Notorious Beekeepers: Warwick Kerr

You may not know Warwick Kerr by name, but he is the much maligned researcher whose work unfortunately brought us the media scare-fest, the “Killer” Honey bee.

First of all, Warwick Kerr is a Brazilian Entomologist and Geneticist whose work in studying honey bee genetics, particularly genetic sex selection goes back to the early 1950’s.

In fact, in the mid 1950’s he was contracted to try to help Brazilian farmer’s improve pollination seeing as western honey bees weren’t showing the same degree of successful adaptation to the tropical/sub-tropical environment in South America.  What did they opt to do?   Why they brought in a known successful sub-tropical adapted honey bee from Africa to inter-breed with the historically well managed western European honey bees.

Things were actually going well in the research until a day in 1957 when some of the African honey bee Queens being worked with escaped the confinement area and began to occupy and breed with European bees out in the un-managed open areas of Brazil.

African bees, due to their nature and adaptation to a tropical environment, breed rapidly and aggressively to take over other established colonies in a region.  This led to a new mix breed of honey bee we now know as the Africanized Honey bee.

I refer to Dr. Kerr as “notorious” because he has been treated rather poorly in the media and through history being in charge of the experiment gone awry.  The man has since continued to contribute a great amount of research and study to the study of bees and is somewhat a victim of the politicization of science.  He has published well over 600 various research articles on various related topics over the years since then.

Warwick Kerr, due to his bee genetics research and his historic blunder, if you will, of the introduction of the Africanized Honey Bee, is undoubtedly one of the most significant beekeepers of the 20th century.