How to Identify Killer Bees


Killer bees, or Africanized honey bees, are often perceived as aggressive and ruthless, but according to the University of Florida website, they attack only when their hive is threatened. This doesn't, however, mean you should associate with these bees any more than you need to, as they can still sting and potentially cause health problems. Distinguishing between the typical honeybee and the killer bee can be difficult, unless you are a scientist with access to machinery and tests that can study the bee's DNA. However, some clues can help you possibly differentiate between a killer bee and a standard honeybee.

  • Look at the size of a killer bee in comparison with a typical honeybee. Killer bees are about 10 percent smaller than the average honeybee.

  • Note the way the killer bee defends its hive if provoked, in comparison with the honeybee. Honeybees usually stay close to their hive to defend it when they feel threatened. Africanized honeybees, however, leave their hive to attack and surround whatever threatens it. They swarm around the perpetrator like a cloud and constantly try to intimidate or sting it.

  • Observe how quickly killer bees become agitated when provoked, as opposed to honeybees. A honeybee's agitation level within a 30-second time period reaches only about a 1 or 2 on a scale from one to 10, according to Dewey Caron, an entomologist at the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Contrarily, a killer bee's agitation level soars to about a 9 or 10 on the same scale, resulting in 400 to 500 stings within that 30-second period. Noting such differences may help you to identify a killer bee.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you find yourself at the center of an Africanized honeybee attack, it is because you are too close to a hive. Run in the other direction and the bees will likely leave you alone.
  • If you are stung by a killer bee, scrape the stinger out of your body with a blunt object, such as a credit card or your fingernail. Wash the area with soap and water and monitor for signs of an allergic reaction, such as hives, dizziness and difficulty breathing. Contact a medical professional if any of these symptoms occur.

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  • Photo Credit Bee image by Tamas Majer from
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