While the sight of bees is a welcoming sign as they typically signal the start of spring or a healthy garden, the formation of a beehive can prove dangerous to yourself and the structural integrity of your property. So how do you safely and humanely remove a beehive?
When removing a beehive, it is advisable that you seek the assistance of a professional beekeeper or exterminator, as they will have the equipment, training, and experience to safely and humanely remove a beehive (usually free of charge, provided they get to keep the bees for future use.)
To safely remove a beehive, either with professional assistance or by yourself, we must also explore how to identify a beehive on your property, why humane removal of bees is essential, and how to prevent the reoccurrence of beehives in the future.
How To Remove A Beehive?
Although DIY beehive removal techniques and advice will be discussed below, it is highly recommended that you contact a professional beekeeper, exterminator, or beekeeping association to remove a beehive on your behalf.
Generally speaking, professional beekeepers are unlikely to charge you for removing the hive, provided they can take ownership of the captured bees. However, an independent contractor may need to attend to any structural damage caused by the hive or during the hive removal process.
The reason you should employ a professional for beehive removal is they will have the correct protective equipment to perform the removal, they will know the least harmful/invasive method of removal, they have the experience/training to complete the removal, and they can relocate a hive to a more suitable location for economic/environmental use and benefits.
Removing Swarm Clusters
The most efficient removal method is to capture bees during the swarming phase before they can construct a new beehive.
Known as a swarm cluster, this is the early process of beehive removal, once the bees have stopped flying/scouting and have settled on a potential beehive location. One of the methods of swarm cluster collection is by gently brushing the bee cluster into a cardboard box (while wearing a protective bee suit.)
The cardboard box will usually have entrance holes to allow the rest of the swarm to join the captured bees, particularly if the collected cluster includes the queen bee. Generally, the box needs to be placed in a shaded location for a few days to allow the entire hive to enter the box.
During this collection phase, do not tamper with the box or allow pets/children to wander near the box.
Removing An Established Beehive
Although removing a swarm cluster is a relatively straightforward process, removing an established beehive can be far more challenging. As a well-established beehive may have hundreds of pounds worth of comb, adult bees, larvae, and honey embedded into a structure.
Consequently, even if you or an exterminator decides to use pesticides to kill the bees (which you should not do for various environmental reasons), this does little in successfully removing a beehive from a structure.
Furthermore, the result of large quantities of dead bees and an abandoned hive can lead to foul odors, rot, and extensive honey spillage.
A more efficient method of beehive removal is to hire a beekeeper who will attempt to determine the size and shape of the hive with advanced listening equipment such as stethoscopes. Once the hive and its edges have been located, the beekeeper will drill a large hole into the side of the structure.
Despite the size of the hole, contractors will design it in such a way as to allow easy repairs following the removal of the hive. The bees and their combs are either removed by hand or using a specialized vacuum device that allows for the safe trapping of the bees.
What DIY Solutions Can You Use To Remove A Beehive?
If you are unable to afford or secure the services of a professional and the beehive in question is small and newly established, there are some DIY solutions you can try at home to remove a bee colony from your property:
Note: when performing any of the removal techniques below, it is recommended you wear protective gear such as gardening gloves, long trousers, long sleeve shirts, and closed shoes.
Because bees are sensitive to odors, burning citronella candles near a beehive may result in bees evacuating a hive over a couple of days. The burning of citronella is safe and harmless to yourself and the bees.
Smoke The Bees Out
Creating smoke by burning dried leaves or cardboard near a beehive may confuse the bees and result in an evacuation from the hive since bees may mistake the smoke for a forest fire.
Long with usual fire safety precautions, smoking bees out may initially lead to an aggressive response from the bees. Therefore, it is advisable that you only attempt to smoke bees out if you can rapidly create distance between yourself and the hive.
Using A Vinegar Spray
When used sparingly, a solution of one teaspoon of vinegar to one quart of water sprayed on a beehive doubles up as both a deterrent and a pesticide.
You must be cautious when using this method as not only may it aggravate the bees, but excessive use of vinegar can result in the death of multiple bees.
Like vinegar spray, mothballs should be used sparingly, as they act as both a deterrent and pesticide for bees. Consequently, mothballs should not be inserted into a beehive but instead hung near the hive via breathable materials, such as a knotted pair of pantyhose.
Why Should You Remove A Beehive Humanely?
Save for the inherent value of bees as living organisms; many people may question why bees should be humanely removed rather than exterminated like other insects that are deemed to be pests (such as cockroaches or flies.)
However, as can be seen below, there are various reasons why bee populations need to be protected at all costs:
Bees Are Critical To Food Security
The Food and Agricultural Organization found that bees are necessary in pollinating and maintaining upward of 35% of agricultural land globally; this translates to the sustained growth of over 87 of the world’s most important food crops.
