Today I share my personal story of being swarmed and attacked by killer bees in Costa Rica. I am sharing this story to dispel some myths and educate people about beautiful bees.
Dangerous Killer Bees
Hearing the words Killer Bees tends to invoke fear in most people! Even the sound of a bee buzzing by your ear is terrifying, right? Many of us were scarred for life when poor little Macaulay Culkin’s character in My Girl died after being stung by a swarm of bees.
Being stung by a bee is in no way a fun experience! Bee stings account for approximately 90-100 deaths a year in the United States. Of course, that number of deaths is very unfortunate but some perspective needs to be given about the humble little honey bee.
Truth About Bees
Before we condemn bees we need to take a step back and realize that we might not even exist if it were not for bees. I know a grand statement, but a great majority of our plant food exists because a little bee pollinated the flower that grew that food. Most plants and trees that produce a flower rely on bees to pollinate them to continue their typical life cycle. Those plants and trees provide humans with needed food and oxygen. So we need to live in harmony with all bees, even the killer ones!
When we found out that Costa Rica, the place we now call home, had killer bees we were of course concerned. Once we arrived and did not see swarms of killer bees everywhere we relaxed. Last week those dreaded killer bees made their way into our lives.
As I drove down my street, on my way home, a swarm of about 75 to 100 Africanized “killer” honey bees entered my car through my open windows. I posted a video about my experience below. After that scary experience, I decided to learn about Africanized “killer” honey bees and all bees in general. I want to dispel some of the myths around bees that cause so much fear.
Myth: All Bees Sting
When you see a bee, any bee, you swat at it and try to get away. For many of us, getting away involves running wildly down the street screaming with our hands flailing around our head (or is that just me?). Why do we act out this way when we see a bee? Generally, it is because we are afraid of them and do not want to get stung. But did you know that not all bees sting?
Bees do not fly around looking for their next victim to sting. If a bee stings it is because they feel threatened and sting out of defense. The bees that sting are female worker bees and they die afterward because the barbs in their stinger stay in their victim. Male drone bees do not even have stingers and are much more docile.
There are actually stingless bees that cannot sting at all. These types of bees will bite if they feel threatened but are generally very docile creatures who just go about their business of pollinating.
Myth: Bee Stings are Fatal
According to the USDA the average person, who is not allergic to bees, can withstand being stung 10-15 times. Those numbers included the Africanized “killer” honey bee, who is much more aggressive than the European honey bee. Africanized “killer” honey bees get their bad reputation because they are a much more defensive, aggressive, and tend to sting 6-10 times more than the European honey bee. They also hold a grudge for much longer and it can take several days for them to put down their defenses down compared to the European honey bee who is only agitated for a couple of hours.
After I was swarmed, my husband tried to come to my rescue but instead of saving me, he was stung 8 times in his head, neck, ears, and arm. He had some minor pain pulling out the stingers but other than that he did not have any kind of allergic reaction. He did get a very swollen, red, and angry ear for a few days but all ended well.
Myth: We Don’t Need Bees for Pollination
It is true that some plants self-pollinate but many more are pollinated exclusively by bees! If we did not have bees we would never get to enjoy cantaloupe, watermelon, kiwi, cashews, most squashes, and many other fruits, veggies, and nuts. I hope the next time you see a little bee pollinating something you give it an imaginary high five!
Stay Safe Around Bees
We need little honey bees out pollinating the world but, that does not change the fact that they are a bit scary. If you happen to encounter a bee or even a swarm of bees the following tips may help reduce your risk of being stung.
Reducing Your Risk of Being Stung
- Don’t swat at bees! Bees can see fast motion and it aggravates them even more. Try to remain calm while you quickly run away! This may explain why I was not stung by the more than 70 bees that flew in my window. I was calm because I did not know what they were at first.
- As you run away, pull your shirt up over your head to protect your face. A body sting is generally much less dangerous than one in the face near the eyes or nose.
- Water does not repel bees! Different types of bees, including the Africanized killer honey bee, will wait until you come up from the water. My husband sprayed himself with the hose and they kept attacking him.
- If you are trapped cover yourself with whatever you can (a blanket, newspaper, etc) to prevent being stung.
- Do not kill the bees that are attacking you. Dead bees attract more angry bees! Just run away!
How to Handle a Bee Sting
- If you are stung, first make sure you are safely away from the bees. Then with a credit card, quickly scrape the stinger off the skin or use fine tweezers to remove it. Leaving the bee stinger in your skin allows the venom to continue pumping into the body.
- Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a great way to neutralize the bee venom and reduce swelling and pain.
- A cold compress is another great way to reduce swelling and pain of a bee sting. Even something as simple as a bag of peas will do the job.
- Essential oils such as tea tree oil, lavender, and oil of oregano are natural antiseptics that can relieve the pain and swelling and reduce the risk of infection.
- 100% pure aloe vera is a great way to prevent infection and is a wonderful skin healer and soother.
When to See a Doctor
If you are allergic to bee stings get to the ER as soon as possible. If you are unsure if you are allergic watch for the following symptoms and if they occur go to the ER immediately!
- Difficulty breathing
- Fever or infection at the site of the bee sting.