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In 1957, researchers in Brazil were conducting an experiment where they cross-bred two subspecies of honey bee — the  Africanized honey bee and European honey bee — when several colonies of the hybrid bees escaped from the research station.

The “Africanized honey bee,” as they are called, began to mingle with the bees already present in South America; in some cases, driving other hives away. Africanized honey bees have since adapted well to the Western Hemisphere, spreading throughout South and North America and thriving in unpredictable conditions.

Africanized honey bees an “r-selected” species, a term used to describe organisms that adapt to the environment by producing many offspring that mature quickly, live shorter lives, and use little energy to reproduce. These characteristics enable an r-selected species to quickly take over a region, displacing similar organisms.

The first sightings of Africanized honey bees in the U.S. occurred in 1990 outside of Hidalgo, Texas. Unfortunately, they have come to be known as “killer bees,” due to their tendency to fiercely defend their hives.

This infographic shows a timeline of the Africanized honey bee’s spread throughout the Americas:

africanized honey bees

Featured image credit:  (CC) José Eugenio Gómez Rodríguez


Megan Winkler is an independent writer from Dallas, Texas. She spends her mornings meditating and studying, her days writing for various websites and publishers, and her evenings sipping tea and laughing with friends and family. Her own journey through health challenges has led her to dive into the world of wellness in search of better ways to eat, play, and live. Her undergraduate studies in psychology and master’s degree in military history inform her perspective on how humans interact, relate, communicate and get along in life.

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