Sunday, April 13, 2008

killer bees

this is not a medical post, so beware all seeking medical entertainment.

i used to be a beekeeper and in fact plan on taking it up again soon. i live in africa, so i worked with the african bee, or as our american readers will call it, the killer bee!!

i was recently watching an american documentary about this 'deadly' bee and was amazed to see what efforts and money they pump into combating this bee's spread. and yet even in this documentary they mentioned that the african bee is a better honey producer than their own bee.
i didn't understand the maths.

bearing in mind the simple fact that the americans will not be able to stop the relentless march of the african bee and bearing in mind it is a more productive bee and bearing in mind us backward south africans only work with this 'dangerous' bee (so it can be done) why don't you just bow to the inevitable and make more honey? not only will it be cheaper, but you would actually make more money. just a thought.


Unknown said...

As a bug lover, I, too, fail to see what all the ruckus is about. And I also aim to become a bee-keeper at some point.
At our local Museum of Natural History they have an indoor hive connected to the outside world via a long tube. I would love to have the same thing in a house one day.


Greg P said...

Perhaps they could relax immigration rules to allow free entry to South African beekeepers as a life-saving, essential occupation.

Øystein said...

Mo honey mo problems!

make mine trauma said...

I am not a bee fan. I swear one literally chased me down a beach at the lake once. While out riding my horse, I have had them fly down my shirt and sting me. To this day whenever I hear buzzing I instinctively gather up the front of my shirt to occlude the opening. I don't indiscriminately kill things, I take spiders outside in jars all the time, try to direct flies out the door, so when a bee or wasp gets in the house, it is especially terrifying for me! I had a wasp's nest right above the sliding door to the back porch one year. I still used the door and just kept an eye on them. I tried to send telepathic thoughts that we could cohabitate and not bother each other. Seemed to work and they were gone the next year.
I know several bee keepers here and their hives are dying. No body is really sure why, but it has been happening for some time now and the news is even going so far as to say that it will effect the economy (more importantly to me, the ecosystem).
I imagine your bees have to be aggressive to live in South Africa but I hope I never find one in my living room!

Jen said...

Maybe because too many of us watched The Swarm ( when we were little? That scared me enough that I still get a nervous twinge whenever I see a basic bee :-)

I think that National Geographic also had some big article in the late 70s-early 80s that basically said that we were all going to die when the killer bees hit North America...I remember a lot of hysteria about it in my grade school crowd at that time.

JP said...

AHBs (Apis mellifera scutella) in the USA also seem to be considerably less affected by CCD than the European honey bee. I didn't know about the higher honey output, though.

Sid Schwab said...

The problem in the US is the mysterious dying off of hives all over the country. It's having an impact on pollination that has a potential to become a major disaster, so it's said.

Dragonfly said...


Anonymous said...

I had understood the bees they're trying to combat in North America are not true African bees, but a hybrid, with slightly different characteristics.

Bongi said...

jp, the fact that the african bee is less affected by ccd is just another reason to embrace it.

anonymous, the more african bee blood, the more 'killer bee'. pure african bee equals pure 'killer bee'. yes they talk about the so called africanised bee, implying a hybrid, but essentially it is not.

Anonymous said...

But are they going to be as effective at pollinating our domesticated crops, or will they seek out alternative sources of pollen? Will they endanger those who work in the orchards?

Bongi said...

anonymous, our bees pollinate our crops quite well. usually hives are hired to plantations during the flowering season and removed thereafter, so at harvest there are no bees to bother the workers. i'm sure it happens like this in america too.

besides, seeing as though so called colony collapse syndrome is devastating the local american bee, it might become unavoidable to switch to the 'killer bee'.

killer bees are not a whole lot of fun when they attack (having worked with them quite a bit i can attest to this) but, unlike popular opinion seems to be in america, they don't attack quite as much as their reputation seems to imply. generally if you don't mess with them they won't mess with you. i think the real danger is to the beekeepers and they can learn how to work with this aggressive bee to minimise the danger.

Kathy G said...

