Deadly encounters with hikers are extremely rare, however Justin Schmidt, an insect behaviorist at the Tucson-based Southwest Biological Institute, has a few simple suggestions to make sure people hike safely in areas where bees are likely to be present. He says it is best to wear light-colored clothing. Honeybees have evolved to recognize threats from predators like bears, honey badgers and other dark-furred mammals. Also, avoid the color red, which appears black to bees. Never approach or disturb a nest. If you notice bees entering or exiting a rock crevice, a hole in the ground or a tree cavity, there might be a nest in the hole. Leave the area immediately.
Schmidt also suggests that hikers pay attention to bee behavior. If bees fly into you or begin to swarm over or around you, they are probably trying to warn you off. Remember, do not swat at the bees or flail your arms, just leave. If you accidentally disturb a nest, run immediately. Try to get to an enclosed shelter (such as a car), or run until the bees stop following you. It might be necessary to get a quarter-mile or more away from where the attack began. Cover your face with whatever is handy, if you can do so without impairing your vision.
Never jump into a body of water to escape bees. They will wait for you to surface. Schmidt points to a case in which a swarm of bees hovered for hours over a man in a lake, stinging him whenever he came up for air. The man survived the attack only because the bees returned to their hive after sunset.
Schmidt warns that some common tips for avoiding bee attacks might seem reasonable but are not supported by science. “You often read things like ‘avoid floral-scented perfumes and deodorants,’ but that’s a bunch of malarkey,” he says. According to Schmidt, bees use smells, but there is no evidence that wearing flower-scented perfumes or sprays attracts bees. Fortunately, avoiding potentially dangerous situations with bees is straightforward. “Just be sensible for heaven’s sake,” Schmidt advises. “Pay attention to posted warnings. Wear light colors. And if you see bees, get away from them.”
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