Killer Bees: We Have Them in Arizona

What Are Killer Bees and Why Are They Here?

Worker African Honey Bees at work on the honeycomb.
••• Martin Harvey / Getty Images

Killer bees are really Africanized Honey Bees. They have come by their "killer" moniker because they will viciously attack people or animals that unintentionally stray into their territory. The Africanized Honey Bee ("AHB") colony does not have to be disturbed to provoke the bees; even simple noises or vibrations have been known to cause an attack.

A Bit of Killer Bees History

In 1956 African bees were brought to Brazil so that scientists there could try to develop a honey bee better adapted to tropical areas.

Unfortunately, some of the bees escaped and began breeding with local Brazilian honey bees. Since 1957, these bees and their hybrid offspring, Africanized Honey Bees, have been multiplying and migrating to other regions.

The first swarm of Africanized bees in the United States was documented in 1990 at Hidalgo, Texas. They were found in Arizona and New Mexico in 1993, California in 1994 and in Nevada in 1998. As of this writing, Africanized Honey Bees can be found in most of mid and southern Texas, about one-third of New Mexico, all over Arizona, the southern half of New Mexico and the southern third of California. They continue their northward migration.

About Africanized Honey Bees

The sting of the Africanized Honey Bee is no more potent than your garden variety honey bee and they look pretty much the same. What makes AHBs more dangerous is that they are more easily provoked, quick to swarm, attack in greater numbers, and pursue their victims for greater distances.

The killer bee colony can remain agitated longer and may attack up to a quarter of a mile away from the hive. These colonies can be very large, and they are not particularly selective about the location of their hives. The Queen Africanized bee can lay up to 1,500 eggs a day.

Killer bees are likely to develop near canals, drainage ditches and retention basins because they like to be near water.

When they sense rain, they swarm.

In Arizona, the killer bee colonies have grown; the more aggressive colonies are the ones that have survived the droughts of the past few years. The summer is the peak period for bee attacks because there is less honey, and the bees become more protective of their hives.

The Statistic You've Been Waiting For

There is no concrete number of stings that are safe or that are lethal. The Merck Manual (Nov.2016) indicates that "The average unsensitized person can safely tolerate 22 stings/kg body weight; thus, the average adult can withstand >1000 stings, whereas 500 stings can kill a child."  Don't forget, however, that people react to bee stings differently. There is one documented case of a man who survived over 2,000 bee stings. There are others who are very sensitive or allergic to bee stings and would certainly not fare that well. Pets are also vulnerable. Each year in the U.S. up to 100 people die from bee stings, many of whom had allergic reactions to the stings.

Another interesting tidbit: The sting of the killer bee is no worse than the sting of the regular honeybee. The reason more people die from killer bees is that they are more aggressive and likely to swarm.

Next page >> Dos and Don'ts, If You Are Attacked

Here are some common sense tips to help you avoid having to deal with an angry swarm of killer bees:

Killer Bees (Africanized Honey Bees): Do's and Don'ts

  • DO check around your house regularly for bee colonies. Check storage sheds, dog houses, meter boxes, flower pots, trees, shrubs, piles of wood or debris and crevices. Seal cavities and crevices. If you see a bee hive on public property or in a park, contact the city in which it is located and let them know so they can take appropriate action.
  • DO keep pets and children inside when using lawn mowers, clippers, blowers, or any other equipment that makes noise or could inadvertently disturb a bee hive.
  • DO be careful moving or cleaning up debris or items that have been lying around outside the house.
  • DO install a cover over the chimney when not in use.
  • DO notice if you see a few bees coming in and out of cracks in walls, utility boxes or other enclosed places.
  • DO have an escape plan in mind if a bee attack occurs.
  • DO wear light-colored clothing. Not only around your home, but when hiking or visiting unknown areas.
  • DO NOT pen or tether animals near bee hives.
  • DO NOT wear floral or citrus perfumes or after shave lotion when doing yard work or hiking.
  • DO NOT try to remove bee hives without professional help. To get assistance, check the Better Business Bureau for Beekeepers, Bee Removal Services, Bee Supplies or Pest Control Services.
  • DO NOT panic every time you see a few bees in some flowers. Bees are very important and productive insects (when they are not attacking!) which is why there is no wholesale program for destruction of bees.

If A Bee Attack Occurs

Even if you follow all the above-mentioned tips, a bee attack can still occur.

Here is what you should do:

  • Quickly get into a house, car, tent or other enclosure. Close any doors or windows.
  • Do not jump into the pool. The bees will wait until you surface for air to attack.
  • If you are attacked by bees, run away. Don't play dead or swat at the bees. Most people can outrun the bees, but you might have to run a few blocks.
  • Protect your face to prevent stings to the eyes, nose and in the mouth. Bees attack where carbon dioxide is expelled. Facial stings are much more dangerous than stings to the body. Pull your shirt over your head if no other protection is available.
  • Once you are away from the bees, evaluate. If you have been stung, follow these tips:
    How To Treat Stings From Africanized Honey Bees.

People in Arizona have much to worry about if they so choose. Scorpion stings, rattlesnake bites, fire antspollution. . . all of you who are prone to worrying can add the Africanized Honey Bee, or "killer" bee, to the list. But let's try to keep this in perspective — there is no need to panic. Even though there are some significant AHB colonies, you still have a greater chance of being killed by a drunk driver or struck by lightning than being killed by Africanized Honey Bees.

First Page >>What Are Killer Bees?