Beware of African Bees in the Garden

As if we did not have enough potential attackers to worry about, Africanized honey bees (those so-called killer bees) have arrived in Los Angeles gardens. Actually, they have been in our area for several years. I write about them here as a cautionary tale to gardeners who, hearing of my experience, might be able to avoid apian mishaps of a similar kind.
Two weeks ago, I was examining some tall grassy weeds on an embankment of a residence in Brentwood, near Sunset Boulevard and the 405 Freeway. Suddenly, I was surrounded by a horde of bees. They were in my hair, all over my face, and on my arms. When I finally managed to fight them off, I had been stung about a dozen times. Half of those stings were inflicted on my right ear, which, 24 hours later, suddenly swelled up several inches in all directions. It was a full week, and 20 or so doses of Benedryl later, before my ear had shrunk back to its usual size.
In order to avoid a similar incident, avoid going near groups of buzzing bees. Immediately after I had repulsed the Sunset Boulevard bees, I looked back at the scene of the attack. Several yards away, there was an oak tree with a large number of bees buzzing in and out of a hollow in its trunk, clearly the home of a bee colony. The bees saw me as a highly undesirable trespasser who had to be stopped, no matter the cost. As you may know, a bee dies after it stings its human or animal victim.
Why hadn’t I noticed all those bees near the tree, only a short distance from the weeds that had stolen all of my attention? I may have been vaguely aware of the bees’ presence without paying them any special notice.
In truth, I cannot say for sure if I was attacked by Africanized or ordinary honey bees. In researching the subject I have learned that the venom of an Africanized bee is actually weaker than the venom of a regular honey bee. The difference is that the Africanized bees attack in greater numbers and so they present a greater hazard. At the same time, the likelihood of being lethally attacked is small, since a person must receive 10 stings for every pound of body weight to be in mortal danger. In other words, no less than 1,500 stings would be required to take the life of someone weighing 150 pounds.
Africanized bees are famous for chasing their victims over long distances. Yet while they may pursue someone who trespasses near their colony for a distance of 150 yards, regular honey bees will chase you for 50 yards. I was chased for 30 yards so I cannot say, on this basis, which bees were involved in my attack.
One word of caution: If attacked, do not swat, much less try to kill, the bees. I learned that the scent of a dead bee is highly attractive to its kin. In my case, two bees got tangled in my hair and I squashed them on my scalp. This merely served to encourage more bees to attack, singling out my ear for special treatment.
After being stung, you should try to remove the stinger by brushing it off with the back of your hand, a credit card, or any other suitable object in the vicinity. The stinger can keep pumping venom for up to 10 minutes and the more venom that goes in, the greater the swelling will be. Tweezers should not be used, as they speed up entry of the venom under the skin. Immediately put ice on the area to minimize swelling. If it itches, do not scratch, since scratching can invite bacteria and lead to an infection.
Less than one person out of 100 has a systemic reaction to bee stings, characterized by a rash, shortness of breath or swelling beyond the area that was stung. If such symptoms develop, call 911. A person who is allergic to bee venom is at mortal risk even if stung only once and needs to carry an anti-venom protective kit at all times.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Bees can swarm in and colonize almost any hollow area. Seal off any gaps on the outside walls of garages and sheds, cover tree hollows, plug holes in the lids of irrigation valve boxes, get rid of old tires in the back yard, and close windows all the way in cars that have been sitting in the driveway for longer than you can remember.

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