Killer bees, also known as Africanized honey bees, really shouldn't exist in the Americas at all. They were the result of a crossbreeding experiment between European and African bees performed in the 1950s in Brazil in an attempt to come up with a hybrid bee that could survive the tropical climate. The crossbreeding worked and the hybrid bees tend to produce more honey than European honeybees, but some of the hybrid bees got loose and mated with the local bee population. This produced an extremely aggressive strain of "Africanized" bees that, while having a sting that's no more poisonous than that of your average honeybee, is far more likely to defend its hives by attacking in large swarms. Africanized bees can detect intruders on their territory, such as humans, at longer distances than other bees and will chase those intruders for longer distances too. Africanized bees are like tiny, heat-seeking missiles. When they get on your trail, it's difficult to get them off.
By the early 1990s, the Africanized bees had reached the United States, at first spreading into the desert regions of the Southwest. Since then they've spread even further and, while not quite the threat that movies and novels sometimes make them out to be, nonetheless kill one or two people a year. While their reputation as "killer bees" is more than a little exaggerated -- any bee sting can kill a person who has an allergy to bee stings -- it's still probably wise to avoid any bee hives in the vicinity of your camping grounds, even if the inhabitants look like normal, non-aggressive honeybees.
Author's Note: 5 Critters to Beware Of While You're Camping in the Desert
I'm lucky enough to live in a cool, lush part of Los Angeles near the ocean, but when I drive about 70 miles to the north I find myself on the fringes of the Mojave Desert, which is one corner of the great deserts of the American Southwest. As Aladdin once said, at least in a Disney movie, it's a whole new world up there -- dry, mountainous, brush-covered and sandy. I haven't encountered much of the local fauna up there yet, mostly just tumbleweeds and Joshua trees. But I think it would be fascinating to see a rattlesnake or a mountain lion in its natural habitat -- as long as I'm seeing it through a pair of binoculars and have my car nearby to make a quick getaway. Still, I might try camping up there one night with my girlfriend, and writing this article has given me a good idea just what to keep my eye out for -- and what to keep out of my sleeping bag.
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- Columbia University. "Introduced Species Summary Project: Africanized Honey Bee." (July 24, 2012) http://www.columbia.edu/itc/cerc/danoff-burg/invasion_bio/inv_spp_summ/Apis_mellifera_scutellata.htm
- DesertUSA. "Killer Bees." (July 24, 2012) http://www.desertusa.com/mag98/sep/stories/kbees.html
- DesertUSA. "Prairie Dogs." (July 24, 2012) http://www.desertusa.com/dec96/du_pdogs.html
- DuHamel, Jonathan. "The most dangerous venomous animals of the Southwest." The Tucson Citizen. (July 24, 2012) http://tucsoncitizen.com/wryheat/2011/10/05/the-most-dangerous-venomous-animals-of-the-southwest/
- National Geographic. "Mountain Lion." (July 24, 2012) http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/mountain-lion/
- National Geographic. "Scorpion." (July 24, 2012) http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/bugs/scorpion/
- Ninh, Amie. "First Case of Bubonic Plague in 2011 Appears in New Mexico." Time - Healthland. (July 24, 2012) http://healthland.time.com/2011/05/10/first-case-of-bubonic-plague-in-2011-appears-in-new-mexico/
- Stone Canyon Adventures. "Desert Safety - Animals." (July 24, 2012) http://www.stonecanyonadventures.com/safety_animals.htm
- Tchester.org. "List of Mountain Lion Attacks on People in California." (July 24, 2012) http://tchester.org/sgm/lists/lion_attacks_ca.html
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