African honey bees in the Americas, or Africanised bees as they are known, were first introduced into Brazil in 1956. Being a tropical ecotype of Apis mellifera, it quickly replaced the less well adapted temperate-zone races of European bees that had been introduced from Europe in previous centuries. (There are no indigenous honey bee species in the Americas.) The Africanised honey bees have now spread rapidly throughout most of the tropical and subtropical areas of South and Central America and southern North America.
These bees are well adapted to the prevailing tropical conditions, and like African bees in Africa, swarm, migrate and abscond with more alacrity than temperate zone Apis mellifera. This more successful adaptation to tropical conditions means that these bees out-compete temperate-zone races of honey bees in any tropical region. The rapidity of this spread astonished everyone and all attempts to reintroduce the European bees failed. Africanised honey bees have now spread north as far as southern states of USA.
The African honey bees in the Americas have a reputation for defensiveness and this has coloured the development of beekeeping in these areas that were previously very productive honey zones. Initially, in every place colonised by African honey bees the numbers of colonies kept and the honey harvested dropped significantly. Nonetheless, over time people have learned how to manage this bee to achieve productive honey harvests. Over time, it will be possible to select for less defensive behaviour. At higher altitudes, and therefore cooler temperatures, defensive behaviour is also reduced.
Unexpectedly, the importation of African honey bees into the Americas also increased the numbers of people who could benefit from keeping bees. European races of honey bees did not thrive in the tropical conditions, and these bee colonies had to be purchased and new ones established by colony division. By contrast, African honey bees quickly filled the habitat niche, with many feral colonies that can be raided for honey. The campesinos (small farmers), who traditionally kept stingless bees, became able to start keeping honey bees, opening up new opportunities for income generation and consequently development.
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