True Stories

Bees Aren't Vicious Creatures, But These Swarm Stories Are Total Nightmares  

Crystal Brackett
13 items

Bee swarms can happen pretty much anywhere, any time, and out of nowhere. From residential backyards to the inside cabins of Russian airplanes, no place or person is safe from potential bee invasion. Sometimes, these swarm stories become very entertaining anecdotes, as long as nobody gets hurt.

Swarms of bees can be completely harmless or incredibly dangerous, depending on the type of bee involved. There's typically nothing to fear about swarms of European honey bees, for example; usually, they're happy little buzzers who collect pollen to make nectar and won't set out to sting anyone unless they've been threatened or otherwise provoked. But in the event that they've been upset or are a cross-breed of the African honey bee, these bees can go from peppy pollinators to vicious killer bees in an instant.

The ways in which people deal with bee attacks are not necessarily dissimilar from other bug infestations. Though some bee swarms can truly be deadly, not all bees are vicious killers; however, it's important to know why bees swarm and how to avoid experiencing what it's like to be swarmed by bees

A Beekeeper In North Carolina Drove Almost 50 Miles With 3,000 Bees Loose In His Truck
A Beekeeper In North Carolina ... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Bees Aren't Vicious Creatures, But These Swarm Stories Are Total Nightmares
Photo: Mrs Airwolfhound/flickr/CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

One spring morning in 2018, Wallace Leatherwood bought 18,000 bees and loaded them up in boxes in his truck. During some errands and a lunch break, he moved a few of the boxes – about 3,000 bees – to the cab of his truck to keep them out of the North Carolina heat. When he returned to his vehicle some time later, he found the boxes black with escaped bees, crawling over the driver's seat of his truck, a site that would make most people flee in horror. 

But did Leatherwood abandon ship and bail on his bees? Absolutely not: at $165 per box of bees, the cargo was too valuable to risk losing. Instead, he gingerly got into his truck amid the mess of bees and started the almost 50-mile drive home, making a quick stop along the way to prank his son with a bee swarm at work. 

Leatherwood is a beekeeper by trade, thus his affinity to insects is stronger than most – he doesn't even wear a bee suit most of the time when caring for his creatures.

Bees Sometimes Swarm Off Their Hive To Create New Ones, And The Outcomes Can Be Tragic
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Bees leave their main colony and swarm off to create a new hive to continue their growth. Thus, if a person keeps bees, finding some other stray colonies around the neighborhood that have detached from their original hive isn't uncommon. However, if these honey bees aren't found by their beekeepers, they can potentially breed with the aggressive African honey bee, forming hostile hives.

Since there are no city codes restricting beekeeping in the state of Florida, it's easier for bees to break off and form stray hives in populated, residential areas. In 2017, a feral colony of cross-bred bees swarmed a family dog that had wandered out to explore the property lines, relentlessly stinging her hundreds of times. 

She had to be put down, due to the severity of the toxins. Africanized hives have been fatal to other Floridian animals who have disturbed hives and, on occasion, they've attacked and killed people.

Escaped Bees Set A Russian Flight Abuzz
Escaped Bees Set A Russian Fli... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Bees Aren't Vicious Creatures, But These Swarm Stories Are Total Nightmares
Photo: Pacific Southwest Region/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

What better way to enjoy a 10-hour flight to Moscow than with a cabin full of bees? In 2011, two swarms of bees burst open on board a Russian airplane, and thousands of tiny, winged passengers began crawling around the airline cabins. Airline attendants secured the bees – reportedly without injury to themselves or other passengers – and the flight continued.

It turned out the bee trafficker was a passenger – who allegedly may have been drunk when they stowed two cardboard boxes containing swarms of bees in the overhead compartment. After the bees' removal, the plane was fumigated and continued from Moscow to Spain. However, a few sneaky bees continued to linger around for the ride and made it all the way to Barcelona.

Bees Built An Epic Honeycomb In The Roof Of A Brooklyn Apartment – And Poured Honey Down The Walls
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When a concerned Brooklyn, New York, resident called a cruelty-free extractor in 2017 for her bee problem, she found out that she was living with much more than just some stray bees. What she assumed to be a small hive ended up being a thriving colony of 35,000 striped roommates.

When bee rescuer Mickey Hegedus came to clear the bees, he needed to carve a four-foot hole into the ceiling to cut through the massive honeycomb formed over the years of habitation. As he set the swarm of bees free, chunks of honeycomb fell from the sky, and honey poured down the bedroom walls.

Hegedus reportedly spent seven hours removing all the bees from the premises so he could take them home and relocate them. Honey bees weren't all this beekeeper took home, though. He also harvested a whopping 70 pounds of honey as a bonus for his efforts.