Bee Wary: Why You Should Never Jump Into Water to Avoid a Bee Attack

An angry bee is a dangerous bee.
An angry bee is a dangerous bee. / proxyminder/E+ via Getty Images

Few common insects prompt as much anxiety as the humble and largely harmless bee, which carries with it a reputation for inflicting pain. (Or, if you happen to be allergic, life-threatening reactions.) Mostly, honeybees leave you alone if you leave them alone. But on the off-chance you manage to anger a swarm, don’t think jumping into a pool or lake is going to save you.

In an interview with Scientific American, insect behaviorist Justin Schmidt cautioned that the widespread belief that bees can’t attack you while you’re underwater is a dangerous thought. Technically, it's true: The bees won’t dive-bomb into the water. What they will do, however, is wait until you surface—sometimes for hours.

Schmidt, who recently authored the book The Sting of the Wild, told the outlet that bees once hovered over a man who rushed into a lake to avoid their wrath. The swarm idled over the lake for hours, utterly determined to carry out their assault. The man, Schmidt explained, was spared only when the bees returned to their hive at sunset.

Bees are attracted to carbon dioxide, which you’ll produce in bubbles while trying to wait them out. This essentially gives off your location, and the bees will lurk in the hopes of messing you up.

This can quickly become a nightmare scenario. University of California at San Diego ecology professor James Nieh told The Washington Post that people trying to evade bees under water are often panicked and come up gasping for air. When the bees dive in, they wind up inhaling them, getting stung internally. Emergency responders, Nieh said, have found bodies with inhaled bees in them.

You also want to avoid spraying bees with a garden hose. This will only cause the bees more stress. (Fire departments might, however, spray bees with soapy water or foam, which can be a deterrent.)

If you manage to agitate a swarm of honeybees, they may give you a warning by bumping into you. Avoid swatting them—the bees register fast motion as aggressive. Instead, calmly leave the area. If the bees are already on the offensive, seek shelter in a car or other enclosed area. (But not a garden shed or other ventilated space. Bees will obviously find a way in.) You can also run. At about a quarter-mile, the bees might give up the pursuit.

If you do get stung, you should first remove the stinger—a needle-like protrusion—by stretching your skin and using your fingernails, a credit card, or tweezers. Wash the area and apply a cold compress. If you experience more widespread symptoms, like trouble breathing, or if you’ve been stung multiple times, seek medical attention.

[h/t Scientific American]