Two Phoenix women are in critical condition following a recent attack by Africanized bees. With increasingly warmer temperatures, bees are becoming more active. It’s a good time to review what we know about Africanized bees and how we can minimize negative encounters with these small animals.
First, lets identify the troublespots here in the Phoenix area. In the far East valley, bee activity is highest in Mesa, Apache Junction, Chandler, and Queen Creek. There are also troublespots in Tempe (north of US 60) and sections of Fountain Hills and Scottsdale. In the far West valley, the Buckeye area has also seen bee activity.
Africanized or ‘killer’ bees are hybrids of the African honey bee and various European honey bees. They are more aggressive than their parent species. These bees were introduced into Brazil by Warrick Estevam Kerr in 1956. Kerr wanted to create a “super bee” that was a great pollinator but also less aggressive. Although well-intentioned, things obviously didn’t go according to plan. Several Africanized queen bees escaped and began making nests. The bees spread throughout Brazil and other South American countries and then over the years made their way north into the United States.
Photo: Scott Bauer USDA. Africanized bees surround queen honey bee.
Photo: Lorraine Beaman USDA. Research on Africanized bees.
Africanized bees are smaller in size than European honey bees and have slightly smaller wings. They do however, exhibit greater defensiveness of established hives. Not only do these bees react to direct threats but also to ‘perceived’ threats such as loud noises or vibrations.
Although Africanized bee venom is no more potent than that of the European honey bee, the medical problems seen in individuals stung by these bees are due to the large numbers of bees that attack and sting them.
Here are some practical steps you can take to protect your family and pets:
1. DO NOT try to remove bee hives yourself. Seek out professional help from Beekeepers, Bee Removal Services or your local Pest Control Service.
2. Check your house and yard regularly for bee colonies especially cracks and crevices, dog houses, trees and shrubs, and meter boxes.
3. Exercise care when removing objects or debris that have been lying outside for awhile.
4. Wear light-colored clothing when doing yard work or hiking.
5. Don’t wear ‘fruity’ fragrances when working outside – that is, hand lotion or perfume that may attract bees.
6. Don’t tether pets or other animals near bee hives.
7. Keep children and pets indoors while using blowers, lawn mowers, or other equipment that makes a noise which could potentially disturb a hive.
If you are attacked by Africanized bees what should you do? Get indoors as quickly as possible and call 9-11. If you can’t get indoors quickly then cover your face with your shirt. It’s better to be stung on your arms or legs than on your face and throat where you might become swollen and have difficulty breathing. Don’t try jumping into a swimming pool or stream as the bees will wait until you surface for air. Try to run away from them if you can although you may have to run for several blocks. These bees are persistent.
Although ‘killer’ bee attacks always make the news and seem to be the stuff of movies, attacks are nevertheless uncommon. With continued public education we can minimize negative encounters between these bees and humans. Bees of all kinds play a crucial role as pollinators of the plants around us. Most are harmless but in the case of Africanized bees, giving them an extra-wide berth and removing them when first noticed is the best bet.
Mitakuye Oyasin . . .”We are all related”