If you caught this sad story on the TV news you might have noticed the camera pan -not so subtly, over to a tree full of angry bees, the nearby school, a distraught woman, and then a dead dog.
Menace to society!
Naturally the locals are alarmed. People down here work and play outside, and killer bees, or Assassin bees, as the Brazilians call them, are found all over Panama. These Africanized bees are easily annoyed. They don’t just hang around and defend the hive like the more civilized European honey bees do.
They’re known to swarm their victims relentlessly, sometimes stinging them to death. Indeed, killer bees have such a dark rep there are calls for someone, or something to put a stop to them.
Contrary to popular myth, killer bees aren’t on a tropical killing spree. In Panama, you’re much more likely to get run over by a bus, than be stung by a killer bee. And, unless you’re allergic, their stings aren’t fatal. Killer bees are actually smaller, and have less venom in their stings, than their European counterparts.
It’s believed they arrived in Panama via the canal. Africanized honeybees love tropical climates like Panama. The canal commission employs a 24 hour bee control team to stop the proliferation of killer bees.
Once you go black …
So are Africanized honeybees really all that bad? Not to a coffee grower. Since the early 80’s killer bees have been gang-banging coffee plants all over Panama. It’s said each coffee plant is visited by about 40 horny killer bees.
Normally, coffee plants are self-pollinating, and don’t need any help to reproduce. Still, killer bees have managed to increase coffee yields by almost 60%. Contrast that with the effete local bees who can’t seem to satisfy the coffee plants at all.
Africanized honeybees have become very important to Panama. According to Science News coffee yields in Panama are at “near-optimal levels.”
Not just optimal, award winning. Grown in the hills of Chiriqui, La Esmeralda eSpecial sells for a record $130 a pound. Pricey and tasty they say, La Esmeralda especial ends up in the filthy little hands of baristas all over the world.
And given the importance African bees have for coffee growers, and Panama’s economy, we say give a brother a break. African bees aren’t all that killer, but they do make killer coffee.
Tip – Don’t pay $130 a pound for good coffee. Thanks to the goodness of our African friends, any generic Panama grind (under $3 a lb) is fantastic.