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Killer Bees vs Honey Bees: What's the Difference?

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bee. These interesting insects feed on nectar and pollen. Although both killer bees and honey bees are members of the same family, their taxonomy differs in subspecies. Africanized bees are known as "killer bees," even though they are very similar to honey bees in many ways. The main difference between the two is how they react when disturbed, and testing your curiosity on this can be fatal. Disturbance of an Africanized swarm will cause thousands of defenders to rush out of the hive to attack. Their venom is not more powerful than bees, the key is the quantity. Other than that, what are the other differences between killer bees and honey bees? Below, we explore the differences that separate these two species.

Comparing Killer Bees and Honey Bees

What is the difference between killer bees and honey bees-1
Killer bees differ from honey bees in size and colony.

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killer bee bee
size – 10% smaller than standard bees – Slightly larger than killer bees
colony – Have 15,000 or fewer colonies – Often huge colonies of up to 60,000 individuals

hive defense

– 10 times more aggressive than normal bees – may send out hundreds of guard bees in response to disturbances and will follow you for about 120 feet – much tamer than their killer cousins – may respond with 10 to 20 guard bees that follow you for about 20 feet
flock to – Can gather ten or more times per year – 1 to 2 gatherings per year
Nested Site Preferences – Smaller bee colonies require smaller nesting areas – The colony is larger so they need a larger area to nest

5 Key Differences Between Killer Bees and Honey Bees

The key differences between killer bees and honey bees include their size, colony, hive defenses, how often they swarm, and their preference for nesting sites. To the untrained eye, the physical difference between the two is barely perceptible.

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In the 1950s, scientists introduced African honeybees to Brazil to increase honey production. 26 queen bees accidentally escaped and multiplied in the native environment of Brazil. They hybridized with European honeybees to breed killer bees. Africanized bees then migrated throughout South and Central America, and into the southwestern United States and Florida. Africanized honeybees are more aggressive than their European counterparts. Therefore, it is crucial to know the main differences between defensive Africanized honeybees and docile European honeybees.

Killer Bees vs Honey Bees: Size

killer bee
European honey bees are slightly larger than killer bees.


Killer beit is slightly smaller (about 10% smaller) than the European honey bee. However, the difference in size is so subtle that it's actually difficult to tell the two apart without precise measurements and lab testing.

Trying to tell the difference between the two species of bees remains a daunting task for experts. They have to examine the veins in these parts, the color of the parts, and other details that they are less likely to notice if they encounter a swarm. Saw one in the wild.

Killer Bees and Bees: Colonies

bumble bee vs bee - bee
The bee colony can hold 60,000 bees.

©Daniel Prudek/Shutterstock.com

Colony size is a stark contrast between African and European bees. Killer swarms can only have a maximum of 15,000 bees, while bee swarms can have a maximum of 60,000 bees.

There may be two thousand army bees in an African bee colony, ready to protect and attack if an attack is detected. They also produce more drones, male bees that mate with new queens. In most bee colonies, only 200 warriors guard the hive, but both colonies have a single queen bee.

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Killer Bees vs Bees: Hive Defense

Although both species of bees will defend the hive when threatened, their levels of defense are quite different. In response to disagreements, killer bees send out hundreds of escort bees, which follow threats for 120 feet or so. If you are considered a threat, you should expect to be stung 100 to 1,000 times by these "killer" bees.

Bee defense has 10 to 20 guard bees to deal with threats within 20 yards of the hive. African honeybees can react to danger in less than five seconds, while European honeybees can take up to 30 seconds. Killer bees tend to remain agitated for long periods of time, possibly even days after a defensive encounter. After about 20 minutes of agitation, bees usually calm down.

Killer bees have no more venom than normal bees. The fundamental difference between them and the less docile bees is that they respond to possible threats in higher numbers. As a result, a person can be stung hundreds of times with a high dose of venom, which can even be fatal. Their venom isn't any more potent than other bees; it's all about the volume.

Killer Bees and Bees: Swarming

two bees eating honey
Honey bees swarm less frequently than killer bees.

© schubbel/Shutterstock.com

African bees migrate more frequently than European bees, and swarm more frequently. When the queen bee leaves the hive, tens of thousands of worker bees will follow the queen bee to find and build a new hive. African bees build smaller nests, which they abandon more easily. If their colony is in danger, they will relocate and continue their business. They swarm six to 12 times a year, whereas the average European honeybee swarms only once a year.

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If feeding opportunities are limited, killer bees will flee with honey and travel long distances to find new hives.

Killer bees vs honey bees: nesting site preference

Because killer bees swarm more frequently, there are fewer individuals per colony, which means they don't need large cavities to nest in, and they frequent water meter boxes and other man-made structures. They can cope with warmer climates, so their invasion is limited by cooler temperatures further north.

Bees prefer to build their nests in hollow tree cavities as they need more space to accumulate large amounts of honey. To keep their queens safe and allow their colonies to thrive, they seek out warm, dry conditions in remote locations.


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about the author

Victor Victor

For six years, I have been a professional writer and editor of books, blogs and websites, with a particular focus on animals, technology and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with my friends.

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