Bee nests are fascinating structures, and the hexagonal lattice has inspired much human architecture and technology. In fact, many people find them so interesting that it's even possible to purchase and install bee hives in your home, so you can observe the bees in action and harvest your own honey. However, it may not be so easy to view a bee's nest with scientific curiosity when you find one unexpectedly on your house or property.
About Bee Nests
There are several different kinds of bee nests, but here are the most common that you are likely to encounter in North America and Europe.
* Honeybee Nest
Honeybees create wax with special glands on their bodies, and use it to build the distinctive honeycomb-shaped lattice that is so familiar. The hexagonal cells of the honeycomb are used to store pollen and honey, and also to raise young bees. Bees prefer to have their nests at an optimal temperature, so in colder climates they will build a nest inside a shelter, like the hollow of a tree. In warmer climates, they may build their nests out in the open. A typical nest can contain 50,000 or more bees, and they will occupy a nest for several years.
* Bumblebee Nest
Bumblebees nest underground, preferring cool, dry shelter, and often move into old rodent nests and burrows. Like honeybees, bumblebees make wax cells to raise their young, but they aren't organized into a tidy lattice structure; they are grouped more haphazardly. Bumblebees feed the young within their cells until they are old enough to emerge. Most bumblebee colonies hold between 50-400 bees, and the colony only lasts a single season.
* Wasp Nests
Similar to honeybees, wasps also create honeycomb-shaped cells, but instead of making their nests out of wax, they make them out of plant fibers and sometimes mud. For that reason, their nests can look papery and fragile. Some wasp species hang their nests in a sheltered spot, and some build them underground. A wasp nest normally has a few hundred wasps, although large nests can contain several thousand. In climates with cold winters, the next will die over the winter and new queens will start new nests elsewhere. In years or climates with mild winters, the nest will survive into the following year.
* Solitary Bees
Many species of bee are solitary bees and do not build nests at all. Instead, they find a sheltered spot in which to lay their eggs, and create the cell, nourish their young, and live on their own. Many species of bees live without nesting.
Difference Between a Nest and a Hive
Generally speaking, we use the term “bee nest” to refer to a natural bee hive that the bees create by themselves, and we use the term “bee hive” to refer to manmade structures that we create to cultivate honeybees. People have been making beehives since 2422 BC in ancient Egypt, in order to regularly harvest honey.
How to Get Rid of a Bee Nest
If you find an unwanted natural hive in your home or on your property, it's important to remain calm and be cautious. Even calm and docile bees can become agitated and aggressive in defense of their nest, and it's important to protect yourself from potential danger. Your next steps depend on what kind of nest it is.
* Honeybee Nest
If you find a honeybee nest, or are simply finding a lot of honey bees in your house, the best thing to do is to attempt to relocate it rather than kill the bees. Honeybees are an endangered species, of value to the environment and agriculture, as well as producing valuable honey.
-- Relocating a honeybee hive
In many communities, you can find a professional who will come to your house and relocate a bee hive for you. This is by far the safest and most effective way to get rid of the bees without hurting them, and with no risk to yourself or your family.
-- Relocating a honeybee hive yourself
If you have a free hanging natural hive, and can see the queen cell, and aren't allergic to bee stings, you could attempt to move the hive yourself. Here is how to do it:
- Wait until nightfall, when the bees are most likely to be sleepy and less active
- Wear thick clothing, gloves, a hat, and eye protection
- If possible, blow smoke (not fire or heat) into the hive. The smoke conceals and confuses the pheromones bees use to trigger an alarm, and prevents the guards from attacking
- Place a plastic-lined cardboard box beneath the hive. The plastic will keep honey from seeping through the box
- Use a broomstick or something similar to dislodge the nest and knock it into the box. You must be sure that the queen cells remain with the detached nest and end up in the box. The colony will follow the queen
- Close the box and take it somewhere else
It is not recommended that you try to relocate a hive on your own if the hive is inside a structure (like a wall, chimney, or dead tree) that may conceal the queen. The process of trying to open the hive to find her is dangerous, and may do more harm than good. And obviously, it should never be attempted if anyone present is at risk of an allergic reaction to a bee sting.
-- Exterminating the hive
If you can't find anyone to relocate the hive, and if the hive is inside the walls or structures of your home, it is best to call a professional exterminator. Although you could spray pesticides into the nest on your own, you risk angering the bees and making them aggressive. Furthermore, even if you are successful in killing the nest, the honey and dead larvae inside the nest may attract other pests and predators and cause new problems.
