Removing honey bees from properties – The Facts
Honey bees are not a legally protected species, so a honey bee colony can be destroyed using insecticide; however this does not mean that a colony can just be killed of using a can of insecticide. It’s an option but only a small part of the process. If a Honey bee colony is to be destroyed using insecticide then it is a requirement to seal of any entry/exit points that the bees may currently have or may have in the future. This is a lot more complicated and difficult to do than you may initially think. It is also likely to lead to additional costly problems later.
At the peak of its season a honey bee colony can be producing in the order of 2,000 new bees per day, each new bee will take approximately 3 weeks from being laid to emerging, so that is approximately 42,000 bees not flying that will be in the colony. Additionally there may be between 20 and 80,000 adult bees. Then there will be honey bee stores – some of which will be capped but a lot of which won’t be. Initially the uncapped honey maybe a problem as it slowly drains out of the uncapped cells, but the capped honey may also become problematic overtime as a result of damage by stored product insects such as a wax moth infestation. Or dependent upon location may be adversely affected by heat build-up, rodent damage etc.
To deal with the above a pest controller needs to add a nasty toxic chemical, adding a neural toxic agent to kill of these bees will leave a horrible toxic mass that should not be left in situ.
Legally speaking the main concern with the use of an insecticide and insufficient proofing of the entrance/exit points is that the insecticide may end up in the food chain being described as freshly produced honey but in reality contaminated, as a result of honey bees from other colonies robbing the destroyed colony. Additionally the poisoning of the first colony may end up with multiple colonies with in the local area being killed off as a result of the poisoned honey being robbed and taken back to local hives. This would be cause for an investigation and the possible prosecution and fine for the misuse of an approved insecticide.
When to kill a honey bee colony
If a honey bee colony becomes established in a property and they are a risk to the health of the occupants then one of the options available for getting rid of the honey bee colony is for it to be destroyed using insecticide. Whether this is the most appropriate or viable option will depend upon a multitude of factors, some of which will include,
- the accessibility of the colony,
- the time that the honey bee colony has been in situ,
- the ease at which the honey bee colony entrance and exit points can be proofed from robbing honey bees
- the cost of removing the colony
When poisoning a honey bee colony there is a lot to take in to account (as described above). It is important that you ensure that whoever you employ to carry out this task understands all the risks and possible outcomes prior to the event. There is a Code of Practice: Relating to the Control of Feral Honey Bees (2013), that both the BPCA (British Pest Control Association) and NPTA (National Pest Technicians Association) members should abide by. Even then this is not an extensive document and does not take into account all factors or methods available for the removal of feral honey bees, but it is a good starting point
If you opt for the poisoning a colony, make sure it is carried out by a technician who abides by this code of practice, you never who else is aware of the colony and who they may talk to about it.
The Alternative Methods for the removal of feral honey bee colonies
Honey bee cutouts
The standard nontoxic method for the removal of honey bee colonies is referred to as a cut-out; basically the bees are vacuumed into a vac box (without harm), the brood (bee larvae and young carer bees) are placed in a nuc box (a small hive box – to allow a smaller quantity of bees to maintain temperature more easily) to be united later with the bees in the vac box, and the comb (wax) and stores (honey, pollen and resin) are cut out of whatever void they may be in. This maybe a disused chimney, a gas flue chimney, a roof space, wall cavity or some other location. Most cut-outs can be completed within a day, the easier ones within a couple of hours.
The main objective apart from removing the honey bees from a chimney or other space is to ensure the continuity of the colony, this is achieved by finding the queen, or if she can’t be found (they often separate from the colony during disruptive cut-outs) then the brood and young nurse bees will hopefully produce a new queen from one of the eggs in the nuc box.
On completion of the honey bee cut-out it is important to proof the area so that future bee swarms don’t recolonise the void. Where possible it is advised that the void be filled, providing this will not lead to damage of the property over time. During the cut-out as much honey and wax is removed as is practically possible. However the area will be attractive to honey bees for many years to come because of the residual odours, pheromones and chemicals given off by the residue remaining. The importance of proofing the area properly post honey bee cut-out cannot be over emphasised.
Honey bee trap-outs
Trap-outs are not such a common form of honey bee removal. Effectively the bees are trapped out of the void that the honey bees have colonised and they are then collected in a nuc box over an extended period of time. This takes a lot of time as it is based on the life cycle of honey bees and the brood. It is however a very effective method for removing bees from voids that cannot be easily accessed, and areas were accessing the void would be very disruptive.
On completion of a successful trap-out, the old queen will have left the void along with the last of the bees looking after her and the newly emerged bees, to set up shop a long-way away (far from where she currently is, as this location appears very unsafe as all bees sent to forage have not returned). The nuc box will have collected all the other bees and have produced their own queen from good stock. These bees in the nuc box are then allowed to enter thru the old colony entrance to clean out the honey stores, on completion of this the nuc box is taken to the apiary and the old entrance sealed off.
As beekeepers we have been able to achieve a 100% success record on our trap-outs, though some have taken a lot longer to achieve than initially expected.
The two largest difficulties when carrying out honey bee trap-outs are the removal of any secondary entry/exit points of the void, and the ability to attract the excluded bees into the nuc box (achieved using brood from our bee hives), even then this can be a difficult time consuming process.