Neal Weisenberger

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about bees. I received several questions about Africanized honey bees. There have been Africanized honey bees in the Antelope Valley since the late ’90s.

Before you run out screaming in fear, believing that swarms of giant bees will be attacking everything that moves, keep in mind that this is probably only the movies.

In real life, the terror of the Africanized honey bee is based mainly on poor information and hysteria. But they are still a creature that can kill and can be very aggressive.

Africanized honey bees are slightly smaller than the domestic bees and are usually identified only by their aggressive behavior. The Africanized honey bee will swarm when a person wanders within 40 feet of the hive, but they have been known to attack people who were as far away as 150 feet. Their behavior changes slightly when first starting a new hive; the bees are more docile, content on building the hive. After the hive has been constructed, they become very aggressive defending their home, food and young.

The Africanized honey bees can build a hive (nest) in the ground. That is not a common location for domestic bees. Water meters and valve boxes seem to be ideal places for the Africanized honey bee. Other locations for hive building include trees, under decks, old tires, pots and buckets. In fact they need only an area about one gallon in volume, but do better if it is closer to a five-gallon capacity.

To prepare for the Africanized honey bee, “bee proof” your home. Fill in or plug any potential nesting sites. Place screens over on the tops of rain gutters, downspouts, water meters and valve boxes. Check for cracks in the block walls and in your house and make repairs if needed. Pick up anything that could be a nesting site, like old pots, tires and boxes.

The Africanized honey bee is easily disturbed by vibrations, like lawn mowers. So before mowing, make a quick check of the area, and plan an escape route. Gardeners who may close gates behind them when working in the backyard may now want to leave the gate open for a quick escape.

Running is the best defense, except for finding a safe haven, like in the house or car with the windows rolled up. Standing still is a bad idea, just like jumping into a pool. These bees will stay around for a long time and sting you every time you come up for air.

When working outdoors, you should get in the habit of wearing long-sleeve shirts and pants, to leave less skin unprotected. Some stings will go through clothing, but preventing as many stings as possible is better. People and animals attacked by the Africanized honey bee attacks have been known to have more than 400 stings.

One of the worst things you can do is swing your arms around when any bee is flying around. This movement just makes them mad. When you smash a bee, it will emit an odor that attracts more bees.

The Africanized honey bees may be unwanted pests, but they are not the killers as some have made them out to be. We will have to learn to live with them, just as we live with other deadly animals, like the rattlesnake, which is much more dangerous. Education of our children and general public is the first step in learning to live with the Africanized honey bee.

Your biggest concern will be for your pets, horses and livestock. The animals can not be educated, and will not normally run, but rather fight an unseen attacker.

I believe bees can sense when you are calm as well as if you are scared. When I am working in the garden, I always try to look around and see if anything is out of the normal. This includes a larger number of bees, looking for movement on the ground, which could be a snake, or even a dog. Dogs can become aggressive if they feel trapped. All of these creatures could be dangerous and deadly. If all seems normal, I go about my gardening fun, right along with the domestic bees.

We all need to be observant. That is the first step to protecting yourself from Africanized honey bees.

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