“At Risk Populations for AHB: The Case of Civil War Reenactors”
Bee Culture (August 2006), Vol. 134 (8): 15-17
Malcolm T. Sanford
The history of the Africanized honey bee in the
In general, the Africanized honey bee (AHB) is far more defensive
and migratory, and much less finicky when it comes to choosing nesting sites.
While no self-respecting European honey bee would nest in the ground,
the AHB does. It also will be found
cheek by jowl with humanity in other unlikely places. One that comes to mind is the ubiquitous
water meter. First found to be a
favorite nesting site in the West, who would have thought that the same would
occur in humid
Besides water meter readers, other at-risk populations come
to mind, including birders, trail bikers, hunters, off-road vehicle
enthusiasts, campers, etc. One that I
hadn’t thought much about was brought to my attention by a colleague in the
Department of Entomology and Nematology who is a
Civil War reenactor.
Thomas R. Fasulo, an entomologist and
mild-manner civilian, once a Marine Corps officer in the
Fortunately, for reenactors, Tom is a trained entomologist and so understands how those involved in his “hobby” are likely to be affected by AHB. The following are his thoughts taken from a recent publication:3
“In March, a participant of February’s Battle of Olustee reenactment in Florida posted an article on the Web
complaining that there were too many regulations at the event, and stated that
he was even told “not to swat at ‘Federal bees.’ ” This ‘Federal bee’ warning
resulted from a notice I gave the event organizers about the confirmation of
established Africanized honey bee populations in
“I hate to tell you this but research into why AHB attack is not good news for reenactors. However, let me preface this by stating that individual foraging AHB are usually not a threat to the general public, except for individuals who are allergic to insect stings. The danger arises when AHB feel the need to defend their colonies. The general experience since 1956 reveals that:
1) AHB have a greater tendency to
attack people wearing dark vs. light colors (And we thought we already had
enough trouble getting reenactors to galvanize to
2) AHB have a greater tendency to sting people wearing wool clothes as the hooks on their tarsi (feet) get stuck in the tangled fibers (Will this begin a trend to polyester uniforms?);
“3) AHB have a greater tendency to sting people wearing strong scents or who smell of sweat (And who does not sweat after running around a battlefield wearing wool?);
4) AHB have a tendency to attack people when disturbed by loud noises or vibrations such as those produced by lawnmowers, farm equipment, gas powered pruners or weeders (Or as in just one rifle, not counting hundreds, or a cannon being fired.);
5) AHB have a greater tendency to attack horses on principle (Horses are often dark and have a strong odor.), even when they are just walking by an AHB colony;
6) AHB are attracted to facial hair and hair on your head (It is about time more of the Rebs started shaving!).
“Imagine what might happen when we bring thousands of noisy, sweating people into a normally quiet area for one weekend a month? I suspect that future events will see a requirement for an onsite response team, to include trained, properly equipped personnel and a tank truck with foam capability. There is no way distant emergency personnel can respond quickly in the traffic snarls we now experience at events.
“At a recent seminar in my department, an entomologist who
has worked with AHB since their early days in this hemisphere,
stated that we would eventually see 300 to 400 swarms per square mile. When I
asked if that included unmanaged pine woods, he said yes. Remember that one
very common honey source in the southeast
“The good news is that reenactors
will not have the primary responsibility to educate those who attend our
events, although we can help. For example, the State of
“One thing we need to start doing at events is being more observant about our surroundings. Here are some examples: events organizers need to make a good examination of the spectator area at the battle (stands, trash cans, nearby woods, etc.) before spectators start moving into the area. They also need to give the area a once-over before the sutlers and reenactors arrive. When the reenactors arrive, they too need to be more observant. If you are going to be the first to take a bale from that hay stack, or wood from the pile, both of which may have been sitting there for days or even longer, you might want to check for bees moving into and out of the hay and wood. Remember, AHB will colonize areas that European honey bees would not.
“The cavalry will especially want to examine their camping areas. Horses are usually killed by AHB because they are confined to a small area or tired up and unable to run away. The same is true for dogs who are usually tied to a stake or other object. For several years, fur-bearing animals, except for horses, have been banned from the Olustee Reenactment for other reasons. While not always popular, this may become a common rule at other events.
“So who needs to be concerned about AHB? Should our pards in more northern states dismiss AHB as a southern
problem, as they do with the red imported fire ant? Entomologists used to think
that the range of AHB would be limited by temperature, but this is no longer
the case. I have seen maps that project AHB moving up the East Coast and
“What do you do if you discover AHB in your camp, at an event, or anywhere else where they pose a threat to people, pets or livestock? If the colony is not in ‘attack mode,’ the best thing to do is report it to local authorities, such as event organizers or law enforcement personnel. Do this at the same time you are alerting people to quietly move out of the area.
“If the colony is already attacking you or others, then RUN or SEEK SHELTER. AHB will follow you for long distances, often up to one-third of a mile or more. While running, protect your face with your arms and hands. Your body can sustain many more stings on your arms and torso than on your face. Do not wave your arms about you as you run. This just attracts more AHB to you. If you can enter a car or building — do so. It is better to be stuck in a vehicle with 20 or 30 AHB that you can swat and kill, than to stay outside with thousands. Once in a safe place, do not attempt to pull out the stingers in your body as grasping the fleshy part hanging on to the stinger just pumps more venom into you. Instead, use something with a flat edge to scrape the stinger loose.
“Unlike European honey bees which probably deliver 20 to 30 stings to drive you out of the immediate area of their colony, AHB can deliver thousands of stings to an individual. Even if you are not already allergic to insect stings, where one or two stings might cause complications or death, thousands of stings can result in kidney failure due to the amount of venom, or a heart attack due to the stress and pain of the attack. Kidney failure usually occurs when an individual receives 28 mg/kg of venom, or about eight to nine stings per pound of weight.
“Here is some good news for the ladies. Experience has shown that the group most likely to be stung in an AHB attack are young males between the ages of 16 to 25. This is due to no other reason than this is the group which contains people most likely to say, ‘Hey, watch what happens when I hit that bee swarm with a rock.’ Unfortunately, as the ladies well know, men in older age groups who are reenacting for the weekend, often act as if they were considerably younger (if not – yes, I will say it – immature).
“Have I frightened you? Good, as that was my intent. If you
are concerned about AHB, then you will take steps to protect yourself, your pards, your loved ones and others while at an event. Now I
am going to put AHB into perspective. In the 50 years since AHB have been in
In my discussions with Tom, I have asked what role honey bees played in the Civil War. There is evidence that they were used in battles during Greek, Roman and the European Dark and Middle Ages. Can you imagine what a colony, conveniently housed in a straw basket (skep), hurled at and collided with a knight in shining armor might have done? So far, we have found little information that honey bees were used in any role other than perhaps supplying energy (honey) to exhausted troops during the War Between the States.
As the AHB population grows in the Southeast and extends on
good days in fair weather further north, it is intriguing to speculate what an
entrenched population of tropically-adapted, over-defensive honey bees nesting
at or below ground level might have meant to both
One thing is for sure. The bees will take no sides, rendering the decision of whether or not to “swat a Federal bee” as academic at best. Both Johnny Reb and Union blue coats will be on the run.