Photo: National Pest Management Association
A 62-year-old farmer from Moody, Texas lost his life after accidentally disturbing a hive of an estimated 40,000 Africanized honey bees (also known as killer bees) while driving his tractor on Monday, May 27. The farmer, upon being stung in overwhelming numbers, ran to a nearby shed on a neighbor’s property hoping to hose them off, to no avail.
“Africanized honey bees are tenacious. Unlike the European honey bees, they attack in overwhelming numbers, with the capacity to even kill humans without bee sting allergies,” said Nancy Troyano, PhD, BCE Training Manager/Entomologist at Rentokil (Ehrlich).
Unlike disturbing a European bee colony where someone might get stung up to 20 times, or 200 times if the entire colony was disturbed, an Africanized colony could sting its victim or victims up to 2,000 times. An Africanized honey bee will remain angry for up to an hour whereas the European honey bee typically calms down quickly.
Another trait unique to the killer bee is its double-damaging venom. “Meletin, the primary pain-inducing compound in the venom, makes up about 50 percent of the mixture. Another component, called phospholipase A2, gives the venom the ability to damage human tissue. The damage can be so severe that the material can overload the kidneys, resulting in kidney failure days after the individual was stung,” said Eric Mussen, Extension Apiculturist at the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Visually, the Africanized honey bee closely resembles the European honey bee but is slightly smaller.
Africanized Honey Bee. (Photo: Sajjad Fazel)
Unlike the European honey bee that typically swarms once or twice a season, the Africanized honey bee swarms every six weeks (forms new colonies), establishing new nests. The killer bee exploits new habitats very quickly and is not particular about its nesting site, can sense noise vibrations 100 feet or more from its nest. The invasive pest possesses a highly defensive nature and will often sting a threat en masse. Africanized honey bees will pursue a perceived threat for up to a mile and will quickly abandon its nests and relocate starting anew. They will build nests in the ground, high up in trees in anything they can convert. “The Africanized honey bees can even make a nest out of a soda can,” said Troyano.
Some helpful tips if threatened or stung by killer bees:
- Get to an indoor location as quickly as possible. Some bees will follow but not nearly as many otherwise.
- Do not swat at the bees, motion only attracts them; don’t crush them- crushed emit a smell that attracts more bees.
- Do not jump into the water hoping that it will safeguard you. The bees will only hover until you surface for air.
- Once you have safely reached shelter remove the stingers. Africanized honey bees leave their stingers in the victim. Even though the honey bee can only sting once, losing its stinger in the process of stinging its victim, the stingers must be removed because they continue to release venom into the wound, if only for a short period of time.
- Do not pull the stingers out with your fingers or tweezers because it will likely release the remaining venom into the wound. Scrape the stinger out sideway with the edge of a credit card, a finger nail or other straight-edged object such as a straight blade.
- If you are stung more than 15 times or are feeling ill, or if you are allergic to bee stings or think you might be allergic to be stings, seek medical attention immediately.
- Some symptoms that likely indicate an allergic reaction will include: burning, itching, swelling, body rash, difficulty breathing, nausea, weakness, shock or unconsciousness. But proper medical evaluation and treatment will help determine this.
- If you observe someone else being stung multiple times, do not attempt to help them directly (small children not-withstanding), instead call for help: 9-1-1.
For more safety information, visit our insect stings page here.
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