Bee swarm attacks on the rise, but deaths still rare

May 08, 2013

The body of a hiker who was missing for three days was discovered in Santa Cruz County late Monday covered in bee stings. Attacks by swarms of bees are up this year.

bees Africanized honey bees. (Photo courtesy of

Steven Johnson’s co-workers alerted the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department after he didn’t come to work Monday. Johnson, 55, was last seen heading to the Santa Rita Mountains to climb Friday.

A search and rescue team found the Tucson man’s body hanging from a climbing rope, covered in bee stings.

Attacks by swarms of bees are more common in the late spring and early summer in Arizona, according to Mazda Shirazi from the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center.

"The bees are out and more active in terms of collecting pollen, and humans are very active also," Shirazi said.

There were about 450 cases of bee, wasp and hornet stings severe enough to be reported to the poison center last year — they call it massive bee envenomation.

Shirazi says the numbers are up this year, but, he says, deaths from bee stings are actually uncommon — less than ten a year in Arizona.

It takes about 500 bee stings to kill a person.