Killer Instinct: Societal Views of the Africanized Honeybee

By Andrew Howe.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

During the twentieth century, animal species from less developed regions of the world, regions whose ecosystems had been devastated by European conquest and intervention, have now invaded the west. The manner in which the media has negotiated the advance of such invasive species uncovers how guilt, fear, and paranoia surface within national identities. This paper focuses upon the manner in which Americans rhetorically constructed the threat of the Africanized honeybee as this insect swept north across Latin America and began to threaten the American Southwest. Two narrative tropes are readily apparent when reading popular and even scientific discussions of this threat from the late 1970s through the next several decades. The first metaphor involves military terminology, such as this quote from Greg Flakus’ 1993 history of the invasion: “The first shots fired in the war on the Africanized bees in Mexico came from researchers and apiculture experts who derided the government plan as ‘an insect Maginot line’ . . . One news magazine featured a derisive cartoon showing a bee nuzzling up against a Berlin-style wall” (64). This quote references both World War II and the Cold War in historicizing societal fears. Imbuing bees with military precision and tactics was a common method of demonizing them as a threat during this time period. A less common, although no less powerful trope, was illegal immigration, where the bees were linked not only due to their Hispanic origins but also in their method of border crossing (brought over in the back of trucks) and in perceived threats to the agriculture industry, where these bees would outcompete the “native” workers (bees that, ironically, derived from Europe). These two tropes, and others like them, demonstrate the manner in which American society framed the threat from this organism by employing pre-existing sociological narratives.

Keywords: Ecology, History, Media

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp.127-132. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 219.468KB).

Dr. Andrew Howe

Associate Professor, Department of History, Politics, & Society, La Sierra University, Riverside, CA, USA

Andrew Howe is an Associate Professor at La Sierra University, where he teaches twentieth century history and popular culture studies in the Department of History, Politics, and Society.