I think they are scary. I saw a U.S. documentary on them, and although they are very efficient at producing honey, in my opinion, they are also extremely viscious! They will actually CHASE you. That is crazy. The only reason they ever made it to North America is because some scientist brought them over to South America to study them, and one day there was an accident and they were let out...and they have managed to migrate all the way to the southern United States. I sure hope they don't make it to where I live.

Bongi said...

kathy g, the only documentaries i've seen on them are american and therefore, seeing that i know the bee personally, i take them with a sizable pinch of salt.

yes they do chase you. in africa quite a few things will chase you. i used to remove these bees from the suburbs and there are much less incidents than the american press would have us believe.

the reason they got to north america only started with the accidental escape in brazil. the actual reason has to do with breeding advantages over the european bee. in fact the bee that came out the other end is pretty much pure african bee.

i don't think they'll go so far north, mainly because of the cold, but, hey, maybe i'm wrong.

i still find it interesting that americans faced with the ccd which they rightly see as a possible major disaster, having the solution on their doorstep (the african bee seems much less affected) they still maintain their stubborn belief in their media and do not embrace the solution. is it possible that not one of them has considered it?

A Voracious Brain said...

Hi - new to the blog, been reading through back posts and wanted to give my thoughts the US bee situation.

With invasive species, there is far more involved in the ecological effects than production for monetary gain. I'll refrain from a long-winded approach to the ethics of conservation and keep this "strictly bees."

Different species of bees pollinate using delicately refined, individual systems; they choose different flowers, have different patterns of activity, have different nutritional needs, and each impact their habitat in unique ways. More prolific bees are good for the agricultural economy, but have the potential to wreak havoc on native bee populations. The very bee species we depend on to pollinate the food and energy crops we depend on are compromised by the introduction of a new pollinator species. They are unequipped to compete with the new bees, and consequently, their numbers diminish. Without the regular pollination habits of native bees, there is a huge shift in botanical biota, as well as the thousands of species that depend on a delicate ecological balance, perfected over 1000's of years of evolution.

I love your writing, by the way. I'm working on a BS in Molecular Biology and BS in Ethics, for the purposes of getting my MD to pursue surgery. Keep writing - you have a honest, ethical perspective that is enlightening.

Bongi said...

leigh, thanks for the comment. may i respond in general and then specifically. in general i agree alien species are a major problem. so there i agree fully.

however, with bees, the first thing to remember is that the bee you americans are using is the european bee. it is already an 'invader'. one invader vs another doesn't really make all that much of a difference.

as far as different pollinating habits are concerned, the two bees have no difference. except of course that the african bee works harder and longer than it's european cousin. there would be no pollination difference in changing bees.

a good book to read is the journal put ouit by the international bee congress of 1976. it is entitled african bee. some of it is quite heavy reading, but id deals exhaustively with the differences between the two bees. for those of you who have a wider knowledge of the bees, it also touches on the capensis bee but was written before the capensis problem inland in africa. i found that interesting.

as far as surgery is concerned, go for it.

A Voracious Brain said...

Thanks for the response - I'm actually going to sit down with a copy of the journal paper you mentioned.

And please pardon my ignorance on our "American" bees! I haven't done much work in entomology; my knowledge of insect pollinators is limited to the visitors of a specific plant with which I'm doing phenotypic plasticity studies. Even then, what I know is limited to visual identification in situ, for recreational purposes mostly.

Anyway, clearly I have some reading to do. And I feel quite foolish having so blindly believed the information I'd been exposed to (outside academia) regarding bees.

I will say, after reading your clarification on bee pollinator habits, I too am puzzled as to why there is such a media frenzy over here regarding "killer bees."

Strange indeed.

Anonymous said...

well i think part of the problem with the hybrid bee (developed from the africanized honey bee in south america) is that it's aggressive in it's environment.
i heard somewhere that in the amazon for example the south american honey bee is dying out to the newfound predator who adapted easily to the new environment compared to how the environment adapted to the newfound species of bee

Anonymous said...

i am trying to find what kind of a bees nest that made a beehive which I never seen,It was shaped like a funnel drak brown and of white and the bee was black and yellow I would like to find out about it thank you

Bongi said...

anonymous, find out what local bees you have in your area. the african bee is better at making hives outside than the european bee, but i don't know where you live so this snippet of information is pretty useless.