14 Things You Should Know About Being Attacked by a Swarm of Bees

Let's be clear about one thing: bees are cool and we definitely need them to survive. That being said, they're sometimes pretty dangerous to our health, too. Death by bee swarm has been known to occur, and when it happens, it's never pretty. You might be wondering what being swarmed by bees is like, but we don't recommend you go try it. Instead, we'll be happy to tell you, step by step, what it's like.

If you're wondering, "Can a swarm of bees kill you?" be assured that the answer is a resounding yes. In fact, many people die from bees in the United States every year. It's rare, and if you're not allergic then you'd need to to be swarmed by a ton of bees for it to happen, but it is in fact possible.

In most cases, bee swarms attack out of defense rather than some sort of malice, but that doesn't make the prospect any less frightening. So settle back and, from the safety of your own home, learn what happen when bees give you more than just honey.

  • It'll Probably Be Your Fault

    Believe it or not, the average bee is not an aggressive nightmare, even if it's hanging out with a whole lot of other bees. Wasps and hornets may be aggressive little bugs, especially at a picnic, but bees honestly are not very interested in your sandwich or your glass of wine. Because of this, if you're attacked by a swarm of bees, chances are you probably did something to incite it.

    Swarms may be on the move away from a hive, as when a group seeks out a new residence due to overcrowding or a new queen, and you may just be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but this is rare. More likely, you stepped in their nest or swatted it. Maybe you tried to spray the swarm, or tried to vacate them from wherever they were nesting. The most common way for you to get attacked by bees is for you to do something to upset them, either on accident or on purpose. Just be smart out there and don't go around antagonizing bees. 

  • Unless They Are Africanized

    Unfortunately, there is one very specific case where bees can get unusually aggressive. In the early 1990s, Africanized honey bees first hit the scene in North America, and things began to get a little more violent. These bees are identical in appearance to our usual bees, which were brought over from Europe, but the difference is that they're far more touchy when it comes to intruders. They're more likely to attack you, will chase you for longer, and have a much lower tolerance for nest invasion or damage. In other words, just being in their near vicinity can set these guys off.

    What's worse is that in Texas, most domestic bees have some crossbreeding with Africanized bees, which may account for the fact that several bee-related deaths over the last few years have taken place in Texas. 

  • You Don't Actually Have to Be Allergic

    The vast majority of deaths due to bees have to do with some sort of allergic reaction. People have a reaction to the venom in bee stings, they go into anaphylactic shock, and they can die within minutes of the initial sting. However, that's not the only way bees can kill you. Bee venom is, in fact, harmful, but the average bee doesn't produce enough venom in order to do any real damage. Plus, bees don't sting you over and over - a bee can only inject venom into your body once before dying. However, if attacked by a swarm, you may receive tons of stings, and that can be enough to become seriously dangerous.

    If you're wondering how much you could take, keep in mind that the average human can tolerate ten stings per pound of body weight. So, it'll take a lot to kill you, but it is certainly possible.

  • They'll Chase You for a Long Time

    They'll Chase You for a Long Time
    Photo: charlesroper / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    So, let's say that you've disturbed a nest and a swarm of bees is coming after you. What's the best thing to do first? Why, run, of course! Standing still, ducking and covering, and trying to fight them off are the worst things you can do, so rely on that flight instinct and get going!

    There's only one little problem with this plan: you're going to have to run for quite a while. You see, bees are pretty fast in general, and once they've made up their mind to mess you up, they're pretty determined. Some swarms of bees even chase down their victims for up to half a mile before giving up, assuming they don't catch and incapacitate you first. So let's hope you've been working on your cardio. 

  • Jumping in the Water Won't Help

    Jumping in the Water Won't Help
    Photo: markb120 / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    You might think that diving into a lake or a pool might keep the bees away from you, but this is actually a terrible plan. It's not like once you hit the water the bees give up, and you need air to live, so you're going to have to surface eventually. The bees are going to be waiting for that opportunity. They'll also know you're there, so they won't get tired and eventually go home. They'll call for reinforcements, and you'll be stuck in the water for a long time, being stung whenever you come up for air. Even the USDA warns strictly against seeking refuge in water. 

  • You May Be Stung Over 1000 Times

    You May Be Stung Over 1000 Times
    Photo: skiena / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    If you come across a swarm away from a hive, it usually means one thing. When a hive becomes overcrowded, a new queen can sometimes appear and take over; then a large portion from the original hive has to leave. We're talking about a queen and up to 20,000 bees just flying along in a single swarm, looking for a new home. If you get in their way, they can decide it's time for you to go down.

    People who have died from bee swarms have been found with 1,000 individual stings, and that number could be even higher. What's worse is that the more you fight back, the more stings you may get. Again, running or getting inside are really the only ways you have a chance.