Invaders can conquer Africanized bees

Cape honeybees can infiltrate and take over or destroy the colonies of other honeybees, even dreaded Africanized bees.

The remarkable takeover artists, when they’re supposedly helpless larvae, somehow swindle extra food from nursemaids of other species. In the April 13 Nature, Madeleine Beekman, now at the University of Sheffield in England, and her colleagues at Wageningen Agricultural University in the Netherlands give the first detailed account of Cape conquests in experimental hives of European bees.

Unlike workers of other bee races, Cape workers can lay eggs that grow into females. The workers slip past lax security to deposit eggs, and the Cape presence seems to trigger the natives to kill their queen. With pampering, the Cape eggs become queenlike and produce bees that refuse to forage. The colony can then dwindle away or the Cape bees can raise a new queen bee of their own to complete their conquest.

Susan Milius is the life sciences writer, covering organismal biology and evolution, and has a special passion for plants, fungi and invertebrates. She studied biology and English literature.