The deadliest arthropod species in the United States can be found in the order Hymenoptera, which is made up of thousands of ant, wasp and bee species. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1,109 human deaths were caused by Hymenoptera insect envenomation incidents between 2000 and 2017, which comes out to an average of 62 envenomation fatalities per year. Unfortunately, fatal Hymenoptera envenomation incidents have been increasing in frequency with each passing year in the country. While wasps like yellow jackets account for most of these fatalities, annual honey bee fatalities have been increasing at the greatest rate. This increase is largely due to the introduction of unusually aggressive and invasive Africanized honey bees into the southern US during the 1990s.
Africanized honey bees, also known as “killer bees,” have become established in many southern states, but they are most prevalent in the southwest. The number of Africanized honey bees in Tucson increased from approximately 15% of the feral bee population in 1994 to 98% in 1998. Today, virtually all wild honey bees in Arizona have become Africanized. Sadly, the rate at which pets in southern Arizona have been killed in response to Africanized honey bee attacks has been increasing significantly. Most of these fatalities occur on residential properties where Africanized honey bees had established a nest.
Back in 2016, countless Africanized honey bees emerged from an enormous 75 pound nest within the attic of a Scottsdale home before they attacked and killed three dogs on the property. A year earlier, an 84 year old Tucson man miraculously survived after sustaining more than 2,000 Afrianized honey bee stings, but his dogs were not so lucky. Another incident that saw Africanized honey bees attack and kill three dogs on a Tucson property made international news earlier this year.
According to a recent study conducted by University of Arizona researchers, “unknown arthropods” accounted for most (39 percent) of the reported arthropod attacks on pets in Arizona over a one year period. Spiders came in second, as they were responsible for 18.4 percent of pet attacks followed by Africanized honey bees at 16.5 percent. 12.6 percent of pet attacks were perpetrated by ants, followed by scorpions at 10.6 percent, and finally paper wasps at 3.1 percent. Since pets in Arizona fall victim to spider envenomations more often than Africanized honey bee envenomations, the latter may not be as dangerous to pets as the media suggests. However, Africanized bee attacks kill more pets in Arizona than any other venomous insect species.
Have you ever encountered a honey bee swarm?