13 Common questions about honey bees in walls
Here we cover the most commonly asked questions about honey bees in wall cavities, as per a google search for ” how to get rid of bees nest in wall cavity” and associated searches.
Unfortunately there is a lot of inaccurate information out there so we are trying to clear that up by providing more accurate short answers. A lot of these answers can have a good page written but for now we are keeping it short.
How do you get honey bees out of a cavity wall?
There are 3 possible methods for the removal of bees from within a wall cavity. The most usual is to carry out what’s generally referred to as a cut-out, more unusually a trap-out may be used to remove the bees only, and even less often an exclusion. Each has its advantages and disadvantages more details can be found on our page Honey Bees in Walls
What do you do if there is a honey bees nest in your house wall?
If the bees have been occupying the wall for any length of time you need to find a business similar to that of SwarmCatcher that specialises in removing bees from places they ought not be.
When looking for such a business you need to ensure that they are experienced & correctly insured for what they do and can provide a safe reliable service.
They need to fully understand building construction and know how to work on buildings with respect, especially when working on heritage & listed properties.
There removal team needs to be trained in multiple trade skills (or certainly ones that are relevant to the construction of your property) and have a real understanding of health & safety issues.
What happens if you block the entrance to a honey bees nest?
Blocking the entrance to a honey bee nest rarely provides a good result. The bees will likely find an alternate route to get in and out, and whilst doing so will probably become bothersome within the property.
The only time an entrance to a honey bee nest in a wall should be blocked is if a colony has been poisoned, in this scenario its essential that not only the bee entrance be blocked off but any point of possible access be blocked off as well.
We would suggest that there is rarely a good reason for poisoning honey bees, the consequences of doing so rarely outweigh those of a live bee removal.
How long will honey bees stay in a wall?
Once a bee colony has swarmed into a wall, unless you act very quickly it is going to be very difficult to move the colony out. Usually it establishes itself very quickly, providing the queen has survived the journey. Within a very short time the bees will produce wax comb and the queen will start laying eggs.
From this point there is no good reason that the bees will not remain there year on year. Their activity may reduce during the winter and their numbers fall to as few as 5,000 but the bee nest will still be there waiting for spring to arrive.
Will honey bees leave on their own?
The answer to this is usually NO.
An established honey bee colony may swarm from a wall space, but this is their form of reproduction. Basically half the colony swarm off with the old queen leaving the other 50% of bees with a new untested queen.
On occasion bee colonies may abscond, usually because of one of two main reasons, a lack of suitable forage within their range, or because of disease such as an excessive level of varroa mite.
Do honey bees, nest in wall cavities?
Absolutely yes – we regularly remove honey bee colonies from wall cavities, often these colonies expand a cross a height & width of 1.5 metres or more, and have a cavity space of about 50 mm, which does not make for an easy removal.
But just because they are entering a hole in the wall does not mean they are in the cavity, they could be within the ceiling/floor void, some boxing for structural members or pipework.
If they are entering an airbrick, and the airbrick is associated with the inside vent they maybe occupying just that space, but if they have been there for a period they will likely have expanded the comb into the wall cavity as well.
This is one of the many reasons that a thermal camera should be used to assist in locating a bee colony before commencing on the removal. Check our page Honey bee surveys
What kind of bees make nests in walls?
We tend to be contacted about bees in walls through out the year in the case of honey bees. But there are other types of bee that will nest in walls and wall cavities.
Earlier in the year around March/April we hear from people that have mason bees nesting in the mortar work of their walls and chimneys. These bees are solitary bees, that nest in individual holes, that they make in soft masonry normally on South facing walls.
In March as the early spring flowers open, male bees will emerge from there cocoons in the nesting hole, followed a couple of days later (sometimes weeks) by the females.
The females will then mate very soon after emerging, and go into hiding for a few days while their ovaries mature. They will then get to work, utilising old holes from previous years for laying eggs as well as creating new holes. At the far end of the hole they will lay a single fertilised egg (female) along with a ball of pollen & nectar, then build a wall, so creating a single chamber for the egg and food supply. They then repeat this process, changing the eggs to unfertilised eggs (male/drones) nearer the front of the nest tube.
Depending on the variety of mason bee this will likely be all over by the end of June, with all the females dead. By the end of August the larvae will have pupated within their cocoons that they spin, and be fully developed. They remain dormant until the following year, when the process starts all over again.
The next phase is for Honey bees, with enquiries significantly increasing at about the beginning of May as swarm season kicks in. At this time we find a lot of people are just realising they have a colony in their property which in fact has been there for 18 months or more usually, or are unfortunate to have a new swarm arrive at their property.
Then a couple of months after we see an increase in the number of enquiries about Tree bumble nests, and wasp nests, neither of which we do anything for.
Can honey bees eat through walls?
This is going to depend on the wall construction. A better question is what materials can bees chew, tear apart or damage?
We regularly see well worn damaged woodwork around bee nest entrances in roof voids, but whether this has been directly caused by the bees I doubt. But the bees can certainly clean the damage, smoothing it over and polishing it with propolis (and wax?). We regularly see them having chewed away at polystyrene insulation to make space within a wall cavity. I’m not sure about insect screen mesh, I think its more likely that the bees have been opportunistic after the material has suffered from significant weather damage rather than the bees alone. We have seen bees take advantage of weak & poor quality mortar joints in stonework, when trapped within a wall cavity. Wasps can definitely chew away at plasterboard and timber over time, and often the noise created from chewing, a distinctive scratching, crackling and ticking combination is the first noticeable sign of a wasp nest.
What kills honey bees instantly?
