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Honey bees – especially those cultivated by professional beekeepers – are quite possibly the most important beneficial insect species we have. There’s more to it than only the honey, too. According to the USDA, approximately one-third of our diet consists of crops which are pollinated by bees. Many plants wouldn’t produce vegetables and fruit if it weren’t for the work done by honey bees.

Unless there’s a hive or colony located near people or pets, it’s best to leave well enough alone and allow the honey bees do their thing. If you find a hive in a spot that’s troubling, a dependable exterminator can remove the colony or, in some cases, move it to a safer place.

With all that said, however, there are instances when bees can be a significant threat. “Killer” bees are not just a myth – they’re a real phenomenon known as Africanized honey bees.

It is a process that happens after a new queen is now an adult and a part of the old colony leaves to create a new hive somewhere else.

That’s where the danger comes in. One bee sting, except in the rare case of a severe allergic reaction, is not dangerous. A dozen can send you to the emergency room. Because Africanized bees swarm in greater numbers and are typically much more aggressive than normal honey bees, AHB swarms can easily inflict 100 or more bites in a frighteningly short period of time.

Even when they aren’t swarming, AHBs are more hostile when it comes to protecting their dwelling. They actively guard their hives and, while they do not randomly attack humans and creatures they encounter when gathering pollen, Africanized bees will attempt to sting”invaders” who come within as much as 100 feet of their colony. Regular honey bees rarely sting those who wander up to within 15 feet of the home, and even then they often won’t attack unless the hive itself is disturbed.

So how do you tell a normal honey bee and its hive from a single that is Africanized? You can not, and that amplifies the danger. It’s only been lately that state and federal officials have added Arkansas and Oklahoma to the list of regions that AHBs now inhabit. They were found in southeastern Oklahoma and southwestern Arkansas in 2005, but they have steadily moved into wider areas of both countries.

Today, you should consider any bee and its colony to be Africanized, merely to be on the safe side. If you see a hive, move away quickly and get a trusted pest management agency and the local county extension office. If you are stung, RUN and don’t stop running until you’re safely indoors or in another enclosure, such as your car.