Bees attacked an unidentified 71-year-old woman at about 4:30pm on Thursday in Southern California, leaving her hospitalized. After a hive that was buried in a Verizon cable box was disturbed, the elderly woman was stung over 1,000 times by “killer” Africanized honey bees.
The woman was completely covered, like she wearing a suit made out of bees, according to Cal Fire Battalion Chief Mark Williams. The swarm was estimated to consist of approximately 80,000 bees at the hive’s location in Palm Desert, when five firefighters came to the woman’s aid. It was even reported that stingers were being pulled out of her mouth. Three of those firefighters were taken to the hospital as well as a result of minor injuries from stings, and the other two were treated by EMTs at the scene.
The Sheriff’s Department in Riverside County sent out a reverse 911 call to residents within a two-mile radius, advising that there was a threat in the area and that people should stay indoors until the danger was cleared. The 71-year-old is recovering at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Palm Springs and it expected to live.
This instance is not the first regarding Africanized honey bees; in fact last summer, a Texas farmer was killed by a swarm half the size of the one that stung the unidentified, elderly woman over 1,000 times. Larry Goodwin, 62, was attacked near his home in the small town of Moody, Texas. Goodwin’s neighbors, a mother and daughter, tried to save him by spraying the bees with a water hose, but they were unsuccessful and left in critical condition themselves after suffering a myriad of stings.
A couple months before Goodwin was killed, two park employees in Tampa Bay, Florida were attacked by nearly 100,000 bees. They fortunately survived, as did a couple in Texas who were attacked by 30,000 bees while they were exercising their horses. The sky reportedly turned black, there were so many attacking them. They made it inside the the safety of their house covered in stings, but their two horses were killed.
Experts from the Department of Entomology at the University of Illinois say there are about 40 instances each year where people are killed by bees. Africanized bees are much more dangerous than the average honey bee. Their enhanced ability to kill is not a result of possessing a more “toxic” venom, though, according to Dr. May Berenbaum, a professor at the university. Rather, they are just more persistent in their attacks. Once attacked, the victim will be swarmed by thousands of bees, resulting in many human fatalities. An Africanized bee hive that is agitated can remain so for much longer than average bees and have been known to attack up to a quarter of a mile away from home.
The killer bees that attacked the elderly woman in Palm Desert over 1,000 times were relocated to other hives. Most hives in Southern California average roughly 3,000 to 5,000 bees and pose much less of a threat to residents. These bees were relocated rather than exterminated because bees have come under attack from a variety of sources and their low populations are a concern. Africanized bees also are able to produce more honey than average bees, probably due to their high metabolisms, and as such are useful.
By Matt Stinson