We care a lot about disasters, fires, floods and Killer Bees
--We care a lot
--Faith No More
Killer bees - or more accurately, Africanized Bees, and even more accurately Africanized Honey Bees (AHB's) - are an abomination set loose in the Americas in 1957 when scientists accidentally released this hellspawn from their quarantine in Brazil. African bees were imported from southern Africa and were interbred with some of the locals. The idea was to breed a strain of bee which was better suited to the South American tropical climate, and which produce as much honey as their as their African cousins. The actual result, unfortunately, was a strain of bee which is much more aggressive than either African or European bees, and does not produce honey in volumes that redeem their violent natures.
When the africanized bees got out into the environment, they immediately began breeding with local bees. The genetic dominance of Africanized bees is overwhelming, and therefore interbreeding with european honey bees does not dilute the africanized subspecies' genetics. Beekeepers have noted that when their colonies are infected with killer bees, the colonies very quickly become volatile and unmanagable. Since killer bees look almost identical to european honey bees, it is impossible to prevent such an infection.
Since the 1950's, these bees have been spreading ever northward. In the beginning, they were spreading at a rate of about 200 miles per year, although, that has slowed down somewhat in recent years (perhaps because of the untropical climate - perhaps through the cooperation of beekeepers and state and federal agencies to minimize the colonization and effects of killer bees). The first swarm of killer bees was found in the United States in October 1990 in the town of Hidalgo, Texas, and, at the time of this writing, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Southern California are considered to be officially colonized by killer bees. They have also turned up in Nevada.
The first documented case of a killer bee attack in the United States was when Jesus Diaz was stung 18 times while trying to mow his lawn in May 1991. Two years later, in July of 1993, Lino Lopez, 82, became the first person in the U.S. to die from a killer bee attack. He was stung 40 times. Several casualties have been documented since then, (mostly the elderly) including an elderly Arizona woman who was stung thousands of times. (Try to imagine going out like that!)
Killer bees do not have more potent venom, nor do they have more venom than European bees, however they are much more likely to kill a target because of the vigorousness of their attacks. They will attack en masse, and will attack with less provocation - sometimes no provocation - and they will persue their victims for greater distances - if the victim can manage to run away at all. Once a killer bee colony has been agitated, it can sometimes take up to a day and a half for them to calm down, and will attack people and animals without provocation within a half-mile radius.
Having said that, I should point out that killer bees do not roam in swarms looking for things to attack. They are just animals, and like most animals, they will mind their own business until they feel threatened. Unfortunately they are easily disturbed and perceive threats from things like passing vehicles, or passers-by too close to their nest. Even so, in Mexico and Central America, people have been living (albeit not in great harmony) with killer bees, without much difficulty for a few decades now.
So what can you do to prevent an attack, or survive one, should you be unfortunate enough to encounter a hive? Your best defense, as always, is knowledge. If you know how bees act you can usually avoid them, or at least avoid pissing them off. Bees swarm in the spring and fall to replicate themselves. There is an excellent writeup on the hows and whys of swarming. Generally swarming bees won't bother you, unless you bother them. It's after they've established a nest and are producing and raising young that they well act with extreme prejudice.
Keep your eyes and ears open. And use your head, fer chrissakes. If you hear the hum of bees nearby, you probably don't want to start jamming sticks into crevaces to find them. Avoid the area, and contact a professional pest control service or a beekeeper. They know what they're doing, and have the materials to enhance that know-how.
Bees like to nest in cracks, holes in trees, small ground openings. Killer bees are even less particular about the surrounding environment. They will nest in old tires, and the junk that's been sitting at the back of your shed since 1972.
Do not provoke bees that are minding their own business.
Run for shelter. That is not to say panic and flee. But take refuge in your house or car, or somewhere safe as quickly as possible until they go away. Killer bees have been known to sting hundreds of times in a few seconds, so getting the hell out of Dodge is of the utmost importance. Almost all fatal killer bee attacks are on victims who could not get away. Penned or tied up animals, and elderly people, notably. When you're running away, do not dive into the water. I know it seems like a good idea, but bees will wait for you to come back up for air, and will strike as soon as you do. Unless you can hold your breath for ten minutes, you're better off to just keep running.
Should you survive an attack, you can take comfort in the fact that the bees can only sting once, and all of the females will die after they sting you.
Serves 'em right.
Throughout this writeup, you've probably noticed that I am somewhat biased against these creatures. I tried to be objective, but I'm not much of a lover of bees in general, and this subspecies in particular. When I was 8, I was attacked by wasps (the insects, not the White Anglo-Saxon Protestants), and I was stung hundreds of times. That was a very bad week for me. I have since had an aversion to all insects that bite, sting, or otherwise inject fluid into the bloodstream, possibly causing anaphylactic shock. The idea of swarming killer bees gives me the ultimate willies.
However, in the same manner that one cannot look away from a train wreck, I am morbidly fascinated by bees and hornets and wasps. Through the murk of this sick fascination, I still harbor a grave distaste for them. I hope this fact didn't ruin your reading experience here today.