Review on Africanized Honey Bees (AHB) in Brazil

Lionel Segui Gonçalves
Biology Dept., FFCLRP-USP, 14.040-901 Ribeirão Preto, SP, Brasil.

Almost fifty years after the introduction of African bees (Apis mellifera scutellata) into Brazil, we can say that there has been a tremendous impact on Brazilian beekeeping and a significant change in the methods of handling these bees. In light of this, we can divide the history of Brazilian beekeeping into three different periods. Between 1839 and 1956, prior to the introduction of the African bee, beekeeping was given little importance as an agricultural tool and was considered a hobby. National honey production was less than 5000 tons per year. This low honey production prompted the importation of the African bees. The second period (from 1956 until about 1970) was characterised by the introduction of the African bees (Apis mellifera adansonii, later identified as A. m. scutellata by Prof. F.Ruttner) in 1956. During this period, the excessive aggressiveness of these bees caused many social problems and a reduction in beekeeping activities. Due to the lack of information available about the biology of scutellata and lack of experience in handling these bees, many beekeepers decided to abandon their activities. This was considered the "chaos of Brazilian beekeeping", and is responsible for the "killer bee" myth. The third period began with the creation of the Brazilian Beekeeping Confederation in 1970. Many valuable advances have been made since then. One of those advances was brought about by changing the name of the African bees to the appropriate nomenclature: "Africanised Honey Bee", or "AHB", a poly-hybrid resulting from a cross between Apis mellifera scutellata and other European bees introduced earlier into Brazil (Apis m. ligustica, Apis m. mellifera, etc.) Africanisation of the apiaries resulted in an AHB with predominant scutellata characteristics. Many modifications in bee-handling methods were made during this period in order to help the beekeepers control the AHBs. Today most beekeepers have adapted to AHBs. The beekeeping industry has grown considerably in the last twenty years and it is no longer necessary to import any beekeeping equipment. The number of scientific and technical publications on bees produced after the introduction of scutellata bees in Brazil has increased by a factor of about 30. This increase is mainly attributed to the increased number of bee specialists and institutes dedicated to bee research after 1970. Beekeeping activities have increased considerably during this period, especially in northeastern Brazil, where a boom in beekeeping activities has been seen (especially in the states of Bahia, Ceará and Piaui). Current national honey production is more than 40,000 tons per year. The quantity and quality of honeybee products has also increased considerably. Another very important event was the discovery of the resistance AHBs have to the mite Varroa destructor (previously known as Varroa jacobsoni). When this parasite was first observed in Brazil in 1979, there was immediate concern about damage to beekeeping. We tested most acaricides available in the international market. Since the results of our tests were unsatisfactory, we advised the Ministry of Agriculture not to import these acaricides. Fortunately, AHBs became resistant or tolerant to this mite. In conclusion, we can say that beekeeping in Brazil has improved quite a lot. Although we still have many problems to solve, we can say that the future of the AHB beekeeping industry in Brazil is very promising.