Why honey bees like chimneys
Why honey bees like chimneys
Here we explain why honey bees like chimneys so much and how it is that they end up deciding to take up residence in your chimney. Before occupying and building a new home in your chimney honey bees will swarm from an old nest to a resting spot where they will wait until a suitable new home is found by a quorum of scout honey bees.
Before the honey bees swarm they will fill their stomach with honey, and whilst waiting in a swarm cluster will move about as little as possible so as to conserve this energy store. The only bees actually moving about will be the scout bees on the surface of the cluster, communicating with each other advertising the suitability of the new home locations they have found, so they may between them decide where to nest set up home and build a bees nest.
A honey bees dream home
Honey bees look for four main components when searching a neighbourhood for a new home. These four requirements explain why honey bees like chimneys so much. Ideally they are looking for a mature tree that has an internal cavity that they can use to nest in and this cavity needs to have a small high entrance and have sufficient volume (but not too much) for them to be able to survive a winter and of course they want this tree to be capable of withstanding whatever the weather can throw at it. These days available property opportunities like these are becoming rarer and rarer.
Curb appeal – the bees front door
They want a high entrance preferably 5 metres or more. Having an entrance at this height provides them safety from predators, as well as having a high entrance the honey bees are looking for a small entrance, less than 20 cm square, often a lot smaller than this. This provides an easily defendable entrance as well as an entrance that will not promote cold air movement which is detrimental to brood development and maintaining temperature whilst over wintering.
Floor space – a spacious home
Honey bees need space in their cavity, in fact they need 40 litres of more of space. This is equivalent to a 13.5 inch (350mm) square cube. The most important part of this dimension is probably the floor area, this 350mm is not dissimilar to the space between rafters in a property (400mm centres). We regularly see bees in volumes that have far greater volume as a result of depth such as a chimney, or a wall cavity, but most often they have a defined floor area, unless of course they are in a flat roof, but they are then confined within a defined height. A honey bee cluster needs to produce heat all winter long using the equivalent amount of energy required by a 40W bulb running constantly to keep the core of the cluster at about 35°C (95°F). This is because unlike all other insects honey bees do not reduce their metabolic rate over the cold months of the year. Their winter heating fuel is provided by 18 or more kilograms of honey which needs to be stored in this cavity space which equates to about 13 litres of space (1.45kg per litre at 35°C) if squeezed into a container not allowing for space for bee movement between the combs.
Well built home
Like us honey bees want a sturdy home that can stand up against the worst the environment can throw at them such as the worst of winter storms.
Man-made luxury bee homes
So the swarm needs to find a large live tree with a rotted space inside of it, that is accessible thru a small opening at a height. In the old days there were few vacant properties that fitted this bill, these days opportunities like this are especially rare. So the bees need to find the next most appropriate cavity for a home. The closest, next best thing to a tree cavity that the bees will find that meets their criteria will be a man made structure, most probably an old no longer used capped-off chimney that is in disrepair allowing the opportunity for the bees to access it.
Honey bee swarms
A honey bee swarm consists of a queen and about 10,000 bees, that uses a search committee of between 300 and 500 scout bees to look for something fit for purpose. These scouts will be the oldest most experienced bees.
When you see bees running up and down the sides of a tree they are either looking for a new home or figuring out the height of a newly found cavity.
Once a bee scout has found a possible home it will spend about 45 minutes checking it out by repeatedly (25 times or more) entering it and exploring it more and more deeply over each visit. This exploration allows her to measure the cavities volume, the size of the entrance and the height of the entrance before she then returns back to the swarm where she carries out a waggle dance on the side of the swarm sharing with the other scouts that didn’t find an appropriate cavity the details of the one that she found. This dance indicates the direction (from the angle of the waggle line) and distance of the cavity (from the number of waggles) and most amazingly a level of unbiased suitability for purpose thru the number of times the dance is repeated to allow comparison against other finds by other scout bees. This waggle dance is a form of advertising, the more suitable the location the more circuits of the dance she will perform to allow greater recruitment of other scouts to check out the new location. An ideal site will earn a 100 or more of these waggle dance circuits, whereas a not so ideal site will only have earned 20 or 30 dance circuits.
During this waggle dance she is sharing this information with a small limited number of bees as they need to be close to her following her thru the dance gathering the information required to allow them to decide whether to head off to also investigate the possible nesting site.
This process is repeated by all the scouts until there is only one dance being used at which point the swarm will move onto that location to setup home. The scouts will only perform a dance for a location they have been too they won’t just copy a dance. Using this method the scouts don’t actually compare sites; the bees from the not so good sites just visit their site less and stop advertising it with the dance until they no longer visit the site. In addition they are also nudged into stopping their dance by other scouts from other sites that have a better offering who will head-but and beep at them. This is a gradual process requiring 10 or more head butts to completely stop advertising. The bees with a good site continue visiting their site and then return to dance again, giving further adds for the site and increasing the numbers that visit their site, so forming a quorum of scout bees selecting to be at that cavity.
Once number of scout bees investigating a new home increases to about 15 then you can be fairly sure it’s going to be chosen by the swarm and that the swarm will be preparing to move, and even more so as the numbers increase. Once there’s a 100 or more bees rapidly buzzing about its likely the swarm will have already taken of and be on its way.
When the decision has been made the swarm will explode into flight over a period of about 60 seconds, staying as a tight cluster flying quite low with the bottom of the swarm at a height of 2 to 3 metres. This swarm will travel at a maximum speed of about 6 mph. So you could run with it.
Rain stops play
And so it does for the scout bees as well who put the process of selecting a new home on hold until the rain stops.
What to do when honey bees occupy your chimney
Should you be unfortunate enough to have honey bees occupy your chimney then the best thing you can do is act as quickly as possible to get them out before they cost you a fortune. There’s loads of scenarios that we could try to explain dependent upon your chimney, its condition and its accessibility but i just can’t type fast enough. I would suggest that taking advice to leave the bees be from a beekeeper that is really only interested in picking up easy swarms is quite possibly not the best option, unless by some stroke of luck the bees decide to leave the chimney. If the bees are in a wall cavity you have even less time to deal with the problem and are really pushing your luck if they have been in situ for 5 days.
So hopefully you now have a better understanding of why honey bees like chimneys.
If you have had a previously occupied chimney unless you do something about its condition you will repeatedly attract new honey bee swarms, we can also provide advice on this if you want further information. To do so we will need a photo of your chimney, a suitable access route, and the fireplace be it used or blocked in.
For further information on bee removal and relocation please use the contact form in the side bar or
call 02922 401649 to speak to someone local who knows all about it.
If you are looking for more info on removing bees from a chimney check out our article Removing bees in a chimney, for information on bee removal and relocation from roofs you may want to look at our page Honey bees in roof, or if you have bees in a wall our page Honey bees in wall maybe of use, For additional examples on removals of honey bees from other more unusual places check thru our blog page Honey Bee Removal EXPERTS and search for “unusual bee removals”.
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