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What's the deal with killer bees?"

There are some questions we often get in our line of work. The most common is definitely "how many times have you been stung?" The answer is a lot, but another common question we hear is: "How do you deal with killer bees?"

To answer that question, let's talk about what a "Killer Bee" is.

The "killer bee" or Africanized bee is a hybrid species of the Western honey bee. These so-called "killer" bees were established when bees from southern Africa and Brazilian honeybees mated. This hybrid species was first identified in Brazil in the 1950s, but it quickly spread through Central and South America after a handful of swarms escaped quarantine.

This image taken in September 2015 and released by Kathy Keatley Garvey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, shows both Africanized, left, and European bees in Vacaville, Calif. Africanized honeybees, known as killer bees because of their swarming, aggressive and deadly nature when a colony is threatened, have made their way to the San Francisco Bay Area for the first time, researchers say. (Kathy Keatley Garvey/UC Davis via AP)

The first Africanized bees in the United States were discovered in 1985 at an oil field in California. Five years later, in 1990, the first permanent Africanized bee colonies arrived in Texas from Mexico. Today, Africanized honey bees are found in California, Nevada, Arizona, and Florida.

Africanised bees are sensitive to vibrations, sometimes mistaking them for approaching predators © Terry Ross Via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Because these bees are hybrids, they look so much like domestic honey bees that the only way to tell the two apart is by measuring their bodies. Africanized bees are slightly smaller, and they are golden yellow with darker bands of brown. Their venom is also surprisingly similar. The reason "killer bees" are feared and considered to be a more deadly species is their aggressiveness.

When a hive is disturbed with typical honeybees, they send out fewer bees in defense, even the most aggressive of hives will only send out a small swarm, which is usually no more than 10% of the hive. While you might get stung a few times, it is usually not deadly unless you have a severe allergy. European honeybee species do not sting to kill. When a bee stings it releases a pheromone to alert the colony to watch for future attacks. However, with killer bees, the entire colony attacks. Depending on the size, this could result in tens of thousands of bees stinging to defend the hive. With this concentration of venom, the victim could easily die if they are unable to get away. And unfortunately, Africanized bees are also disturbed and annoyed much more quickly, which makes them more dangerous. Even coming too close to a hive can summon an attack.

Some reports state these bees have been known to chase people for more than a quarter of a mile once they get excited and aggressive.

The good news is, that "killer bee" attacks are incredibly rare. This is partly because over the years, the hybrid species has continued to interbreed, and generation after generation, the aggression has been diluted and minimized. Of course, that's not to say we don't notice a hive that's a little more aggressive than others from time to time. Still, overall, the fear and fuss over these "killer bees" were greatly exaggerated and sensationalized for news stories and a few made-for-TV movies.

Deadly Invasion: The Killer Bee Nightmare (TV Movie 1995) - IMDb

But what should you do if you do encounter a swarm of really aggressive bees? For The more distance you can get between yourself and their hive, the better. Here are a few other helpful tips.

  1. RUN! Run away from the nest or bees as quickly as possible. Bees use an alarm pheromone to alert other hive members of a threat, so the longer you hang around, the more bees will arrive, ready to sting you.

  2. If you have a jacket or anything else with you, use it to cover your head. Protect your eyes and face if at all possible. Of course, don't obstruct your vision if you are running.

  3. Get indoors as quickly as possible. If you aren't near a building, get inside the nearest car or shed. Close the doors and windows to keep the bees from following you.

  4. If no shelter is available, keep running. African honey bees can follow you for as far as a quarter of a mile. If you run far enough, you should be able to lose them.

  5. Whatever you do, don't stay still if the bees are stinging you. These aren't grizzly bears; they will not stop if you "play dead."

  6. Don't swat at the bees or wave your arms to fend them off. That will only confirm that you are indeed a threat. You're likely to be stung even more.

  7. Don't jump into a pool or other body of water to avoid the bees. They can and will wait for you to surface, and will sting you as soon as you do. You can't hold your breath long enough to wait them out, trust me.

  8. If someone else is being stung by killer bees and cannot run away, cover them with anything you can find. Do what you can to quickly cover any exposed skin or susceptible areas of their body, and then run for help as fast as you can.

If you are allergic to bee venom or you have suffered multiple stings, seek medical attention immediately!

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