How to 'Bee' Safe During Swarm Season

Bees play a vital role in our environment and economy, but it's important to take precautions to avoid being stung. | Randy Dean

It's May in Arizona, which means it's the season of bee swarms in the desert. But according to experts, swarms of bees aren't as dangerous as you might think — and with a few common-sense tips, you can help keep them that way.

According to the University of Arizona, bees swarm when a bee colony produces a new queen. The old queen and some of the worker bees then leave the colony to start a new one. But the queen isn't a great flier, so the swarm must make stops to give her a chance to rest. 

It's important to know the difference between a bee swarm and a bee colony, the UA says. Bee swarms are usually out in the open, such as hanging from an exposed tree branch, and the bees rarely behave in a defensive manner. These swarms typically leave within a few days.

Bee colonies, on the other hand, are mostly hidden from view and can stick around for months, or even years. Those bees often do become defensive, and Africanized bees — which all of Arizona's wild bees are presumed to be — aren't as particular as European bees about where they set up shop, which can bring them into conflict with humans more often.

If you notice a bee swarm on your property, the UA recommends cordoning off the area until the bees move on. A bee colony, on the other hand, should be removed by an experienced beekeeper. Don't try to do it yourself.

People often call 911 to report bee swarms, but the UA's experts say there's no need to do that unless you've been stung and can't get away, or you see someone else being attacked by bees.

If you are attacked, don't panic. Most bee-related deaths occur due to people causing their own demise, such as by running into traffic or staying underwater too long and drowning, the UA says. You should run, though, in a straight line, and find shelter in a car, house or building. If you're out on a hiking trail and there's no shelter nearby, run the length of two football fields — that's 240 yards, or 720 feet — before stopping. And try to avoid other people, or they'll be attacked as well.

Bees are slow fliers, the UA says, and a healthy person should be able to outrun them. Once you're out of danger, scrape off any stingers, and wash sting sites with soap and water. If you've been stung more than 30 times, the UA recommends going to the emergency room. An ER visit is also necessary if you notice symptoms of anaphylactic shock, which include difficulty breathing or swallowing, itching and swelling of the eye area, a rapid or faint pulse, and dizziness.

Bee swarms are most common in May and June, experts say.

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