Just Say No to Africanized Bees
Bee Culture (January 2007) Vol. 135 (1): 16-18.




Dr. Malcolm T. Sanford



At the latest Florida State Beekeepers Association convention, Mr. Bill Vanderput gave one of the best presented and informed discussions of Africanized honey bee management I have experienced.  If anyone should know about these insects, it would be Mr. Vanderput.  He was quoted in Dr. Eric Mussen’s newsletter, From the UC Apiaries as saying the Africanized honey bee means "...25 percent more stings, 25 percent more work and 25 percent more sweat."1


Not only was he one of the first U.S. beekeepers to experience first hand the invasion, but he also has had experience with their progenitors  in their native homeland.  In 1987, in response to reports the Africanized bee (AHB), an American hybrid of the African honey bee race, Apis  mellifera scutella, he boarded a plane for South Africa.  His colleagues on the Dark Continent were to assuage his fears by saying, “Hey, forget about it!  You’re getting a great hard-working bee.  Be happy. Use it, but be careful.”


So in 1990, when one of the first swarms of AHB landed near his bee yard in the vicinity of Hidalgo, Texas, Mr. Vanderput was prepared.  The bee did well in his environment as was true in most of the American tropics.  It was vigorous, efficient and pest and disease tolerant.  So much so that he now finds himself surrounded by wild (feral) AHB. 


His mission in coming to Florida was to advise beekeepers on how he manages AHB and continues to survive, even thrive as a beekeeper in south Texas.  Many, however, were not prepared for his message, “just say no the Africanized bees.” 


The message he delivered to Florida beekeepers did not register with Mr. Vanderput himself for the first few years after AHB arrived.  His plan was to use locally-produced queen cells and introduce as much European honey bee (EHB) genetic material as  possible.  He knew that the first cross between EHB mothers and AHB fathers was often productive and not defensive.  Thus, his idea was to maintain a population of first crosses (geneticists call them F1) as they are able to do in Mexico.  This philosophy fit Mr. Vanderput’s situation.  He had always been enthusiastic about the queen rearing process, and this allowed him to ramp up his activities in that arena.  In addition, he didn’t have to radically change his beekeeping management.


Unfortunately, experience revealed the F1 hybrid does not persist for any period of time, and quickly through supersedure it goes to F2 and F3 colonies, which are more and more African-like especially in defensive behavior.  And although he might have been able to work through this, it became apparent that this would not be possible in his environment.


Even in rural, south Texas, there is a trend toward urbanization.  This, in conjunction with a litigious environment is a recipe for beekeeping problems posed by defensive honey bees.  After moving bees from a watermelon field one evening, Mr. Vanderput was informed the next morning that a grower had to bring  in a helicopter to spray bees that were left behind.  They were stinging the field hands.  A neighbor moved next to a bee yard and was attacked when he fired up his lawnmower.  He lost that location.  Power line workers were stung while working on poles lining the road way and encountering stray bees.  That incident cost Mr. Vanderput’s insurance company $18,000.  His insurance was cancelled.  A beekeeper sold four colonies to another, and when they were moved, one the helpers got stung and died before he could be taken to the hospital.  The suit resulted in a $2 million settlement.


After five years of “denial,” Mr. Vanderput said, he was forced to reconsider his management practices.  Instead of including them as an integral part of his operation, Mr. Vanderput has gone to the other extreme, by excluding AHB totally.  The way he accomplishes this is simple:


  1. Use only mated queens from European bee sources for requeening, not queen cells.

  2.  Destroy any queens from colonies that exhibit AHB behavior.


The first step above was difficult because it meant purchasing queens.  Mr. Vanderput said he labored under the idea that it was too costly and he would be dependent on others (queen producers).  He found that instead of being too expensive, purchasing queens provided a huge bonus, peace of mind.  Thus, each year he purchases some 2,000 queens with the idea that they pay for themselves because they allow him to continue to keep bees.


It is easy to detect AHB colonies Mr. Vanderput said because of their behavior.  He characterized it as “shock and awe.”  They are not calm on the comb when manipulated, but instead fly off and “in an instant they will be all over your bee suit and gloves.”  That’s when he employs his counter weapon, an “improvised shaker box.”  This consists of an empty super on top of a queen excluder.  Shaking all the bees through the excluder exposes the queen “struggling” to get away.  She can easily be caught a destroyed.  In 24-hours, this now queenless colony can be united to a queen-right unit.  It is notoriously difficult to requeen AHB colonies via direct introduction of queens using traditional technologies (cages).


As part of his message, Mr. Vanderput acknowledged and supported the idea of best management practices as being developed by Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Plant Industry with the aid of its Honey Bee Technical Council.  These were distributed at the Florida meeting and also can be found on the World Wide Web.2  They incorporate many of the suggestions developed at an intensive workshop conducted in St. Louis Missouri in 1991:


“CERTIFICATION PROCEDURES FOR EUROPEAN HONEY BEES - Colonies without clipped or marked queens in regulated areas will be permitted to move from a regulated zone to a non- regulated zone if requeened with (1) certified breeder queens; (2) queens produced from certified breeder queens (to be called certified production queens); or (3) certified queen cells. Colonies may also be certified to move using the current USDA identification method known as FABIS or USDA- ID.


