Skip to main content
ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Tucson, Arizona » Carl Hayden Bee Research Center » Docs » Bee Safety » Bee Safety

Bee Safety
headline bar

Stay away from honey bee colonies. Honey bees nest in a wide variety of locations, such as pipes, holes, animal burrows or even in cavities within saguaro cacti or trees. Be alert. Bees living in an established colony will make a “beeline” for the entrance - flying in and out of an opening in a very regular pattern. Listen for buzzing sounds. Be especially alert when climbing, because honey bees often nest under rocks or within rock crevices. Don't put your hands where you can't see them.

Not all honey bees you see are a potential threat. Honey bees often visit campsites for water or sweets (especially soda containers) or may be seen visiting flowers for nectar. Bees gathering food or water are called "foraging" bees. As long as they are away from the nest, honey bees are not overly defensive. They will only sting if stepped on or trapped in some way. However, a large number of honey bees foraging in one area may indicate a colony is nearby. If you intend to camp in the area, look around for the colony first. If you know you are allergic to bee stings, always have someone else with you when doing outdoor activities.

If you find a colony of bees, leave them alone and keep others away. Do not shoot, throw rocks at, try to burn or otherwise disturb the bees. Do not attempt to control them with aerosol sprays. If the colony is near a trail or near areas frequently used by humans, notify your local Forest Service, Game and Fish Department or Parks and Recreation Department.  Honey bee colonies vary in behavior over time, especially with changes in age and season. You may pass the same colony for weeks, and then one day provoke them unexpectedly. Don't EVER disturb or tease bees, and do not try to remove bees yourself.

Wear appropriate clothing. When hiking in the wilderness, wear light-colored clothing. Honeybees may be aggravated by textures and colors that resemble the characteristics of their natural predators (such as bears and skunks). When they defend their nests, Honey bees will target dark, leathery, or furry objects and will attack the most sensitive areas including the eyes, ears, and nose. 

Avoid wearing scents of any sort when hiking or working outside. Honey bees communicate with one another using pheromones (scents) and are quite sensitive to odors. Avoid strongly scented shampoo, soaps, and perfumes. Citrus odors are also known to aggravate honeybees. 

Be particularly careful when using any machinery that produces sound vibrations or loud noises. Bees are alarmed by the vibration and/or loud noises produced by equipment such as chain saws, weed eaters, lawn mowers, tractors or electric generators. Again, check your environment before you begin operating noisy equipment.

Pet safety. When hiking it is best to keep your dog on a leash or under close control. An animal bounding through the brush is likely to disturb a colony and be attacked. When the animal returns to its owner, it will bring the attacking bees with it. If your animals or pets are being stung, follow the above mentioned procedures of finding shelter, and covering vulnerable areas. Don't pen, tie, or tether animals near known bee hives or nests. Keep animals away from apiaries and bee nests. 

 

Remember these important steps if you encounter aggressive bees: