Africanized Honey Bees
Outdoor Recreation Safety Tips
With the arrival of the Africanized honey bee in Arizona, people need to be
more cautious when hiking, hunting, fishing, biking, or horseback riding, etc. out of doors. But
remember, there is a variety of venomous creatures here and Africanized honey bees are only one
potential hazard. So it pays to always stay alert.
About Africanized honey bees:
Honey bees are about 5/8-inch long brown, hairy insects with black encircling their abdomen,
giving them a subtle striped appearance. All honey bees look alike. Only an expert can tell them
The sting from a single Africanized honey bee is no more harmful than one from the common
garden or European honey bee. Africanized honey bees are known as the so-called "killer bees"
because they defend their nests more readily (with less provocation), and in larger numbers than
the European honey bee, so there is a greater chance of receiving many stings.
Dos and Don'ts
- Look out for honey bee colonies when outdoors. There are estimated to be
approximately 250,000 wild bee colonies in Arizona. Honey bees nest in a wide variety of
locations, such as pipes, holes, animal burrows or even in cavities within saguaro cacti or trees.
Be alert for groups of flying bees entering or leaving an entrance or opening and listen for buzzing
sounds. Be especially alert when climbing, because honey bees often nest under rocks or within
crevices between rocks. Don't put your hands where you can't see them.
Not all honey bees you see are a potential threat. Honey bees often visit campsites for water
or sweets (especially soda containers) or may be seen visiting flowers for nectar. Bees gathering
food or water are called "foraging" bees. As long as they are away from the nest, honey bees are
not overly defensive. They will only sting if stepped on or trapped in some way. On the other
hand, a large number of honey bees foraging in one area may indicate a colony is nearby. If you
intend to camp in the area, look around for the colony first.
- If you find a colony of bees, leave them alone and keep others away. Do not
shoot, throw rocks at, try to burn or otherwise disturb the bees. If the colony is near a trail or near
areas frequently used by humans, notify your local office of the Parks Department, Forest Service,
or Arizona Game and Fish even if the bees appear to be docile. Honey bee colonies vary
in behavior over time, especially with changes in age and season. Small colonies are less likely to
be defensive than large colonies, so you may pass the same colony for weeks and then one day
provoke them unexpectedly.
- Keep your dogs under control. If a dog disturbs a colony when bounding through
the bush, it is likely to bring the bees back to you.
- Wear light colored clothes, including socks. Bees target objects that resemble
their natural predators (bears and skunks) when they defend their nests, so they tend to go after
dark, leathery or furry objects. Keep in mind that bees see the color red as black, so fluorescent
orange is a better choice when hunting.
- Avoid wearing scents of any sort when hiking. Africanized honey bees
communicate to one another using scents, and tend to be quite sensitive to odors. Avoid strongly
scented shampoo, soaps, perfumes, heavily scented gum, etc. If riding, avoid using fly control
products on your horse with a "lemony" or citrus odor. Such odors are known to provoke or
attract honey bees.
- Be particularly careful when using any heavy equipment that produces sound
vibrations, such as chainsaws, weed eaters, tractors or generators.
- Keep escape routes in mind. If at all possible, avoid areas where you cannot
escape quickly if attacked.
- If you know you are allergic to bee stings, always have someone else with you
when doing outdoor activities.
What to do if you are attacked by Africanized honey bees:
If you are attacked while hiking or hunting, the best action is to RUN as far and as fast as
possible. Pull your shirt up over your head to protect your face, but make sure it does not slow
your progress. Run to shelter (vehicle or building) if available. Do not swat at the bees or flail
your arms, since they are attracted to movement. Entering water is not recommended. The bees
may wait for you to come up for air.
Once you have reached shelter (or have outrun the bees), remove all stingers. When a honey bee
stings, it leaves its stinger in the skin. This kills the honey bee, so it can't sting again, but it also
means that venom continues to enter into the wound for a short time. Do not pull stingers out
with tweezers or your fingers because this will squeeze out more venom. Instead, scrape them out
using your fingernail, the edge of a credit card, a dull knife blade or other straight-edged
If you have been stung more than 15 times, or are feeling ill, or if you have any reason to
believe you may be allergic to bee stings, it is important to seek medical attention
Material prepared by the College of Agriculture, the University of Arizona
Document located at http://ag.arizona.edu/pubs/insects/195020c.html
Return to College of Agriculture publications list