Residents are discovering buzzing hives in their homes’ eaves, under their toolsheds and inside utility boxes. Most of the time, these are harmless European honeybees. But some swarms are the dreaded Africanized honeybees, the so-called “killers” because of their tenacious attacks.
European vs. Africanized bees
Physically, there is little difference between European bees and their Africanized peers. Instead, the differences are in their behavior.
Bee colonies reproduce by “swarming,” in which one group leaves an established hive. A European hive typically swarms once a year, according to the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson, but Africanized bees may swarm as often as every six weeks and can produce two separate swarms each time. With Africanized bees swarming more often, the likelihood of an encounter with them increases significantly.
Also, Africanized bees aggressively guard their hives, with an “alarm zone” up to 100 feet, and will pursue perceived threats to great lengths — sometimes a quarter-mile, said Dan Armijo, a service manager for Arizona Exterminators.
If you are attacked
Run fast and run far. Use your shirt to protect the sensitive areas of your face. Do not jump into water, as the bees will wait for you to surface. Do not swat at the bees or flail your arms; bees are attracted to movement and crushed bees emit a smell that will attract more bees. After escaping, use a credit card or dull knife to scrape the stingers out of your skin; more venom will be pumped in if the stingers are squeezed with fingers or tweezers.
Although bee stings are painful, at most only two people out of 1,000 are allergic or hypersensitive to them. Most deaths from multiple stings occur in elderly people who may have bad hearts.
The good news
Despite the hype over killer bees, the creatures are essential to our food supply. Honeybees pollinate one-third of the human diet, the Hayden Research Center reports. In America, bees pollinate 50 different crops valued at more than $20 billion. Additionally, without honeybees there is no honey (although Africanized hives produce less than European bees). In 2007, the American honey industry was a business worth $153 million.