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Bee Removal

Bees in Swarms

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Removing Swarm

To find local beekeepers in your area that will remove bee swarms, simply click here.

Some useful information about an amazing phenomenon

Extracted from an article by Marion Ellis, Extension Apiculture Specialist, University of Nebraska

1. What is a honeybee swarm?

Honeybee swarms are a favorite topic of people who make horror movies. Actually, they are one of the most beautiful and interesting phenomena in nature. A swarm starting to issue is a thrilling sight. A swarm may contain from 1,500 to 30,000 bees including, workers, drones, and a queen. Swarming is an instinctive part of the annual life cycle of a honeybee colony. It provides a mechanism for the colony to reproduce itself.

2. What makes a honeybee colony swarm?

Overcrowding and congestion in the nest are factors, which predispose colonies to swarm. The presence of an old queen and a mild winter also contribute to the development of the swarming impulse. Swarming can be controlled by a skilled beekeeper; however, not all colonies live in hives and have a human caretaker.

3. When do honeybees swarm?

The tendency to swarm is usually greatest when bees increase their population rapidly in late spring and early summer. In Tidewater, this would be in April, May and June.

4. Are honeybee swarms dangerous?

No - honeybees exhibit defensive behavior only in the vicinity of their nest. Defensive behavior is needed to protect their young and food supply. A honeybee swarm has neither young nor food stores and will not exhibit defensive behavior unless unduly provoked.

5. What should homeowners do about a honeybee swarm on their property?

When honeybees swarm they will settle on a tree limb, bush, or other convenient site. The cohesiveness of the swarm is due to their attraction to a pheromone produced by the queen. The swarm will send out scout bees to seek a cavity to nest in and will move on when a suitable nesting site is found. Rarely, swarms may initiate comb construction in the open if a suitable cavity cannot be found. You may want to contact a local beekeeper to see if the beekeeper would like to collect the swarm.  Late season swarms are of little value to beekeepers. A traditional poem advises:

A swarm in May - is worth a load of hay.

A swarm in June - is worth a silver spoon.

A swarm in July - isn't worth a fly.

6. How does a beekeeper go about capturing a swarm of honeybees?

A swarm is looking for a new nesting site. A beekeeper can capture a swarm by placing a suitable container, such as an empty beehive, on the ground below the swarm and dislodging the bees at the entrance to the hive. The bees will begin to move into the hive, which can be removed after dark to the beekeeper's apiary. You can observe the bees scent-fanning at the entrance to signal the entrance to the new nest as the bees march into their new home. If for some reason the queen does not go into the new hive, the bees will abandon it and form a cluster where she lands.

7. What type of nesting sites will honeybees seek?

Honeybees are cavity nesters and will seek a cavity of at least 15 liters of storage space. Hollow trees are preferred nesting sites. Occasionally, bees will nest in the hollow walls of buildings, under porches, and in other "man-made" sites if they can find an entrance to a suitable cavity.

8. Why are we observing fewer swarms than in previous years?

In the 1980's, two mites that parasitize honeybees were introduced into the U.S. They have spread throughout the state and have eliminated many wild or feral colonies. In addition, the number of colonies managed by beekeepers has declined during the past decade. Farmers and gardeners producing tree fruits, small fruits, forage legumes, oil seed crops, and vegetable crops requiring bee pollination need to consider pollination requirements as once abundant honey bee pollinators are no longer something they can take for granted. Managed honeybee colonies may be needed to assure adequate pollination of these crops.

Bees in Structures

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Bees in Chimney Bees in WallCone Escape

To find local beekeepers in your area that will remove bees in structures, click here.

Some useful information about honey bee colony removal from structures

Extracted from an article by Wm. Michael Hood, Extension Entomologist, Clemson University

If a property owner suspects that a honey bee colony has entered the wall of a structure, he/she should attempt to confirm the insects are indeed honey bees. Other possible insects that might invade the wall of structures are carpenter bees, yellow jackets or European hornets. Honey bees vary in color from yellow to black, have black or brown bands across the abdomen and are much smaller than a carpenter bee. Honey bees are about 2/3 inch long and covered with hairs or setae. The foraging honey bees have pollen baskets on each hind leg, which will often be loaded with a ball of yellow or dark green pollen. The honey bee is the only stinging insect that can normally overwinter as a colony inside the wall of a structure in Virginia.

