The four landscapers had been working for a 90-year-old homeowner in Douglas, Arizona, when they were attacked. The Douglas Fire Department has since specified that the insects had been living in a 3-by-8-foot hive in the attic of the property.
One of the men later died in hospital, and another was treated and later released after being stung more than 100 times. The two other workers refused to receive treatment.
Honey bees or killer bees?
Douglas Fire Chief Mario Novoa told USA Today, “we treat them all as Africanized [killer] bees,” because the honey bee population is dwindling.
It doesn’t take much to provoke a swarm of killer bees, and although their venom is not particularly potent, attacks are often fatal.
May Berenbaum, a professor at the University of Illinois’s Department of Entomology, told CBS News last year that the cause of death is usually the number of stings.
Killer bee venom is “not more toxic”, but killer bees are “more likely to pursue the source of disturbance more consistently.when provoked.”
“Bee venom is a cocktail of biologically active components that are designed to inflict pain. The honey bee stings only defensively — they don’t try to kill, they try to educate.”
Exterminators called to the scene of Wednesday’s attack have estimated that the colony had been growing for at least ten years. The bees had started building another nest near to the original hive, because the honeycomb was so compressed that it was forcing them out.
“They were dropping down at me even before I started approaching it,” exterminator Jesus Corella told Tucson News Now. “That was before I started spraying. They were dive-bombing me and that’s a sign to back off, back way off.”
There are around 40 fatal bee attacks per year in the U.S., and according to Boston Children’s Hospital around 2 million Americans have bee sting allergies. Stings can provoke anaphylactic shock in allergy sufferers.