Africanized Bees Have False Reputation

Fruit Grower – January, 1991 – Page 40

NAME MEANT TO DISCREDIT SCIENTIST

In an attempt to discredit the Brazilian biologist who introduced African bees to Brazil, propagandists in Brazil’s military government coined the term abelhas assassinas.

In the second edition of his book, Bees and Beekeeping, Morse documents the role of politics in insect affairs.

Warwik E. Kerr, the university professor who brought 132 queen bees from Africa to Brazil in 1956, was a well-known and highly respected scientist when military forces took over the government in 1964. According to Morse, who studied Africanized bees with Kerr, the Brazilian professor voiced criticism of the military government and was in conflict with a local military commander. Kerr was jailed twice, in 1964 for protesting mistreatment of railway workers, and later for protesting the torture of a Catholic nun.

Africanized bees from Kerr’s hives had accidentally escaped in 1957, and the military government sought to play upon the fear that many people have of stinging insects in order to discredit him. “Since most people do not know the difference between bees and wasps, any stinging incident, many of which were caused by wasps, was blamed on Professor Kerr,” Morse says.

Morse traced the first mention of the bees in the U.S. to a Sept. 24, 1965, article in Time magazine, which picked up information from a Brazilian military press release about abelhas assassinas. The same magazine printed a similar story in 1968, prompting others to write in the same vein, according to Morse.

“The term and the Brazilian association with the bees became firmly established and continues to live,” Morse says.