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Africanized Honeybees: Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What Are Your Services for Bees?

Our District does not respond to bee stinging incidents. In the case of a bee stinging incident that requires emergency services, please call 911 assistance. 

Our services for bees are very limited. We treat bee swarms or hives that are a threat to people in public areas such as a school or shopping center. We do not treat bee hives that are in or on a structure or on private properties.

For help with swarm collection/removal, please visit the Mount Diablo Beekeeper’s Association online or contact a colony removal specialist or a private pest control company.

Q. Do You Test Bees to Determine if They Are Africanized or European Honey Bees?


Q. Have AHB's Been Found in Contra Costa County?

Africanized honey bees (AHB) were first detected in California on October 24, 1994 and were detected and successfully intercepted in Contra Costa County (Crockett) in 1997 and 2008. In the 1997 incident, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors found a small swarm of AHB on a ship from Guatemala docked in Crockett. USDA inspectors sprayed the swarm, but some bees dispersed. Although there is no evidence that any of the bees survived, it is possible that AHB could arrive at any time either by migration from the south or by hitch-hiking in a ship, truck, etc. coming from a colonized area. 

Q. I Heard They Found Africanized Honey Bees in Lafayette in 2015.

Our understanding is that a researcher found a bee with an Africanized honey bee gene, but not an actual Africanized honey bee colony. At this time, we are not aware of any Africanized honey bee colonies in Contra Costa County.

Q. What is a Swarm of Bees?

A swarm is a softball to a basketball-sized cluster of bees. Swarms are groups of bees led by a queen that have left their original hive to start a new one. Swarms (including AHB) tend to be non-aggressive towards humans. If left alone, in most cases they will move on within a few days once they find a new nest site. Nests are usually identified when people notice large numbers of bees coming and going from a hollow tree or other natural or artificial cavity. All bees will sting to defend their nest.

Q. Are Both European and Africanized Honey Bees Beneficial to Our Environment?

Yes. All honey bees are beneficial insects that are essential for pollination of many native California crops and plants. Despite their killer reputation, Africanized honey bees have existed in many California communities for decades. By using caution, we give them the best chance to continue to pollinate plants and make honey—a benefit to our environment and to us.

Q. I'm Concerned About a Bee Swarm. What Should I Do?

The vast majorities of bee swarms in our county are ordinary European honey bees in pursuit of a permanent home and are docile unless provoked.  Both European and Africanized honey bees are non-aggressive in this stage as they are not protecting their honey nor their hive. The swarms typically move away in a day or two. Do not kill, swat or threaten the bees because that may cause them to release a pheromone that incites other bees to become aggressive in an effort to protect their colony.

Q. What Are the Differences Between European Honey Bees and Africanized Honey Bees and Should We Be Worried?

Africanized honey bees (AHB) are much more easily agitated than their European cousins, but the venom of both varieties is the same. Because they are more easily provoked, they sting in greater numbers, sometimes in the hundreds and are more persistent. It's the number of stings a person or animal receives that is dangerous, not the kind of bees that stung.  Vibration from lawn mowers and leaf blowers can incite AHB as they perceive them as a threat. AHB will also chase a person or animal they feel threatened by for a greater distance—in some cases the length of a football field. For this reason, the best defense if chased by any bees is to get into a car or building. While some bees may make it into the car or building with you, it will keep you from getting stung by a greater number of bees.

Q. Are Africanized Honey Bees Really "Killers" and Where Did They Come From?

If You Are Attacked By Bees:

LEAVE THE AREA QUICKLY. The attack could last until the victim vacates the area. COVER YOUR FACE. Use clothes to protect your eyes and mouth from bees. SEEK SHELTER inside enclosures where fewer bees will enter such as a car, house, or other building. CALL 911 if someone needs help.

How Can I Avoid Bee Problems on My Property?

Homeowners should periodically inspect their property for potential bee colonies.

Bees can enter and establish a colony inside any small exterior opening of a house. A homeowner can reduce bee colonies by:

* Sealing any opening larger than 1/8 inch, such as pipe entrances on walls and where stucco meets brick or wood;
* Repairing or replacing damaged vent screens on foundation and eaves.

Bees can build colonies on any structure or plant in a yard. A homeowner can reduce bee colonies and make these sites more visible by:

* Trimming overgrown shrubs and trees 
* Removing empty containers and trash, especially tires and boxes
* Filling in ground holes.

First Aid For Bee Stings:

For any bee sting:

* Remove stinger quickly by scraping with a fingernail or edge of a dull thin object

For allergic reaction:

* Watch for breathing difficulties, call 911 if needed.

For multiple stings or hypersensitive individuals:

* Get professional medical care immediately.
* Do not wait for symptoms to develop.