Save the Bees by Preventing Bee Swarm Infestations

Save the Bees by Preventing Bee Swarm Infestations by De Anna Penninga, Hunt County Master Gardener.

In Spring and Summer, phones will ring for area beekeepers from homeowners with concerns about Honey Bees co-habitating in or around their homes. Michael Merchant, Ph.D., Urban Entomologist, Texas AgriLife Extension writes about Honey Bee behavior in his article “Honey Bee Swarms and their Control” and offers some good information to help homeowners. Now is the time to share some information to help homeowners “Save the Bees” and prevent swarm infestations.

First, a bit of information about bees, their behavior, and swarming. In his article, Dr. Merchant writes about honey bee behavior: “…that Honey bees are not typically aggressive, they do not seek out people or animals to attack. Honey Bees are defensive and will attack what they perceive as a threat to their hive.” Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service recommends that you contact a pest control professional to manage a swarm because there is always risk when bees are in close proximity to humans. Honey bees do not nest in the ground. So, if you roll over a hive in the ground, those aren’t honey bees. Honey Bees swarm to start a new hive. The old queen gathers a bunch of workers, they load up on honey, and they leave their old hive in search of a new location to establish a new hive.

Warm spring months, April and May, are prime times for Honey Bees to swarm. People will see a mass of bees hanging on trees, on fences, and other places out in the open and the calls to beekeepers roll in. People need to understand that this bee cluster, out in the open, is just the bees’ staging mode. Most of the bees are resting while scouts are out finding a safe suitable spot for their new hive to move. Once that place is selected, usually within 24 to 48 hours, the bees move on.

Where bees choose to live is generally out of your control. Unfortunately for humans, there are numerous areas around our homes and gardens that offer the perfect conditions for a new honey bee hive to move. Honey Bee scouts are looking for nooks, cavities or voids in trees, sheds, garden walls and the inside of walls in your home. South or east facing sides of a home allow the hive to take advantage of the sun’s warmth. Eaves and soffits offer easy access to the inside of your home. A hole, crack or gap as small as one eighth of an inch is all bees need to move in to your home. Honey bees that have moved into a structure should be removed or destroyed as quickly as possible. The longer you wait, the more difficult and costly their removal will be. That is because a single hive can grow quickly a population of 40,000 bees or more. Once established, bees will fill the cavity with honeycombs, honey, and hive waste until the cavity is full. Don’t try to use honey or wax removed from a treated hive because those are often contaminated with dust, insulation or insecticides and are unsuitable for human use.

The next round of calls come in the summer when homeowners finally become aware that a honey bee hive has taken up residence in an unwanted location in or near their home. Many homeowners have heard the plight of the honeybee and are adamant beekeepers try to “save the bees!” Most often, that is just not cost effective. Removing a honey bee hive can easily cost hundreds of dollars causing extensive damage, so prevention is the best solution. Homeowners can assume that if a bee hive has been in a home before, then that home is more prone to a future unwanted honey bee hive, so be sure to take annual preventative measures to keep bee problems from returning.

Prevention is the most important thing to “save the bees” and prevent honey bees from infesting undesirable locations and creating substantial financial impacts. Fall and Winter are great times of year for eliminating possible points of entry by bees into buildings. Removing other potential nest sites is the best way to prevent serious problems with bees around structures. All holes in bricks, cracks in wood and brick joint holes, holes where pipes and wiring enter, cracks in window framing, knot holes in wood siding, need to be filled. Most of these holes can be filled with caulk, but air flow holes should be blocked with wire screen with less than 1 /8 inch mesh. Chimneys should be properly capped.

Texas Beekeepers Association has an interactive map that lists professionals who do bee removals by county for Texas. http://texasbeekeepers.org/swarms

Source: Michael Merchant, Ph.D., Urban Entomologist, Texas AgriLife Extension Honey Bee Swarms and their Control

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