“A certified breeder queen is one in which the progeny can be certified as European by: a) Fast Africanized Bee Identification System (FABIS); b) Official Universal System for the Detection of Africanized honey bees (USDA-ID); and c) any other APHIS-approved identification technique. Queens produced and mated in areas free of Africanized honey bees will not require certification. All certified breeder queens must be clipped and marked. These queens can be used to produce other certified breeder queens or droneproducing colonies.


“A certified production queen is one produced from larvae of a certified breeder queen. Certified production queens cannot be used to produce other certified production queens, but can be used as drone-producing colonies.

“A certified queen cell is any containing a larva from a certified breeder queen. The resulting queen emerging from a certified production cell is a certified production queen.


 “Queen and Package Bee Producers - Except where special regulations may require, queen and package bee producers will not require certification in non-regulated areas. Those in regulated areas must use certified breeder queens for cell and queen production and requeen or make splits using certified queens or cells. It is strongly recommended that all certified production queens be marked and clipped for ready identification.

“Producers of Certified Breeder Queens - Certified breeder queens are to be certified by state regulatory agencies using FABIS or USDA-ID. Other methods of certification must be approved by USDA/APHIS. Certification is based on emerging worker progeny or examination of worker bees collected at the entrance at least six weeks after successful queen introduction. Certified breeder queens must be marked and clipped to be readily identified by bee inspectors and other regulatory officials.

“Mating Yard Procedures - A minimum of 60 European drone-source colonies must be established for each 1,000 or fewer mating nuclei. All such drone-source colonies should be located within 1/4 mile radius of the mating yard. No drones may be introduced into colonies and mating nuclei unless originating from certified breeder queens or certified production queens. Producers of either certified breeder or production queens must requeen drone-producing colonies annually.

“Swarms - The practice of catching swarms and using them in beekeeping operations is no longer justifiable in regulated areas. All swarms captured in regulated areas must be destroyed.

“Abandoned Apiaries - All abandoned apiaries located within two miles of queen rearing yards must be destroyed.

“Semen Certification - Drone semen from regulated areas can be certified by progeny tests of worker bees. No certification will be required for semen obtained from non-regulated areas.”3

In addition, Mr. Vanderput discussed the beekeepers’ relationship with the press.  He ensures that no managed colony (box or hive) is ever photographed as part of any story about a stinging incident.  His philosophy is that these two things should be kept in separate compartments in peoples’ minds.  I published some further suggestions on this subject developed at a crisis communications workshop conducted at a Florida Beekeepers Institute in 1992:


1. Individual Rights -- No one from the press has the right to violate your individual rights.
2. Honesty -- Never mislead or lie to a reporter. If the situation is under litigation, say this is so; if there is a question about profits, dollars or proprietary information, you can defer/refuse answering based on not informing competitors in the marketplace.
3. Buzz Words -- Never repeat an expression or inflammatory statement made by a reporter. As an example, if you are asked to what do you attribute this catastrophe, do not repeat the word "catastrophe." It then becomes attributable to you and you alone; you will "own" it.
4. Hostility -- Never get angry; keep cool and remember the reporter always has the last word.
5. Off the Record -- There is no such thing; if you don't want it reported, don't say it.
6. Estimates -- Never make numerical estimates in time or dollars. Say that the incident is under investigation and you will provide accurate information when it becomes available.
7. Reporter Verification -- Ask for identification, the purpose of a reporter's activities, media affiliation and telephone number.
8. Bridging -- Try to bridge the gap between a reporter's wish to be negative and providing a positive statement about your activity.
9. Statistics -- If you are not aware of statistics provided by a reporter, say so and ask for them in writing before commenting.
10. Deadlines -- All reporters are on deadlines, but you are not. Take all the time necessary to avoid hasty comments. The fact that a microphone is stuck in your face doesn't mean you have to say something. Dead air time is not likely to appear on television.

An offensively oriented public relations/communications plan is the best defense against sensationalistic reporting based on negativism.  It is best to have a communications plan in place and persons trained in this area. Defer all questions to one or two designated (and trained) persons to avoid giving conflicting information. The appointing and training of designated persons to speak for the group would be a good activity for beekeeping associations both now and in the future.4

Mr. Vanderput’s  resultant message to Florida beekeepers in AHB-populated areas:  “Africanized bees are none of your business if you want to keep your business.”  Said another way, “If you want a peaceful life so you can sleep at night, just say no to Africanized honey bees.”  AHB will be part of the environment (they will have their “green card”), but these immigrants should not be given shelter in managed hives.  Treat them as you would other stinging insects like yellowjackets, hornets or bumble bees.  The more you eliminate AHB from your operation the more your insurance company, banker and bee inspector will like you.




  1. Sanford, M.T. 1992.  Apis Newsletter, Vol. 12, No. 1, January, accessed November 20, 2006 < http://apis.ifas.ufl.edu/apis94/apjan94.htm#1>

  2. Florida Department of Agriculture, Division of Plant Industry web site, accessed November 20, 2006, <http://www.doacs.state.fl.us/pi/plantinsp/apiary/apiary.html>.

  3. Sanford, M.T. 1992.  Apis Newsletter, Vol. 18, No. 8, August, accessed November 20, 2006 <http://apis.ifas.ufl.edu/apis92/apjan92.htm#2

  4. Sanford, M.T. 1992.  Apis Newsletter, Vol. 18, No. 8, August, accessed November 20, 2006 <http://apis.ifas.ufl.edu/apis92/apaug92.htm#1>.