The 'Killer Bees' Scare Of The '70s: Was There A Real Threat?

By | July 3, 2018

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Apis mellifera scutellata, the "Africanized bee," scourge of the '70s; poster for the 1978 movie 'The Swarm.' Source: Wikimedia Commons, IMDB

The killer bees are coming! That's what we heard over and over in the '70s, thanks to the killer bee scare that became a media sensation. Fear about an invasion of killer bees stoked schoolyard debates and inspired disaster movies. And that's saying something, because there were plenty of real things to be concerned about in the '70s; reports of Vietnam war protests, government cover-ups, hijackings, the gas shortage and bra-burners at equality rallies. The terrifying newspaper articles about killer bees and the threat they posed to people and the environment were downright scary in their descriptions of how the killer bee hybrids were on the verge of invading the United States and how they formed massive and vicious swarms that attacked and killed anything in its path. Whatever happened to the swarms of killer bees that threatened the people of the seventies? Was there even a real threat from these insects or was it a case of sensationalized news reporting or even a hoax, like the Bigfoot craze?

Yes, There Was A Hybridization Of Bees

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All the news reports of the time explained that honey bees from Africa were taken to Brazil in the 1950s and a hybridization program was started. The goal was to create a more efficient honey producer, but, according to the news reports, something went horribly wrong. Instead of preserving the desired traits in the bees, the hybrids acquired the supposed aggression of the African bees only on steroids, resulting in angry, aggressive, killer bees. The reports further added that the swarms of killer bees escaped the lab and were on the move…specifically north to the United States. It was just a matter of time, the newspapers claimed until the killer bees were at our doorsteps.