Texas Horses Dead after being Swarmed by Bees

Two horses are dead after being swarmed by bees in Texas.

The Callahan County, Texas, Sheriff's Deputy Larry Lemon said sheriff's personnel responded to a call from an owner in Eula on June 13 saying both his horses were involved in a bee attack. Upon arrival the deputies discovered one horse down in a field and the other outside the pasture trying to escape the swarming insects, Lemon said.

“The owner was washing down the horses when the bees attacked,” Lemon said. “He was able to escape the bees, but could not get to the horses in time.”

Lemon said both horses had probably been stung thousands of times; both animals were euthanized at the scene.

“All we could do before we humanely put the horses down was wait until the bees calmed down,” Lemon said. “There was nothing else we could do.”

Lemon said the horses were likely attacked by Africanized bees located on the property.

Africanized bees are an aggressive strain of hybrid honeybee produced by the interbreeding common European honeybees and African bees that were inadvertently released in Brazil in the 1950s. The insects traveled into Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California in the 1990s. Africanized bees can establish colonies in barns, vacant buildings, trees, and in ground cavities, and colonies can grow to include several hundred thousand bees.

Leslie Easterwood, DVM, assistant clinical professor at the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Center, explained that Africanized bees react violently by swarming nearby humans and animals whenever they or their hives are disturbed. Though Africanized bee attacks are relatively rare, they are likely to cause severe reactions in both humans and horses, she said.

Easterwood said that, like humans, horses exposed to large amounts of bee venom are susceptible to anaphylactic shock, which can cause hives, sweating, difficulty breathing, an irregular heartbeat, a drop in blood pressure, fluid accumulation, and death in severe cases.

“It is possible that horses that are highly susceptible might have had little (bee) bites previously and the sheer number of bees in a swarm is just too much for them,” Eastesrwood said.

Easterwood said bee stings in horses can treated with injectable antihistamines, epinepherine, and anti-inflammatory steroidal drugs. Though treatment for a small number of stings can be successful, it is best to avoid contact with Africanized bee swarms altogether, she said.

Trail riders can avoid Africanized bee attacks by being mindful of bee hives that might be located in trees or in ground crevices. Horse owners should also routinely check their properties for bee hives located in pastures, paddocks, and in barns, Easterwood said.

“If you see a hive in your barn, get the people and the animals out of there as soon as possible, then call in a professional exterminator to remove it,” Easterwood said. “Don't try to remove it yourself.”

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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