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 apart.

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Be particularly careful when using any heavy equipment that produces sound vibrations, such as chainsaws, weed eaters, tractors or generators.
  7. Keep escape routes in mind. If at all possible, avoid areas where you cannot escape quickly if attacked.
  8. 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 object.

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 immediately.


Material prepared by the College of Agriculture, the University of Arizona
Document located at http://ag.arizona.edu/pubs/insects/195020c.html
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