybee adapts to its environment. A honeybee in the south is slightly different then the wild ones in northern climates. So who knows if the Africanized Bee’s will adapt an make their way north -a slow evolution I suspect. Actually ‘wild things’ don’t really scare me as much as some people.

    • You might have a point—they travel hundreds of miles in a short time so who knows—they could take over the world. They’ll demand sacrifices and force us to genuflect.

  11. I kept bees for many years (until I developed an mild allergy to bee stings) and have recaptured many swarms. It’s challenging with “friendly” Italian bees. I can’t imagine dealing with these Africanized bees given there aggressive nature. Of course I was always one of the idiots who though all that bee keeping equipment was unnecessary! Then I found out how wrong I was!

    It might have been a better idea to not to have tried to domesticate these critters. Another brilliant human idea!

    • Hi Bill,
      Well doesn’t that just figure you’d be one those magical beekeepers! This doesn’t surprise me! Uh oh, did you get attacked without your gear on?

      When I was a kid I was playing on a fallen dead tree, and was attacked by a nest of yellow jackets many, many times. I ran screaming into the house and my mother put calamine lotion all over me and told me to quit whining. Those were the days, huh?

      • Yellow jackets are the worst, they can sting multiple times unlike honey bees who can sting only once.

        Yep, I dropped a deep super while wearing no equipment. It wasn’t pretty and that’s when I developed a mild allergy to bee stings. I don’t have to carry and epi pen or anything, but I do swell up (huge) over large areas of my body when I get stung.

        Wish I could still keep bees. It was a terrific hobby!

  12. Great pictures, but I’m really worried about the dog. I hope Blitz is getting better. If there is swelling due to irritation, Benadryl is magical on dog ailments of this type.

  13. When honeybees alldie from hive disorder, Killer Bees may be al we haveleft

  14. Here in NZ we don’t (yet) have those kinds of problems. In all my life I’ve been stung only once by a bee, and that was when climbing a tree as a lad —I reached up and grasped a bee as well as the branch she was behind. I fell about eight feet out of the tree into deep-enough water (lucky me).

    I was very nervous of them after that until I discovered an affinity for/with bumblebees.

    Bumbles are the big fat fluffy ones that (as far as I know) don’t sting. They just like to crawl over me, and given half a chance into my hair (which gives me the creeps ‘cos they tickle) but eventually they come out and fly off.
    It was when I discovered that one of those bumbles was actually a honey I serendipitised a great secret: bees, leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone. Mostly … but I wouldn’t trust that to work with your Africanised bees; brrrrr!

    Great shots~!

    • Thanks. Aw the bees like you, that’s great.

      It’s sad about the bees here because now I’m all wary of bees. We have annoying wasps too, who roost on the hummingbird feeder ports and chase the hummers away. Not fair. Is NZ buggy? We don’t have the mosquito problem out here compared to eastern US, where they are miserable.

      • Up north the mosquitos can be annoying. Many’s the time I’ve slapped myself silly at night; down here none at all. No snakes, no scorpions, no huge spiders—we do have one poisonous spider (the Katipo) but it’s very shy and coastal. All very boring I suppose …

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