The Incredible Honey Bee…Unwelcomed Guests

Bee in a wall opening
Bee in a wall opening

A little about your visitors

You find honey bees in your wall or in your shed or even in the space between the floors of your home. Now what? They obviously can’t stay there. Even if you are a friend of nature, it is hard to share your abode with thousands of stinging, buzzing honey bees.

There are a few things you should know about your new guests. Though it may look as if your honey bees have damaged your home, it is usually quite the opposite. They usually find existing damage that creates a hole and then they move in. For instance, squirrels are notorious for chewing on eaves and soffits of homes. If this constant chewing creates a hole in your soffit and scout bees find it. There is a possibility of the bees moving in.

Once inside a cavity in a building, honey bees will begin to construct their comb to store honey, pollen, and their young. They will even waterproof the cavity and stop up other holes so that they can control how much air flow is allowed in the hive. They will do their best to fill that cavity with as much comb as possible during the spring and summer season in preparation for the winter.

In older homes honey bees usually prefer un-insulated walls. These walls will have knot holes that allow the bees easy access. The older walls provide a nice 2 foot by 4 to 6 inch cavities to construct a nice bee home. It is even better if no humans are living in the home. This allows the bees to multiply undetected and undisturbed. However, I have seen bees build a large hive in the spaces between floors in occupied two-story homes. The bees have somehow gained access and now they have a tunnel the length of the home. Most ceiling/ floor spaces are 2 feet by up to 10" or even 12” high. That makes for a large box to live in. I once removed such a hive. It was so deep into the ceiling/ floor space that I had to use a scrapper with a 5 foot handle to reach all the honey comb.

What to do? Exterminate or Remove?

So you decided to have the hive removed. I concur. To try to exterminate the hive will usually take several tries by a pest control company. Even then it may not be successful. The pesticide spray will more than likely take out the bees closest to the hive opening, but usually not the queen. You will see diminished activity for a while, however when a new crop of bees hatch out and begin flying many people think that the “bees are back.” In actuality the bees never left.

Let’s say that the exterminator was successful in killing the hive. Now that there are no more bees, there is no one to tend to the hive. The dead bees will begin to rot. The unattended babies and eggs will die and also rot. The honey will become contaminated and then begin to spoil and run. The proof that the dead hive is now rotting is evidenced by the stench of thousands of dead bees and the presence of a black goop oozing through your ceiling and/or wall. Now you will have to have the hive removed in a rotten state and the damage repaired. This is why I always recommend total removal of the hive: queen, workers, comb and honey.

The Benefits of Removal

Who will remove the hive? If you are adventurous you can. Most home owners are not. The best place to start will be with your local agricultural extension agent. Chances are very good that he knows someone reputable to remove the hive. Know who you are dealing with:

· Check the credentials of anyone claiming to know how to remove the hive. Get references.

· How many hives have they removed in the past? You want experience.

· Do they charge? You can probably get someone to do it for free, but remember you get what you pay for. If you want it done right go with a professional.

· Get an estimate. It would be better to get a low to high range price. No one really knows what is behind that wall or ceiling until part of it is removed. I prefer to give the home owner a low price up to what I think it will cost in the best to worst case scenario. Rarely do I charge the higher price.

· Do you need someone to repair the house or is that part of the bee removal?

· Is the work guaranteed? For how long and what does it entail? Get it in writing. I guarantee my work for at least one year after the extraction if I do the repair work. I cannot guarantee that bees will stay out if someone else does the repair. At the time of this writing I have dealt with 77 hives and have not had to go back to any of the ones I repaired.

· Beware of anyone wanting money up front. I invoice all my clients.

· Take time to talk with the removal expert. Treat them as any other contractor. Make them explain what they are going to do and how long it will take.

· Be open-minded. Don’t shy away from a removal expert just because he says he doesn’t know when asked a question. He may not know until he opens up the structure.

· Settle on what will be done with the demolition debris and what will be done with the honey, bees and waste. Many times the removal expert will want to keep the honey and sell it to help offset the cost. I usually do this and will estimate the job cheaper if there is a lot of honey recovered.

· Negotiate. The more the bee removal expert has to do, the more he will charge. If there are repairs or clean up that you could do, this might save you some money. I give a discount when I don’t have to clean up a mess. For example, if I am tearing off siding to retrieve bees and the home owner is going to replace it anyway, then I don’t charge as much.

· If you have children, ask the bee removal expert to try to explain as much as possible to them. This is a wonderful learning experience. I often try to take pictures of the hive and also give some of the honey comb to the family. It helps them experience nature and the beauty of honey bees.

Remember that no two hive situations will be the same and no two bee hive removal specialists do the removal the same. Again, start with your agricultural extension agent or you can contact a local bee keeper or bee keeper club to recommend someone to you to remove the hive. Also, one last note: not all hives can be removed and will have to be destroyed in place. Unfortunately, the homeowner will have to deal with the remnants of the dead hive.

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