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.