Experts Say Last Month's ‘Bee Attack’ Not Typical Behavior

Oct 3, 2017

In September, a Foxborough man mowing his lawn was stung by a swarm of insects he identified as bees, before dying of a subsequent heart attack. But some local bee experts say that kind of aggressive behavior is unusual for the pollinators.

John Burand, a professor at the University of Massachusetts who studies viruses infecting bees, used the honeybee as an example for how mild-mannered most bee species are.  

Italian or Ligurian honeybee worker.
Credit Ken Thomas / Wikimedia Commons

“It’s unusual for a honeybee that’s out busy gathering pollen or nectar to sting someone unless they are actively interrupting their behavior,” said Burand.

The honeybee is sometimes confused with the yellow jacket-- a wasp-- because of its narrow body, according to Burand. But unlike bees, yellow jackets are generally aggressive and can sting more than once. 

Polistes dominulus, the European paper wasp.
Credit James from Boulder / CC 2.0 via Flickr

Hundreds of bee species can be found in New England, according to Roger Gegear, a professor at Worcester Polytechnic institute who studies bee-plant interactions.

“A lot of them are no more than a quarter of an inch in length,” Gegear explained. “So people would think it’s a fly or something else—an ant—and not actually a bee.”

According to Gegear, some of the more noticeable bees are metallic blue or green.

“But some of them are just black and nondescript,” Gegear said.

Gegear stresses that the best way to avoid a bee attack is to stay away from their colonies.

But if someone is stung by a bee, excluding an allergy, Burand said a homemade meat tenderizer paste can reduce swelling.