In the last column, I talked about avoiding getting stung by Africanized honey bees by keeping a high domestic bee population, cleaning up areas that Africanized bees would like to nest and not antagonizing bees when you happen across them.
Avoiding getting stung is the best defense. However, if you are stung, and since an Africanized bee is physically identical to a domesticated bee, here are some lifesaving tips.
First, if you get stung, don’t swat. Swatting only releases more of the bee’s alarm pheromone and calls more bees to come get you. If you get tagged by two or more bees, run away. There is a military strategy that says of your enemy: find it, fix it and kill it. If you stand in one place and swat, they have found you. Your swatting fixes you in place, and they will proceed to kill you. So run away, get into a building or car and stay there.
Diving into a pool will be of limited benefit because they will wait for you to come up for air and nail you when you do. So get into a building or car and stay there. If a couple bees follow you into the car, stay there and take a couple more stings rather than get back out where hundreds of bees are waiting for you.
I worked bees in college for the apiculture class (way back in the Pleistocene). The graduate students kept the bees and got to harvest and sell the honey as a fundraiser. One time as we were pulling away from the hives, Tupper, my best friend, and Dr. Hilty, our professor, were riding in the bed of the pickup truck when a bee got under Tupper’s veil. He started swatting, and as Dr. Hilty and I both shouted “No! Don’t…,” Tupper pulled off his helmet and veil to get away from the bee.
He got stung eight times in the face and head by the score of bees outside. I would have helped him, but Dr. Hilty and I were down in the bed of the truck pounding each other in the back we were laughing so hard. As Dr. Coder says, “Stupidity is its own reward.”
The history of Africanized bees killing people in Central America and the Southwest U.S. shows that many people died because they stood still and swatted and did not run away – or that they made it to the safety of a vehicle or building but left that safe refuge because a couple bees followed them into the car or building. Panic is a deadly thing.
After a bee stings, its stinger stays in the skin and the bee will rip itself away, leaving the stinger behind. I have watched a stinger pulse in my arm as it pumps more venom into my skin. Grabbing at the stinger just pumps more venom in, so the better way to get a stinger out is to scrape it off. A driver’s license or credit card works well.
The sting site will hurt and it will become inflamed. Usually, it will go away with no further treatment. However, some are allergic to insect stings. I believe everybody is allergic to stings if they get stung enough. My brother Doug almost died from an insect sting 30 years ago. He now carries an EpiPen wherever he goes.
Since we cannot tell whether a bee is a common domesticated bee or an Africanized bee, it is best to give all bees a little respect. If you only get stung once, it is probably a domesticated bee. If you are taking multiple stings, don’t wait around. Run away, get inside and stay there.
Gardner is the extension agent for Bryan County. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.