By Derek Roach
Mid-March until the beginning of July is considered to be the typical bee-swarming season in the United States. During this season, honey bees begin to collect pollen to feed on and to store for the upcoming winter season.
At this point, the population of the hive is abundant due to the queen bee ensuring a large enough workforce to sustain the colony. Consequently, the beehive can become overcrowded, causing the group to split into two separate colonies. This action puts many homeowners at risk of obtaining unwanted beehives on their properties.
The departing group of bees will be on the hunt for a suitable area to nest — which can sometimes be a home. Structures, buildings, and other objects that provide shelter on a property can become new homes for bee colonies.
Understanding the Swarming Process
When the bee colony splits, a new queen will stay with the existing hive and the older queen will take a portion of the female worker bees and a few male drones as they search for a new home. This newly assembled group is known as a swarm.
The swarm will leave the existing hive and cluster on a tree limb, shrub, or other object while a few select bees, known as scouts, search the surrounding area for an ideal nesting location. While a swarm is on your property, your home is in jeopardy. The group of bees will either temporarily rest and move on, or they’ll find an accommodating spot and declare your property as their permanent nesting location.
After the scout bees have examined the surrounding area, they will report their findings to the swarm. To communicate the distance and direction of the possible new home, the scout bees will do a “dance” known as the waggle dance.
Protecting your Home from Unwanted Beehives
Bees can enter any structure or object that contains a hole that is a quarter of an inch or larger. A common bee-prevention technique is to seal all potential bee entries with durable materials, like metal screen and caulk. However, once a swarm is on your property, you may not have sufficient time to identify and seal all of the potential entry points for the bees.
An effective substitute is to apply treatment to the scout bees lingering around your home. This will prevent the scout bees from informing the swarm of the potential nesting spot. As a result, the swarm moves on to another location. However, the trick is to take action quickly as bees can move in suddenly.
Reducing outdoor clutter can also prevent bees from nesting in your yard. Unused appliances or lawn equipment found in yards can attract honey bees since they provide sufficient shelter for a hive to thrive.
Also, if your home has previously had problems with honey bees, make sure the honeycomb is removed. The pheromone scents left on honeycomb can attract newcomers. Usually the honeycomb will be situated in an inaccessible area (wall voids, eaves, etc.), so removing portions of your roof or siding may be necessary.
The Truth about Africanized “Killer” Bees
Africanized honey bee (AHB) colonies have been identified in 11 different states. The most recent discovery of this type of bee was in Colorado. European honey bees are the most common type of bee in the United States, but Africanized territories are still being confirmed in new areas. Usually, only an isolated colony is found in the newer regions.
The first known Africanized colony to enter the U.S. was in Hidalgo, Texas on October 1990. These bees were part of a cross-breeding program used to create a hybrid bee that was better suited for survival in the Tropics. This bee was able to defend its hive better and swarmed more often, which helped with pollination.
An AHB is virtually indistinguishable from European honey bees and only differs in behavior. AHBs are more prone to aggressively attack, and while the potency of venom in both bees is the same, the Africanized bees will attack in large numbers when in distress. While these bees can be more aggressive, attacks on humans are rare. However, treat every beehive you encounter as an Africanized colony to protect yourself from being stung.
This visual graphic shows a map of Africanized territories in the U.S., and a comparison of behavioral differences between Africanized and European honey bees.
Why did Honey Bees Choose my Home?
While suitable shelter and previous bee problems can be the primary cause for a beehive on your property, it can be difficult to determine the exact attractant. Other reasons can include favorable microclimates or abundant vegetation, since bees prefer to be within close proximity of a food source.
A bee problem can be caused by one of these factors, a combination of them, or none of the above.
A recent analysis of bee removal inquires in southern California was conducted to identify which areas were most susceptible to bee problems. Coastal towns that generally have temperate climates (weather related) and cities within close proximity to rural areas and farmlands (vegetation selection) appear to be more prone to having honey bee colonies that need to be removed.
Where bees choose to live is generally out of your control. However, you can assume that if bees have been to your home before, then your home is more prone to a future unwanted honey bee colony, so be sure to take preventative measures to keep bee problems from returning.
Derek Roach is a copywriter for Pro Pacific Bee Removal, a company that specializes in bee removal services for residents and businesses in San Diego, Riverside, and Orange County, California. He has a BS in business administration from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and has been published in local and international publications, including Food & Drink Magazine.