Without bees to pollinate wild and farmed crops, global food security is under immense pressure, particularly in rural communities where advanced farming techniques such as vertical farming and manual pollination aren’t commercially viable.
Declining Bee Populations Are Susceptible To Global Warming
Because bees are susceptible to heat, increased global temperatures have resulted in declining bee populations and the migration of bees to colder jurisdictions.
Consequently, bee populations are not as evenly distributed globally as before, nor can they withstand the effects of climate change without the assistance of professional beekeepers.
Bee Populations Promote Biodiversity
Bee populations are essential in balancing and maintaining biodiversity as they pollinate wildflowers, maintain population control of other animals, and serve as a food source for other animals (with honey being an additional food source for many animals.)
Consequently, declining bee populations can have a devastating effect on the natural balance of food webs and plant cycles.
Bees Provide Numerous Products And Economic Benefits
Certain products such as beeswax and honey can only be produced by bees, meaning that without healthy bee populations, these products would cease to exist. Not only is this a loss concerning healthy food options and availability, but they are essential economic pillars for certain pharmaceutical and farming operations.
Furthermore, the replacement of bees with manual pollination would cost billions of dollars in annual labor costs and wasted working hours.
Bees Provide Vital Scientific Data
Not only have bees been a source of wonder for creative influence and architectural knowledge for centuries, but they are also a vital source of scientific data in the 21st century.
The study of bee colonies, honey, and beeswax gives scientists valuable insight into pollution levels and worldwide environmental health, thus allowing scientists and policymakers to draft legislation and implement technology to reduce the harmful effects of pollution.
How To Prevent Future Beehives?
If you have a property in an area with large bee populations and/or you have had beehives on your property before, future bee colonies may likely decide to scout your home for a potential hive.
Therefore, it is recommended that you take the following steps to mitigate the risk of future swarm clusters and beehives:
Seal Any Holes Around Your Property
You should inspect your property periodically and seal any holes a quarter of an inch or larger. These holes can be filled with calk, mesh, or metal screens.
You should also inspect your roof tiles, eaves, and gutters for any signs of an opening, as bees enjoy nesting in secluded, elevated locations such as attics.
Remove Any Clutter And Debris From Your Garden
Although it may be time-consuming, removing any unused equipment and/or garden refuse is recommended if you want to avoid bees creating a hive on your property.
The reason is that bees can easily inhabit abandoned or unused equipment without your knowledge for long periods.
Remove Any Honeycomb From Previous Hives
Because bees have an acute sense of smell, any debris or honeycomb left-over from previous beehives on your property can attract bees to your property, as honeycomb produces a unique pheromone that informs bees of a suitable spot to construct a hive.
You should employ a professional service to remove and clean any left-over honeycomb, as even a tiny piece of residue from an old hive can be detected for weeks after a hive’s abandonment.
Use Offensive Odors
Although plants such as peppermint may be pleasing to our senses, they can prove offensive and disorientating for bees.
Therefore, planting peppermint plants or the period sprinkling of garlic/cinnamon powder can help deter bees from making a hive on your property.
How To Identify A Bee Hive On Your Property?
Although most people enjoy seeing bees in and around their garden, it’s understandable that an increased bee population can be distressing for yourself and your loved ones due to the potential for bee swarms to build hives.
Although hives are seldom a significant concern, the size of the hive may result in structural damage to your property and health risks if the bees become aggressive or you have a friend, pet, or family member with an allergy to bee stings.
Therefore it is crucial to recognize the signs of a beehive on your property or a potential arrival of a bee swarm instead of just a slight increase in the bee population around your garden.
In the United States of America, bee swarming season is between mid-March and July. During bee swarming season, hives prepare for winter, meaning that bee colonies stock up on pollen and expand their worker force.
However, in preparing for winter, some beehives can become overcrowded, forcing a split in the colony and the need for the old queen to relocate to a new hive while a new queen remains in her existing hive. As a result of this split, homeowners are at increased risk of beehive formations on their property during the swarming season.
The swarm and the old queen will nestle in vegetation while scout bees are sent out to find a new place to construct a hive. Consequently, if you find a large group of bees in nearby vegetation or you notice several bees flying around your property and not focusing on plants/flowers, this is an indication of scout bees rather than worker bees pollinating flowers.
Once a suitable location is found, bees will cluster around the entrance of their new hive and begin ventilating the interior, or they will construct combs at a convenient spot by producing large amounts of beeswax.
What Must You Do If You Discover A Beehive?
While it may be unsettling and frightening to notice large swarms of bees on your property, they are focused on relocating to a new hive. They are unlikely to be as aggressive or defensive as bees found in existing hives.