I would say not a lot although they die quickly when crushed. We often go to previously poisoned colonies to find them alive and well, despite the presence of a lot of dead bees stinking like old prawns.
A spot of detergent in water can immobilise and effectively drown bees fairly quickly
Should I leave a honey bees nest alone?
We would say not, on the presumption that the bees are in an occupied building or neighbourhood for two main reasons. But that is based on having someone that knows how to deal with it properly, we would not suggest you interfering with it unless you know what you are doing.
For anybody that is knowledgeable about the risks of working/living in close proximity with bees, writing a simple risk assessment would identify the need for a bee colony to be removed on the grounds of Health & Safety.
Looking at it as a responsible member of the local community a feral bee colony should be relocated because swarms from the established feral colony are likely to occupy neighbouring properties, causing financial cost and health risk to those property owners .
A mature honey bee colony will swarm at least once a year and depending upon the mix of races may swarm more often than that. This increases the likelihood of a bee colony becoming more aggressive as time goes on. We regularly carry out removals for people that are unable to use their garden because of the bees. They find that overtime these feral colonies fly lower and lower, becoming more bothersome resulting in stings occurring more often, with the bees behaving more aggressively so creating an environment that makes the garden an unwelcoming area.
Do honey bees come back to the same nest?
Generally speaking a honey bee colony does not leave, it may swarm, but this is its way of reproducing.
An established colony does on occasion just up & leave (abscond), most probably because of one of the two main reasons, either there are insufficient resources available for it or it maybe overburdened with varroa mite.
Should a colony abscond, or wither away, or be poisoned its very likely that a new swarm will in the following season/s move in to the old nest. This is why correctly proofing an area that has had a bee colony removed is so important.
Does homeowners insurance cover a honey bee infestation?
In the UK there are only a few home insurance companies that will cover honey bee nest removal and associated repair costs, and even these rarely cover the full cost.
More often than not it will not be the bee nest removal that is covered but the damage caused by leaking honey.
Generally speaking an insurance company is going to take the attitude that the property should be maintained so that a honey bee swarm can’t gain access. If a swarm does gain access then its the property owners responsibility to get rid of the bees. If the infestation is large enough to create an insurance claim, causing damage as a result of leaking honey then that is the homeowners negligence and is considered to have been preventable.
I’m only aware of two insurance companies that may cover the cost of a honey bee nest (or contribute towards the costs of a bee removal), Ecclesiastical, and the NFU (I believe its a contribution and only if you have Buildings Plus Insurance, Buildings Insurance or Home Emergency Insurance), any of the preceding would need to be thoroughly checked for accuracy, it is only my understanding that this is the case currently (July 2023).
Can honey bees cause structural damage?
According to a chartered surveyor business based in London bees can cause structural damage to a property. They say that the sheer weight of a large bee colony can cause serious structural damage to walls, chimneys and roofs. Furthermore they say that as the colony increases in size the mounting pressure can lead to melting wax, honey and bee waste products to be pushed through the walls, resulting in damaging stains, strong foul odours attracting additional pests & rodents that can further add to the damage. They then go on to advise that the nest will split and move into another wall at your property.
All scary stuff. Over all the years of doing bee removals we haven’t yet come across this extreme set of circumstances.
Yes we have seen, large colonies in dormer roofs that have been heavy enough to tear the roof membrane, but we have not seen them cause structural weight damage breaking the timbers within the roof. I’m not sure what pressure is mounting to cause wax to melt, but we do come across a lot of situations where honey comb has not been sufficiently supported and because of the weight of the honey stores has dropped as a resulting the comb loosing its strength as temperatures rise. We also see comb dropping because bee colonies have been poisoned and there are insufficient bees to keep the wax comb cool enough to maintain its structural strength, or because wax comb has been chewed through by wax moth after a colony has been killed off, again weakening it and allowing it to drop.
This can cause damage to plaster and plasterboards, but whether this is could be described as structural damage would be questionable.
The bee waste products referred to i.e. dead bees don’t necessarily cause structural damage but they can be a source for a clothes moth or carpet beetle infestation which can in turn cause expensive damage to carpets, furnishings and clothes.
When poisoned and left in situ, dead bees stink like dead prawns and the smell hangs around for years, again these dead bees provide a great source of food for meal worms, carpet beetles, clothes moths and other Stored Product Insects.
The fallen comb as a result of poisoning or otherwise allows for the release of any stored honey, and the warmer it is the less viscous the honey and the easier it runs. Which can lead to long-term staining of ceilings and walls, and possibly sufficient weakening of plasterboard which combined with the weight can lead to ceiling collapse.
A large bee colony can certainly produce a lot of moisture which can be damaging to a property, this is more clearly seen in winter when we are taking bees out of capped chimneys, we find a lot of water in comb and trapped beneath the capping in crevices and mortar work. So it certainly is not good for a chimney structure under those circumstances.
Depending where the colony is located, damp issues can lead to mould problems.
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For further information on bee removal and relocation please use the contact form in the side bar or message button below, or CALL 01297 441272 to speak to someone local who knows all about it.
If you are looking for information on removing bees from a chimney check out our article ‘Honey bees in chimney‘, or if you repeatedly have bee swarms take up home in your chimney you may want to look at our page ‘Why honey bees like chimneys‘ & ‘Everything you need to consider when removing bees in a chimney‘ which is a fairly extensive overview.
For examples on removals of honey bees from these and other more unusual places check thru our blog page Honey Bee Removal Blog and investigate our Tag cloud too.
Don’t forget a general overview on honey bee removals which can be found at ‘Live honey bee removal‘.