With the summer season coming up, worries about aggressive bees and the risks of stings increase, especially given some species’ tendency to swarm when their colony, honey stores, or larvae are threatened. Despite any fears people have of honeybees—fueled by personal experiences, observational learning, or old horror movies—the truth is the most common species in the US, European honeybees, are relatively docile compared to Africanized honeybees, which have many more US populations than in previous decades, leading to injuries and even death. Given the elevated risks Africanized honeybees present with their behavior and toxicity, it’s likely in everyone’s best interest to know what to do if ever attacked by a swarm of these bees.
The USDA has a list of tips for what to do, and it also helps to know how to identify Africanized bees compared to European species. First, there is the size difference—while these species are virtually identical, Africanized honeybees are about 10 percent smaller, though this difference is subtle and almost impossible to see with the naked eye. More importantly, African honeybees react differently to provocation—while European bees may send out 10-20 guard bees within 20 yards of the hive, African bees may send out several hundred within 120 yards. As well, it takes African bees much longer to calm down after agitation—European bees can calm down in 20 minutes, whereas African bees remain agitated for hours afterward.
With that clear, if you’re ever attacked by Africanized honeybees, keep these tips in mind: (1) Run away immediately, and do not stop to help others unless small children, the disabled, or the elderly need help. (2) While running, pull your shirt over your head to protect the sensitive areas around your face without slowing your pace. (3) Keep running until you find shelter like a vehicle or building. If you become trapped inside with a few bees, cover yourself with anything available. (4) Do not jump in water, as the bees will wait for you to come up. (5) Do not swat at the bees or flail your arms—movement attracts them and crushed ones emit a scent attracting more bees.
(6) Once in shelter, if stung, remove all stingers to prevent more venom from spreading. (7) Scrape stingers out with fingernails or other straight-edge objects—do not attempt to pull them out. (8) If someone else is attacked, encourage them to run or seek shelter—do not attempt to help them yourself, instead call 911 to report the stinging attack. (9) Most importantly, if you’ve been stung more than 15 times, feel ill, or have any reason to believe you’re allergic to bees, seek medical attention immediately. On average, people can safely tolerate 10 stings per pound of body weight. This means 500 stings can kill a child and the average adult can withstand more than 1100 stings.
Hopefully, these tips leave prepared for any situation involving Africanized honeybees. The obvious situation anyone can hope for is that they never need this information, but as it goes, it’s better to know and not need it than to need it, not have it, and panic at the absolute wrong moment.