Therefore, while you shouldn’t panic or fear being attacked during the swarming process, there are some steps you must take to reduce the risk of aggravating the bees:
- Give the bees space, as your presence may be perceived as a threat, especially if you are close to the queen during relocation
- Keep pets, children, and people with allergies away from bee clusters and hives
- Figure out exactly where the new hive is being built, but do not block the entrance to the hive or disrupt this process
- Do not use any type of pesticides/insect repellant, as this can cause harm to the bee colony, may aggravate the bees, and may be illegal in terms of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- If the hive is a ground hive, be careful not to aggravate the bees with loud steps or to run
What To Do If You Aggravate A Beehive?
While every effort should be made to not aggravate a beehive, if you happen to trigger the defensive response of one or two bees from the hive, you may be at risk of a swarm attack.
Although bee attacks are rare, especially during the hive relocation process, the following advice may prove lifesaving in the event of an emergency!
Bees Are Usually Docile
Due to their limited cognitive abilities, bees will not attack you based on some perceived dislike for you or as a result of their nature (like one may encounter with aggressive dogs.) At the same time, bees cannot develop any relationships with people/animals.
Instead, bees are single-minded insects that focus on the tasks of hive construction, pollination, and protecting their queen, whereby they will only attack you if they perceive you as a direct threat to their interests.
Furthermore, this decision is not taken lightly since the act of stinging proves fatal to the bee performing the sting.
Being Bumped By A Bee Is A Sign Of A Potential Attack
Because bees prefer not to swarm and attack predators if they can avoid it, the colony will first send out guard bees to warn you by “head butting” you; if a bee does bump into you, assume this is not an accident, as a swarm attack may be imminent.
Hold Your Breath
Before you decide to run away, you should first hold your breath if you notice a few bees flying around you and bumping into you.
It would be best if you held your breath because bees navigate their environment through smell, meaning that holding your breath is a way of masking your presence.
If this doesn’t work and you are stung by a bee, be prepared to run; this is because a bee sting releases a pheromone which alerts the rest of the hive that they perceive you as a threat, whereafter a swarm attack will follow!
Don’t Flail Your Arms Or Swat At the Bees
Although your instinct may be to defend yourself by flailing your arms or trying to swat at the bee swarm, this will not deter bees from attacking you.
Instead, an aggressive action such as arm flailing signals to bees that you are predatory. Any dead bees caused by your swatting will release additional pheromones that signal that a predator is attacking the colony to the hive.
Head For Shelter
When being attacked by bees, your only option available to you is to run away. However, because bees can fly quickly for long distances, it is doubtful you will be able to outrun them. Therefore, you should head for an enclosed shelter such as your home or an outdoor shed.
Once you are securely indoors, any bees that enter the shelter with you can be killed. Hunker down in the shelter for some time until the bee swarm has left the area and abandoned their dispute.
If you find yourself in an open space without any manmade shelters, try to take advantage of natural shelters or varied spaces that could be disoriented and confuse the bees, such as cornfields, forests, or thick shrubbery.
Use A Fire Extinguisher To Disperse The Swarm
Fire extinguishers have been known to kill many bees in one blast while significantly disorientating them, allowing a person to run away with fewer bees chasing them.
However, this method of mitigating a bee attack should be done by somebody else assisting the swarmed person, as attempting to operate a fire extinguisher while swarmed is unlikely to yield a positive result.
Do Not Enter A Body Of Water
A common mistake that people make when being attacked by a swarm of bees, particularly on a residential property, is entering a water body such as a swimming pool.
While bees can’t swim, this is a dangerous method of avoiding an attack as bees are attracted to bodies of water and the smell of chlorine that typically accompanies swimming pools.
Not only will bees gladly swarm for extended periods while you are submerged in water, but upon exiting the water, wet clothing offers minimal protection and further attracts bees.
What Steps Should You Take When You Get Stung By A Bee?
If you get stung during a bee swarm attack, there are a few things you must do to mitigate any further harm:
- Remove the stinger with a credit card, your fingers, or tweezers
- Wash the stung area with soapy water and apply an ice pack to reduce pain and swelling
- Take an over-the-counter painkiller
- Apply calamine cream or an antihistamine cream
- If you experience any allergic reactions, such as difficulty breathing or swallowing, seek immediate medical attention
Unless you are allergic to a bee sting, the chances of landing in the hospital from multiple bee stings are minimal. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an adult would have to be stung more than 1100 times before it becomes life-threatening.
In conclusion, bees serve vitally important global economic and environmental functions. However, there’s no denying that they can cause harm to small-scale operations and private property. Fortunately, with some basic safety precautions and professional assistance, you can humanely remove bee hives from your property!