African Honey Bees in Wooded Areas

Introduction

In 2005, state officials confirmed that African honey bees (AHBs) had established a population within Florida’s borders. The AHB will undoubtedly continue its spread into other states although its northernmost distribution remains unpredictable. The distribution of AHBs thus far is no cause for alarm although it is pertinent to know where the bees are found and what to do if they are encountered. Persons working outdoors in both rural and urban settings are at a particular risk for chance encounters with AHBs. Therefore, it benefits these persons to be educated and well-prepared in the event of an encounter.

Return to top

Where the Bees are Found

Although they do not attack unless provoked (See Table 1), AHBs can be extremely unpleasant upon chance encounters, and these encounters are more common in areas where AHBs are prone to nest. One way the AHB differs from the more docile honey bee that beekeepers manage (the European honey bee) is in its nesting habits. These bees can nest almost anywhere, but in forested or slightly wooded areas, AHBs generally can be found in three locations: a ground cavity near the tree (Fig. 1), suspended from a tree branch (Fig. 2), or inside a void in the tree itself (Fig. 3).

 

fig 1
Figure 1: comb from an underground colony (photo: M. K. O'Malley)

fig 2
Figure 2: colony suspended from a tree branch

fig 3
Figure 3: Void in a tree branch (photo: J. D. Ellis)

The following activities may agitate a bee colony:

  • Operating heavy machinery or a tractor
  • Mowing the grass around a tree
  • Cutting down, pruning, or manipulating a tree
  • Climbing a tree
  • Causing any loud noise or heavy vibration

 

Return to top

In Case of an Attack

AHBs defend their nest readily and with little provocation. In the event of an attack, one should leave the area as quickly as possible— run! This seemingly facetious recommendation is truly the most effective measure in this situation. Covering the nose and mouth while running also is recommended to prevent bees from entering airways. Never swat at the bees (this will further agitate them) or jump into water (the bees will wait above the surface of the water). African bees attack in response to a stimulus (i.e. a person too close to a colony), and the best way to thwart the attack is to remove the stimulus (e.g. leave the defended area and get inside a bee-proof structure - house, building, or vehicle).

Return to top

Preventative Measures

Homeowners, park service employees, landscapers, tree service specialists, and others who may work around trees should take the following precautions to eliminate the opportunity for AHBs to nest in or around trees:

  1. Fill any holes under or around the base of trees. This can be accomplished simply by collapsing the hole or filling it with dirt from the surrounding area. This precaution limits AHB access to the area around the base of a tree and makes them less likely to nest there.
  2. Fill or cover holes in trees larger than 1/8th of an inch. This can be done by stapling or nailing screen mesh around the hole or filling the hole with expandable foam or other filler materials.
  3. Patrol wooded areas regularly—especially during swarming season, March-July. Look for bees flying into and out of any hole; such activity is generally a sign that a bee colony is in the area (bees on flowers are not a threat or a sign of a nearby colony)
  4. Contact a Pest Control Operator (PCO). If one has reason to believe that bees are nesting in or around a tree, he or she should leave the area immediately and contact a PCO as soon as possible. This policy applies to any feral (found in the wild) honeybee colony. A list of trained PCOs is available from the AFBEE Program website, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ website, and any local county extension office (see Resources section for links and more information).

Return to top

Additional Honey Bee Nesting Sites

    • Eaves under roofs
    • Water meters
    • Manholes
    • Electrical boxes
    • Gutter down-spouts
    • Abandoned vehicles
    • Empty containers
    • Empty flower pots
    • Lumber piles
    • Utility infrastructures
    • Old tires
    • Garages
    • Outbuildings
    • Sheds
    • Walls
    • Chimneys
    • Playground equipment

Return to top

Conclusion

Honey bees are among the most beneficial of all insects, and in addition to the honey they produce for us, estimates suggest they are responsible for one third of our food supply via pollination. Forest workers may find themselves encountering AHBs in several situations, whether passing information along to the public, finding a feral colony, or becoming victimized by an attack.
All Florida residents should be aware of the presence of African bees in Florida. This awareness should encourage healthy respect and caution of all stinging insects and a realization of the importance of honey bees nationwide. In addition to being aware of the African bee’s presence, it may be helpful for a customer to know some basic biological and behavioral characteristics of this honey bee. Many resources exist to educate Floridians specifically about the presence of African bees. Please see the resources section for more information.

 

Additional Resources

Choosing the Right Pest Control Operator for Honey Bee Removal: A Consumer Guide
University of Florida, IFAS Extension publication that offers recommendations to any Floridian in need of contracting a PCO

Bee Proofing for Florida Citizens, Edis
University of Florida, IFAS Extension publication that instructs homeowners and property owners in the specifics of bee proofing and its importance

Frequently Asked Questions about the African Honey Bee in Florida, Edis
University of Florida/IFAS Extension EDIS document that addresses questions frequently asked about the African bee in Florida

What to do About African Honey Bees: A Consumer Guide
University of Florida/IFAS Extension EDIS document that offers recommendations and precautions to Florida’s general public about the African honey bee

AFBEE Program
The African honey bee Extension and Education Program was established by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the University of Florida, and it serves to educate all Floridians about the presence of African bees in Florida. The AFBEE Program website is a clearing house of information on African bees. In the resources section, customers can find fact sheets, presentations, videos, and educational documents catered specifically for their needs. The downloadable list of trained PCOs is available under the Bee Removal tab.

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Division of Plant Industry
Bureau of Plant and Apiary Inspection, African Honey Bee Page

This website includes links to videos, fact sheets, press releases, and more. It also includes a list of trained PCOs.

Return to top