* Bumblebee Nest
If you find a bumblebee nest, it is better for you, the bees, and the environment to simply leave it alone. Do not lean over the nest and breathe on it, because your breath may provoke the bees to attack. Bumblebees are peaceful, their nests are small, and they will abandon it in the autumn anyway. If you have severe allergies, or if the nest is in an area that receives a lot of foot traffic from people or pets, you may be tempted to relocate the nest instead.
-- Moving a honeybee nest
A few professionals might be willing to help relocate a bumblebee nest, but they are rare. It is inadvisable for anyone to attempt it, because it is nearly impossible to do without destroying the nest and being attacked by the bees. However, it is possible to relocate the entrance to a bumblebee nest, to redirect their flight path into a more desirable direction.
-- Relocating a bumblebee nest entrance
- Get a length of flexible tubing at least 2cm in diameter, of the kind used in plumbing.
- Attach the tubing to the current nest entrance as securely as possible, using loose soil to plug up any gaps.
- Place the other end of the tubing in a more desirable spot, so that the bumblebees will use the length of the tube as their new entrance and exit.
- Place visual landmarks for the bees. These can be plant pots, contrasting pebbles, or other visual cues. The bumblebees take note of visual landmarks around the nest when they leave it, and use them to find the entrance when they return.
-- Natural ways to exterminate a bumblebee nest
Note that many professionals will refuse to exterminate a bumblebee nest because they are beneficial insects. However, if you simply must exterminate the nest, it is not necessary to use pesticides or chemicals. Wearing protective clothing, you can simply pour boiling water down into the nest until the bees have either abandoned it or died.
* Wasp Nest
Although there are many species of wasps, they are all more dangerous than bees for several reasons:
- They are more aggressive. Most wasps are predators, and they are more territorial and more easily provoked to attack than bees
- They can sting multiple times. Bees have barbed stingers that stay in the skin of their victim, but detaching the stinger kills the bee in the process. Wasps have smooth stingers and can sting their victims multiple times. Some species of hornets have a much more powerful venom than a bee sting as well
- While wasps are significant pollinators and play an important role in the overall ecosystem, their danger to people and pets means that they should not be tolerated in close quarters with people
-- Relocating a wasp nest
It is usually only safe and possible to relocate a wasp nest once all the wasps are killed. After the nest is empty, it can be moved if you prefer. However, because wasps are territorial, the visual presence of a nest can deter new wasps from moving in. Some people even purchase fake wasp nests for that very purpose.
-- Exterminating a wasp nest
Due to the danger involved, it is strongly recommended to hire a professional to exterminate a wasp nest. They will not only have the most effective pesticides, but will have the proper professional gear and knowledge to do so with minimal risk.
-- Exterminating a wasp nest yourself
It is not recommended to attempt to exterminate a wasp nest yourself, but if you have no alternatives, this is the best and safest way to do it:
- Purchase a wasp-killing insecticidal dust. Do not attempt to use aerosol pesticide sprays on a wasp nest. Other DIY methods, such as drowning or burning the nest are extremely dangerous and should not be attempted
- Wear protective clothing, including coat, gloves, a hat, face and eye protection, and have your pants securely tucked inside the tops of your boots. If necessary, use duct tape to seal openings at your wrists, ankles, or collar to prevent wasps from getting inside your clothing
- It is best to do this at night, when wasps are less active and slower to react. However, do not use an artificial light or flashlight, because they will react to it. If possible, use a red or amber light to provide enough illumination to see with, or do it very early in the morning, when there is just enough light to see, but it hasn't warmed up enough to stimulate the wasps into activity
- Have an exit plan. If possible, have a friend help you. Plan how you will quickly get away from the nest should the wasps attack. If you plan on going through a door, for example, seal openings and keyholes around the door. Have a friend ready to close the door behind you, and have a method (aerosol sprays would work here) for killing wasps who may be on you or may have followed you
- Do not breathe on the nest, to avoid stimulating an aggressive response.
- Gently puff the insecticidal powder into and around any nest openings you see
- The wasps will crawl through the pesticide as they enter and exit the nest, and it will kill the nest over the course of a few days. If necessary, repeat this process
* Solitary Bee Nest
Solitary bees are harmless and beneficial. In most cases, these cells are left unguarded, so they pose no risks to people or pets and should be left alone. Many people actually purchase bee hotels and mason bee homes in order to attract beneficial solitary bees.
For the most part, bees are our friends and play a critical role in our ecosystems. If possible, seek ways to preserve and protect them, while protecting yourself and your family. When in doubt about what kind of bees they are, or what the best way to manage them is, most communities have beekeepers who will advise you, and it is better to call them before you call an exterminator.