North Carolina Africanized Honey Bee Plan

Concern for the spread of the Africanized Honey Bee (AHB) has been diminished in recent years by other issues including but not limited to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the varroa mite and pesticide use but the spread of AHB remains a threat to beekeeping in North Carolina, especially for hobbyists and sideliners. NC is home to the largest number of hobbyist beekeepers in the United States. The result has been an unprecedented demand for honey bees which are marketed here from every region of the country, including regions where the AHB is established. The following article is from the spring 2018 edition of the Bee Buzz and asks the question “What is an Africanized honey Bee?”

Apis mellifera scutellata

Adult Apis mellifera scutellata (Africanized Honey Bee) in Florida.
Photo: Jeffrey W. Lotz, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services,

The Ominous Spread of the Africanized Honey Bee by Rick Coor

Although the Africanized Honey Bee (AHB) has become established in areas of Louisiana, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Oklahoma, Arkansas and large regions of Arizona, Texas, California and Florida, there does not seem to be much alarm amongst North Carolina beekeepers concerning the possibility of the AHB becoming established in NC. Everything is pretty much business as usual; beekeepers purchase bees and queens, move managed colonies to and from AHB regions, seemingly to be oblivious to the calamity that would befall hobbyist and sideline beekeeping as we know it if the AHB were to become established. The AHB can potentially spread to NC by two means. First, the natural processes of swarming and absconding. Second, they may spread by human assisted transport; the movement of managed beehives (such as migratory beekeeping) or the shipping of cargo from AHB areas, over land or by sea. Consider the annual north-south traffic of migratory beekeepers from Florida to Maine; the means for the spread of the AHB is already in motion. If beekeepers are to prevent the establishment of the AHB in North Carolina once they are introduced an in-state supply of honey bee queens will be paramount. This is something that we should at least be thinking about. But first we must establish an answer to a basic question.

What is an Africanized Honey Bee (AHB)?

If this question were to be asked at a beekeeping school, the answer might be relatively simple; a European honey bee crossed with an African honey bee. That does not sound complicated; we have all heard of the AHB. Therefore, I was initially puzzled when I heard such a simple question being addressed during a meeting of the North Carolina Honey Bee Advisory Committee. The group was discussing the North Carolina AHB Action Plan. I thought to myself, to be sure everyone in this room knows what an AHB is but because the question was presented in a scientific context, no one in the room had a definite answer. What is an Africanized Honey Bee? What would the threshold level be for AHB hybridization in queens or colonies of bees that would warrant them to be classified as AHB? These questions would need definitive answers if the AHB were to become established in our state. Beekeeping would dramatically change. Honey bee operations large and small would be subject to quarantine and possible destruction. Issues of nuisance from honey bees would arise.

Paraphrased from the North Carolina Africanized Honey Bee Action Plan
Given the history of rapid expansion of the AHB, and the recent developments of an established population in the southeastern region of the country, it is very likely that Africanized honey bees will soon be introduced to North Carolina, if they have not already.

How would we know if an AHB colony were to be brought in North Carolina or whether or not the genetic influence of the AHB is already here? Is it possible that the honey bee stocks of our state are being subjected to a slow but steady trickle of hybridization as a result of the purchase of honey bee queens and transport of honey bees to and from the AHB zones of Florida and California? It is difficult to know. The NCDA&CS must monitor thousands of hives shipped to California each season to pollinate almonds, thousands more that over winter in Florida, still an untold number that are part of the migration of pollinators through our state. What percent of the hives involved might have re-queened themselves while in an AHB region? What about the swarms that are cast from the migratory hives? It is not reassuring to know that the regulations that govern the transportation of honey bees into and out of NC were established in the 1970’s

Paraphrased from the North Carolina Africanized Honey Bee Action Plan
the plan calls for an organized effort to establish North Carolina as a self sufficient beekeeping community with ample queen and package resources to meet the needs of the state’s beekeepers.

The Born and Bred queen rearing workshops are potentially one of the means to achieve an objective outlined by the NCDA Africanized Honey Bee Action Plan; a viable in-state supply of honey bee queens and packages. Local queen rearing would be the cornerstone to the achievement of this goal. Beekeepers on all levels would have a role; the hobbyist beekeeper that produces queens in small splits as well as the beekeeper that operates a continuous queen rearing operation. Chapters could get involved with queen rearing and nuc production programs in order to supply bees to their members. A network of North Carolina micro-breeders would be required. These are objectives that would take time and effort to realize; the sooner we get moving the better. The AHB is already in motion.

Want to learn more?

Please click on the following links to read the North Carolina Africanized Honey Bee Action Plan and also NC State Cooperative Extension publications entitled, “Africanized Honey Bees: Where Are They Now, and When Will They Arrive in North Carolina”, and “Africanized Honey Bees: Prevention and Control” by Dr. David R. Tarpy, Professor and Extension Apiculturist, NC State University.