“Help! How do I get rid of bees in my house (or tree or shed?)” That’s a question we get a lot as beekeepers. In this post I’m going to talk about bee removal for both the one wanting the bees removed and for the beekeeper doing the removal.
Points that I’ll talk about are:
- The various kinds of bee “infestations”
- Types of bee removals
- What Happens to the bees after a proper removal
- Why you should hire a beekeeper and actually pay him or her
So stay with me and I’ll try to help clear up some of the unknowns and give you information to make an informed decision.
Let’s dive right in.
There are 8 species of honeybees in the world, and all of them make their homes differently. Some build comb openly on the sides of trees or mountains, and some prefer to build in the hollowed out cavities. Only one honeybee, however has been “employed” in the Western World, and that one is Apis mellifera. One reason for that is they like to build their homes inside well-protected spaces with small entrances that they can defend. That’s not to say that they won’t build in the open, as I have seen, quite unusually this year in trees, but generally they like closed spaces like shed floors, walls, trees, attics and the like.
I never refer to bees as an infestation because they never really overrun a place. They will find a cavity and build comb to raise young and store honey as long as they have food available. When they reach a certain size (usually about 60,000 bees) they will create a new queen and then half the colony will leave with the old queen. This usually happens in the spring because of the abundance of food. In the winter their numbers will decrease.
The most common places I find unwanted bees is:
- shed floors
- exterior walls
- attic spaces
- valve boxes
- compost bins
- electrical boxes
- block walls
- olive tree root zones
- mulberry tree knots
- old dressers and couches left outside
- hot tub frames
- palm trees
Basically these are all spaces that offer cool, defensible cavities in which bees can attach comb and live in the dark.
What about swarms?
Swarms are those clusters of bees you see hanging on trees or flying through the air as a dark buzzing cloud. It is the offshoot of an established colony that has outgrown its space. These are usually alarming to see, but they are actually bees in their most docile state. They are resting when you see them hanging while scout bees are out looking for a place to colonize. It’s a good idea to call a beekeeper to get these because you don’t want them moving in to one of the above homesites. If you do nothing the bees will usually leave within 48 hours since that is the extent of the honey stored in their stomachs. They need to find a home and usually do. Sometimes they don’t and will build comb right where they are.
Types of Bee Removals
Nearly all wild honeybees in Arizona are Africanized and will defend their home aggressively. As the colony and food stores grow so does their defensiveness. I say this because many people think that the bees that just moved in are super nice so there is no reason to worry. It’s true that they are usually nice at this point, but they will not be so nice as they grow.
You have two safe options for removing bees from your property.
- Call an exterminator (bad choice)
- Call a beekeeper (good choice)
Exterminators often do not know how to deal with honeybees and give a lot of wrong advice, especially when the bees are living in your house. If bees are sprayed with chemicals the comb left in the walls or ceiling is full of brood and unripe nectar that will rot and attract other pests. Summer heat can also melt the wax, which will seep down your walls. It is best to cut open the space and get it out. But if you are going to do that anyway, why not have a beekeeper do it and save the bees?
Beekeepers understand how bees live and build their homes. They have the proper tools to safely remove bees with their queen and comb, and to re-home the entire colony so that it can benefit the environment. Beekeepers also don’t use toxic chemicals that can harm you and your family. In a proper removal all of the comb and residual beeswax will be scraped and removed from surfaces and entrances to the location sealed when possible.
What happens to the bees after a proper removal
Bees will leave your property either in a hive or other container with any comb that they have built. There will be eggs, larvae, pupae and food in that comb that is essential for the colony’s survival. If the queen was found she will often be placed in a queen clip to ensure the bees remain in the new hive. If the queen isn’t found, then at least the bees will be able to make a new queen if there are eggs or very young larvae. Sometimes the queen is accidentally killed in the removal process but usually she is saved.
In Arizona, beekeepers will generally order a new queen to replace the Africanized queen. This act will change the genetics of the colony and it will no longer be Africanized as the new queen has been mated with non-Africanized drones in another location.
The colony will live to pollinate, grow, and make honey that the beekeeper can harvest in a year or so.
Why you should hire a beekeeper and actually pay him or her
I hope that after reading this post you get the idea that hiring a beekeeper is far better than hiring an exterminator for the job. That said, many people think that beekeepers should do all that work for free because they get bees. I probably would have thought that too if I didn’t know how hard the work of removing those bees actually is. Many of the jobs that I have done take 3-5 hours of very hard, dusty, hot, sticky work that usually includes a few stings. We do a very good job of cleaning, vacuuming, scraping, and getting every last bee that we can find. Then when we are finished at the location we have to take the bees to a location that us usually far away from people so that we can work with the bees safely. We then purchase new queens, feed the bees, and continue to work with them for a year before we get a drop of honey. Exterminators come in, spray and kill the bees, collect their money and move on to the next job.
Beekeepers are doing good work to help homeowners, keep our environment clear of toxic chemicals, save our most important pollinators al at the same time.