Although stinging insects are generally more interested in doing their work than fighting, it’s important to know what to do if you encounter a deadly swarm. Simply avoiding bees wasps, yellow-jackets, and hornets is the best option for staying safe, but you should also know what to do if you can’t avoid an attack. Plus, it’s also a good idea to know how to treat injuries and conditions that result from venomous stings.
When recreating or working outside, it’s important to maintain a wilderness mindset that includes staying aware of your surroundings. Stay aware of areas where dangerous animals congregate; bees will be found around flowers and wasps can make their nests in most places. Know how to identify their homes from afar and listen for the buzzing of swarms.
Some places to look for hives and nests are:
Bees and wasps are sensitive to strong odors and may be drawn to body odor and other scents. Therefore, it’s important to wash your body and avoid using perfumes and colognes when spending time outdoors. These insects are also sensitive to dark objects, so wear light colored clothes to avoid being swarmed—but remember to avoid bright colors and floral patterns. Also make sure that all of your skin is covered by sturdy clothing when venturing outdoors. If you’re allergic to bees and wasps, remember to tell other people that you’re with to prepare them in case anything happens.
There are many different types of bees, wasps, yellow-jackets and hornets, but most species are docile and will leave you alone (unless they’ve been provoked). An exception to this rule are africanized bees, also known as killer bees. These creatures are extremely defensive and may swarm upon the sources of strong odors, loud noises, and strong vibrations that occur within 50 feet of their hives. Killer bees are predominantly found in the south-western region of the United States, but there are also colonies in Texas, Georgia, and Louisiana.
If you encounter a swarm, move away slowly since they are provoked by sudden movements. If the swarm moves upon you and begins an attack, begin running away as fast as you can. Remember to stay calm and aware to avoid tripping, falling, or running into something. The swarm will give up their pursuit once you’ve gotten far enough away from their nest or hive, so run in a straight-line in the opposite direction of their home.
Remember that swarms can pursue you for up to a quarter-mile, so just keep running, and consider discarding any gear that slows you down. Bees and wasps typically target the head and face, so make sure to wrap a blanket, jacket, or towel around your head while you run. Since stings on your body and limbs are much less severe, focus on protecting your head as much as possible.
Avoiding a swarm by submerging yourself in a body of water is generally not recommended since killer bees will hover and wait for you to resurface. Therefore, you’re better off just running away from all attacking swarms. But if you can’t run away due to injury or some other hinderance, seek shelter in a tent, cave, car, or other structure that you can be sealed into.
If you have medical training, remember the patent assessment system if you encounter someone that’s been swarmed by bees or wasps. Stingers should be immediately removed by scraping them away with a blunt object like a credit card or the dull side of a knife. Remember that anyone who’s been stung more than 15 times should seek medical treatment as soon as possible. Allergic reactions include localized swelling and can be treated with oral antihistamines, but watch for a worsening condition.
If you have a known allergy to bee stings, make sure that you always carry your epinephrine pen. If someone in your group is allergic to bees, it’s a good idea to get trained and receive an epipen certification. It’s also important to remember the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis:
Anyone showing signs of anaphylactic shock should be evacuated to a medical facility immediately since swelling can cause suffocation.
You won’t have much to worry about from dangerous animals you are wise, aware, and respectful when working or recreating in their habitats. Know how to spot and listen for the signs of bees, wasps, yellow-jackets, and hornets to avoid them—and just run away if you are swarmed. After that, keep on running for at least a quarter mile.