The Africanized honey bee (AHB) is closely related to the European honey bee (EHB), used in agriculture for crop pollination and honey production. The AHB is known as the more aggressive relative of the EHB. The AHB is now established in Southern California.
EHB's were brought here by colonists, and survived quite well in North America and were good honey producers. Unfortunately, they did not fare as well in the tropical climate of South America. This habitat was very different than Europe where the EHB's evolved. African honey bees (Apis mellifera scutellata) thrive in tropical climates, but are also very aggressive in their defensive behavior. In 1956, these African honey bees were imported from Tanzania (Africa) to Brazil (South America) for cross-breeding with EHBs - the thought was a bee could be bred to thrive in the tropics like the African honey bee but with the more docile nature of the EHB, in order to increase honey production. Unfortunately, they were unable to produce a mix that was easy for beekeepers to work with : all the hybrid bees retained the African bee's aggressive behavior. This mix between the African honey bee and EHB was labeled the "Africanized honey bee" (AHB). In 1957, these AHBs escaped from Brazil, and continue to spread northward. AHBs interbreed with EHBs in new areas, and the offspring of these bees are considered "Africanized" - the less aggressive EHBs gradually disappear.
After their escape in 1957, AHBs spread through Central America and up into North America. They were first reported in Mexico in 1985. Only five years later, the first AHBs were found in the U.S.A., at the Texas border in 1990. The first California record was in 1994. Los Angeles discovered them in 1998. Today, most counties in Southern California are considered colonized by Africanized honey bees. [Info from: Los Angeles County West Vector & Vector Borne Disease Control District]
EHBs and AHBs look the similar, and their behavior is similar in many respects. Neither is likely to sting when gathering nectar and pollen from flowers, but both will sting in defense if provoked.
AHBs look the same as EHBs - they are slightly smaller, but should only be truly identified by an expert.
Protect their nests and sting in defense, can sting only once, and have the same venom as EHBs.
Pollinate flowers and produce honey and wax (as EHBs).
AHBs are less predictable and more defensive than European honey bees and are more likely to defend a greater area around their nest. (AHBs can sense a threat from people or animals 50 feet or more from nest, and sense vibrations from power equipment 100 feet or more from nest).
They respond faster in greater numbers than EHBs, although each bee can sting only once. (AHBs will pursue an enemy 1/4 mile or more).
AHBs tend to nest in small cavities and sheltered areas. (Nesting locations tend to be where people may encounter them, for example: empty boxes, cans, buckets or other containers; old tires; infrequently-used vehicles; lumber piles; holes and cavities in fences, trees or the ground; sheds, garages and other outbuildings; and low decks or spaces under buildings.
When entering work areas where bees could exist: listen for buzzing indicating a nest or swarm of bees; use care when entering sheds or outbuildings; examine work area before using lawn mowers, weed cutters and other power equipment.
Examine areas before tying up or penning pets or livestock.
Be alert when participating in all outdoor sports and activities.
Don't disturb a nest or swarm--contact a pest control company or an emergency response organization.
Check with a doctor about bee sting kits and procedures if sensitive to bee stings, and develop a safety plan for your home and yard .
Stay away from all honey bee swarms and colonies. If bees are encountered, get away quickly. While running away, try to protect face and eyes as much as possible.
Take shelter in a car or building. Water or thick brush does not offer enough protection. Do not stand and swat at bees; rapid motions will cause them to sting.