Insects and arachnids are not generally dangerous, but several deaths result from venomous bug bites and stings in the US every year. It should not be too surprising to learn that the most deadly insects in the US are bees and wasps, as these two insect groups attack in swarms, sometimes resulting in hundreds, or even thousands of stings. Such a high number of stings delivers a significant amount of venom, but the vast majority of bee/wasp-related deaths occur due to allergic reactions to venom, and not from venom toxicity. While the smooth stinger of a yellow jacket allows for repeated stings, the barbed stinger of a honey bee does not. Despite this, bees actually cause more annual deaths in the country than yellow jackets. According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, bees are more dangerous than snakes in the state.
Honey bee swarms are most common during the months of May and June in Arizona. During this time of year, honey bee colonies produce an extra queen, causing the old queen and numerous workers to abandon the colony in order to start a new one elsewhere. While searching for a proper area to establish a nest, the queen frequently becomes tired and stops to rest while her loyal worker bees wait for her to regain energy. It is during this process of swarming long distances that many people encounter honey bee swarms. These swarms are usually found resting on tree branches out in the open, but since they are without a nest to defend, they are not typically aggressive. However, nesting honey bees are aggressive, and the honey bees in Arizona are not the common European honey bees found in the rest of the country; instead, all Arizona honey bees are descendents of Africanized honey bees, or “killer bees,” as they are commonly known.
Africanized honey bees are significantly more aggressive and less picky about where they nest than European honey bees. Because of this, humans accidentally disturb Africanized honey bee nests in urban and suburban areas of Arizona on occasion. If nestless migrating honey bees are found in a populated area, the area should be closed off to the public, and if nesting honey bees are found, a professional should be contacted promptly for its removal. Surprisingly, a large number of people who die in response to swarms do so as a result of panicking. For example, people have drowned in lakes and rivers where they had been seeking refuge from honey bee swarms, and others have been hit by vehicles after being chased into traffic by honey bees. In case a person is pursued by aggressive honey bees, running in a straight line over a distance the size of two football fields should lose the swarm, as they are not as fast as many assume.
Have you ever encountered a honey bee swarm?