The scene on a Texas ranch last July was straight out of a horror movie. A couple was exercising their horses when a cloud of bees swarmed over them. The woman jumped into a nearby pond to avoid the incessant stinging as the sky turned black with approximately 30,000 killer bees. Eventually the couple made it back to the safety of their home, covered in bee stings. Sadly, the horses did not survive. They were stung to death along with five chickens.
This story was only one of several concerning Africanized bees in the summer of 2013. A Texas man, 62-year-old Larry Goodwin, died after being attacked by 40,000 killer bees. They swarmed over him while he was using his tractor to compress a woodpile which hid a large hive. Allen Miller, who runs a local bee-extermination business, removed six hives of Africanized bees in the weeks before Goodwin’s tragic death. But even Miller is afraid of the insects and is considering a change of careers: “You can’t believe how bad they are,” he said. “They make me want to get out of this business. They can get up under your clothes where no other insect can go. In a hive of ordinary European bees, about 10 percent will attack if the hive is threatened, but with African bees, all of them attack you.”
Allen’s point is the most important thing to know about Africanized bees. Although they are called killer bees, their venom is the same as European bees. Unless a person is allergic to bee stings, a single Africanized bee will not cause lasting injuries. However, killer bees are dangerous for several reasons: Unlike European bees, the Africanized variety build hives in the ground where they can be accidentally trampled by hikers, dogs, and livestock. In addition, the bees become agitated by loud noises, vehicle vibrations, and even footsteps at a distance of 50 feet. Once Africanized bees are aroused, the entire colony, up to 100,000 angry insects, will swarm into the air to attack whatever—or whoever—is perceived as a threat. They will pursue their quarry for more than a quarter mile and remain violently agitated for up to 24 hours.
On average, 40 people are killed by bees every year, but only three or four are killed by Africanized bees; however, the number of deadly Africanized bee attacks has grown since 2011. Fatalities have been reported in Arizona and Texas while serious injuries have occurred in California and Florida. The good news is the Africanized bees cannot survive cold weather. While it may be downer to shovel snow, if you live in the north, at least you won’t have to worry about being stung by 40,000 bees.