Metro

Foxborough father may have been stung by ‘aggressive’ yellow jackets, experts say

Eric Dahl, with his daughters Casey (left), 12, and Emma, 14.

Alison Dahl

Eric Dahl, with his daughters Casey (left), 12, and Emma, 14.

Two biology professors who study bees speculate the Massachusetts man who died after being stung Saturday could have been attacked by yellow jackets.

Eric Dahl, 48, was blowing leaves in his backyard in Foxborough when he was stung Saturday. His wife, Alison, didn’t see what happened, but suddenly he stopped working and told her that he’d been stung by a “ton of bees” and that he felt like he was going to pass out.

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On Wednesday, she was still not sure what kind of insect attacked her husband.

“All I know is my husband said he was stung by a ton of bees,” she said in an e-mail to the Globe. “I did not witness it and we have not been able to find exactly where he was stung.”

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James Traniello, a biology professor at Boston University, said people sometimes confuse bees with yellow jackets, which are a type of wasp with recognizable black and yellow stripes.

“If you were being attacked by either wasps or bees, the first thing you probably think of is a bee,” Traniello said.

“I think that the likelihood of it being honeybees is very, very low,” Traniello said. “He probably encountered yellow jackets that were nesting in the ground. They’re very aggressive.”

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Robert J. Gegear, assistant professor and director of the New England Bee-cology Project at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, also acknowledged that it might have been a case of mistaken identity.

“People tend to use the term bee loosely,” Gegear said.

But Gegear noted that it’s not possible to draw a definitive conclusion from only anecdotal evidence and news reports.

While bees are relatively docile and collect nectar and pollen from flowers, yellow jackets are generally more aggressive and are attracted to a variety of things, including meat, sugary foods, soda cans, and garbage, he said.

“It’s the yellow jackets that bother you at a picnic or [are] flying around your garbage. Those are not bees. That’s where the bees get a bad rap,” Gegear said.

Traniello advises people to be careful of yellow jacket nests. If you find one on your property, he suggests hiring a professional to eliminate it. “Over-the-counter wasp control products at hardware stores [are] not very effective,” he said.

Gegear noted that this time of year, there are more yellow jackets out gathering food before the start of winter.

Regardless of whatever species of insect it was, both professors were saddened when they heard the news of Dahl’s untimely death and expressed sympathy to his family.

“I personally think it’s a tragedy,” Gegear said. “It’s definitely a tragedy.”

In the United States, more people were killed after coming into contact with wasps, hornets, and bees than any other type of animal, according to data tracked by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Between 1999 and 2014, wasps, hornets, and bees killed 921 people.

By comparison: Dogs killed 486 people, nonvenomous insects and arthropods killed 143 people, venomous spiders killed 112 people, venomous snakes and lizards killed 101 people, marine animals killed 19, alligators or crocodiles killed nine people, and rats killed three people.

The National Safety Council, a nonprofit created by Congress to promote safety, estimates based on CDC mortality data that the odds of being killed after coming into contact with wasps, hornets, and bees are 1 in 63,225.

Still, that pales in comparison to other common causes of death.

The organization says that, for example, the odds of dying from heart disease or cancer are 1 in 7; chronic lower respiratory disease, 1 in 28; intentional self-harm, 1 in 95; unintentional poisoning, 1 in 96; and motor vehicle crash, 1 in 114.

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney. Matt Rocheleau of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.
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