The carpenter bee can be identified by having bright yellow, orange or white hairs on the thorax (chest region) and a black shiny abdomen on the dorsal side. Carpenter bees are robust, heavy-bodied bees that range from ¾ to 1 inch in length. These insects bore ½-inch diameter holesthat appear to be perfectly round on exterior wooden surfaces.

Yellow jackets lack the dense body hairs that are found on carpenter bees and honey bees. Yellow jackets do not have the pollen baskets on the hind legs. The yellow jacket is about ½ inch long, and the abdomen is characterized by having alternating yellow and black bands. European hornets are much larger (1.5 inches long) than honey bees and sometimes establish colonies inside structural walls.

Honeybees are beneficial pollinators and should be left alone and appreciated unless their nest is in conflict with human activity. If honeybees nest in the walls of a home, they can be removed with the assistance of abeekeeper.

Simply injecting a pesticide in the wall to kill the bees is risky. The comb will attract wax moths and mice. The honey will attract ants and other insects and will ooze through the wall or ceiling when comb melts during hot weather.  A foul odor is to be expected for several weeks in the vicinity of the decaying bees.

Many beekeepers have specialized equipment, such as a bee vacuum, which allow them to collect the colony intact and re-locate it to an apiary.  They will open the area and remove the honey and combs to prevent rodent and insect infestations which occur in abandoned nests.  Also, without bees to control the temperature, the wax will melt and honey drip from the combs through plaster and drywall.  After removal, the cavity should be filled with foam insulation, as the nest odor will be attractive to future swarms. 

Exterior stucco, brick or cement walls make normal removal impossible, especially if interior wall accessibility is not an option. Trapping bees out of the wall with a "one-way bee escape removal" is recommended if a property owner is not in a hurry to have the colony removed. The process will take about two to three months, and sometimes it is not successful unless careful attention to detail is followed. The comb will remain in the wall and will attract another swarm in the future unless preventive measures are taken.

A cone-shaped one-way bee escape is constructed of window screen with the large end fastened over the primary bee entrance. It is imperative that all other cracks or holes leading to the bee colony be sealed off, or the efforts will be unsuccessful. A hive body with a new queen bee inside is placed on the platform with the entrance as close to the primary entrance as possible. Returning foraging bees will fly to the base of the cone-shaped bee escape and will be unable to reenter the wall. Eventually, the foraging bees will successfully gain entrance to the new hive. Periodic checks to make sure the bees have not gained entry into the wall are necessary. As the colony in the wall weakens, the colony in the hive body will strengthen at the expense of the parent colony. The queen in the parent colony will not normally abandon her brood, so a non-residual pesticide or carbon dioxide should be injected into the wall to kill her and the remaining bees. Make sure the fumigant used does not leave a toxic residue. After four to five days, the cone escape can be removed and the bees from the new hive will enter the wall and remove the remaining honey. As soon as bee entry into the wall ceases which should only take a few days, all possible entry sites must be sealed or plugged to prevent re-colonization by future swarms. Filling the void with an expanding foam type of insulation is highly recommended.

Unfortunately, this trapping procedure requires many visits to the site to finish the job. The comb left behind in the wall will be highly attractive to scout bees in the future, therefore the structure owner should make annual inspections of the wall and refill any cracks or holes leading to the cavity.

You can prevent swarms from nesting in walls by preventive maintenance. Honeybees will not make an entrance to a nest. They look for an existing entrance, so periodic inspection and caulking is all that is necessary to prevent them from occupying spaces in walls.

Nests should be removed promptly from problem sites because honeybees can store a considerable amount of honey in only a few weeks.   Do not procrastinate - call alocal beekeeper.

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