What Do Killer Bees Look Like? Killer Bee Suits

I live in an area with killer bees (Africanized bees). How can I tell killer bees apart from normal bees? What do killer bees look like?  Will bee suits prevent killer bee stings?  Yes, beesuits do protect against killer bee stings.


Unless you're a trained bee expert, you won't be able to tell killer bees apart from "normal" bees. Killer bees, which are more properly called African honey bees, are just a subspecies of the European honey bees kept by beekeepers. The physical differences between the African honey bees and European honey bees are almost imperceptible to the non-expert.

Entomologists usually dissect a suspected killer bee, and use careful measurements of as many as 20 different body parts to aid in identification. Today, scientists can also use DNA testing to confirm that a honey bee contains African bloodlines.

Absent the help of a bee expert, you may be able to recognize killer bees by their significantly more aggressive behavior when compared to their more docile European counterparts. African honey bees defend their nests vigorously.

The African honey bee colony may include 2,000 soldier bees, ready to defend and attack if a threat is perceived. European honey bees typically have just 200 soldiers guarding the hive. Killer bees also produce more drones, the male bees that mate with new queens.

Killer bees react quicker, attack in greater numbers, and pursue a threat longer than other honey bees. African bees will respond to a threat in under 5 seconds, while the calmer European bees may take 30 seconds to react. A victim of a killer bee attack may suffer 10 times as many stings as from a European honey bee attack. Once agitated, African bees will pursue a threat for as far as a quarter of a mile. By contrast, European honey bees rarely give chase beyond 30 yards or so. Killer bees also tend to stay agitated longer.

Finally, African bees live on the move, swarming much more frequently than European bees. If foraging opportunities are scarce, killer bees will take their honey and run, traveling for some distance in search of a new home.

Debbie Hadley

Debbie HadleyInsects Guide