Talk of the Town: Africanized honeybees are a danger, but this region needs them

Regarding: “Bee swarm attacks people, horses, dogs” by Scott Orr — Published April 29, 2017, NAOBA, (Northern Arizona Organic Beekeepers Association) offers this response to the Prescott Daily Courier:

This was not a “swarm” of honeybees. Swarms of honeybees are in the process of finding a new home, and they are generally docile.

This was a feral/wild colony that was disturbed and was defending its hive, brood and honey.

USDA research concluded a few years ago that every county in the state of Arizona has the “Africanized” honeybees. (Apis mellifera scutellata). They are here to stay. The problem is that many times they go unnoticed in areas where people and domestic animals live.

Due to the increase in record summer temps occurring here in Arizona’s higher altitudes over the past three years, many of them are creating their homes/hives as free-hanging combs high on trees, or under high rock shelves along rugged canyon walls just as in the lower Sonoran Desert.

We work with them and not all of them are this defensive. However, there are also those colonies that can ignite as one unit with the slightest vibration to defend their colony.

These are the ones we hear about as with the incident reported in your newspaper on April 29.

Just a little history: Since the time of the Spanish, the wild/feral honeybees of the Southwest have always been a little “prickly”/defensive like the scrub and chaparral landscapes they thrive in.

The Spaniards brought the first honeybees to this region, (Apis mellifera iberica) when they established their missions. Later, the Mormons also brought honeybees from the east with them, (Apis mellifera mellifera), a domesticated and much more docile European honeybee that was first brought to New England by the first colonists.

With the migration of the “Africanized” honeybee out of Brazil in 1957, we see their arrival in Arizona about 1990. They are not out to kill people or animals. Yes, they can be dangerous when we “stumble” upon them, but their defensiveness also teaches us to be vigilant. Biophobia is not the way for us to respond with these honeybees.

Understanding their nature and also being proactive when you notice honeybees coming out of a crack in the ceiling above your porch, in your backyard shed, or noticing free-hanging comb in a tree in urban areas is important.

There are people who will do live removal and re-hive them and work with them. These honeybees deserve this chance.

Regardless of the bad public relations they are receiving with incidents such as this, the Africanized honeybee is a key to the survival of honeybee in the Southwest because of their resilience and their ability to adapt and thrive in the dry/tropical environment of the upper and lower deserts we all call home.

For more information, see these two websites: beeremovalsource.com; azorganicbeekeepers.org.

Patrick Pynes, Ph.D, is president of the Northern Arizona Organic Beekeepers Association.