At Home with Honey Bees
We frequently receive calls from homeowners asking how to removing honey bees from structures on their property. While a honey bee colony can cause structural damage…think about all of the honey oozing between the studs…safety is usually the primary concern. There are preventative measures to take reducing the risk of a honey bee invasion, and there are some specific steps to follow if bees take up residence in the yard. But first we should review some bee basics.
Honey bees (Apis mellifera Linnaeus) are social little critters who abide by a strict caste system consisting of drones, queens, and workers.
- Drones are male honey bees who are responsible for mating with queens from other colonies—this aids in genetic diversification.
- The queens’ job is reproduction.
- The workers, mostly non-reproductive females, do all of the work. What’s fascinating is the fact that a worker’s job is assigned according to the bee’s age. This is called temporal polyethism. For example, generally the senior citizen bees are responsible for working outside the hive to guard against predators (you); remove dead bees; and forage.
Most calls from homeowners occur in the spring and early summer. Here’s why: the queen bee produces 10 to 20 daughter queens. When the daughter queens are at the right age (late pupal stage) the queen and about two-thirds of the adult workers leave the colony in search of a new home. While the scouts are out looking for the perfect place to start a new colony, the queen and the remaining workers “swarm” in a safe place foraging for pollen until a new home is found. It’s these swarms that often invade our structures.
Wondering what happens to those daughter queens in the original colony? If a daughter queen emerges first (remember, they are in the late pupal stage when the original queen leaves) she will likely kill her siblings and become the queen bee. If the daughter queens all emerge around the same time, they will fight until one queen survives. The surviving queen then mates with about 15 drones (Rinse, repeat).
Back to those swarms. Swarms will generally last up to four days, and during this time, bees may occupy on just about anything in your yard, including tree branches, fence posts, mail boxes, or even lawn furniture. Colonies, however, will ideally settle in cavities with adequate protection from the elements; featuring a small opening for easy defense; and located three or more feet above ground. Africanized Honey Bees (AHB) are less particular about where they form a colony, so you can find them in water meter boxes, cinder blocks, tires…any place where a bee can access the cavity. European Honey Bees are more particular, so they are often found higher in structures.
Swarm and Colony Removal
If you find a swarm that poses a danger to humans, or you find a colony in a structure, you will probably want to have the bees removed. Unfortunately, there are no free removal services, so you will have to hire a registered beekeeper or a trained pest control operator.
Any structure that has a small opening into a cavity is a potential nesting site for honey bees. Look for small holes around your house. Even a small hole in home siding can become a potential colony location. To prevent nesting, here are a few tips:
- Use hardware cloth or insect screen to cover holes. This works well for cavities in trees, closing off vents, drains, downspouts, plumbing, etc.
- Seal cracks with 100% silicone caulk, expanding/insulating foam sealant, wood filler, duct tape, or concrete patching.
If you have detected bees in a cavity, do not seal the hole until the bees have been removed. If the bees become trapped, they may move deeper into the cavity, which may result in expensive repair bills.
Honey bees are a great asset to our world—they provide us with honey and they pollinate our crops. But in some cases, they can cause us harm. Inspect your yard and home frequently to identify potential honey bee colonies. If honey bees are found, hire a professional to remove the bees in the safest and least harmful (to you and the bees) method.
- Mortensen, A.N., Smith B. and Ellis, J.D. 2015. The Social Organization of Honey Bees. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in1102.
- Mortensen, A.N., Schmehl, D.R., and Ellis, J.D. 2013. European honey bee Apis mellifera Linnaeus, and subspecies (Insecta: Hymenoptera: Apidae). http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in1005.
- DeBerry S., Crowley J., and Ellis, J.D. 2012. Swarm Control for Managed Beehives. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in970.
- O’Malley, M.K. and Ellis, J.D. 2016. Choosing the Right Pest Control Operator for Honey Bee Removal: A Consumer Guide. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in771.
- O’Malley, M.K., Ellis, J.D., and Neal, A.S. 2016. Bee-Proofing for Florida Citizens. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in741.