Bees in Buildings
An established honey bee colony will sometimes divide itself by swarming. The new swarm, consisting of the older workers (several thousand) and their queen, may cluster for a while on a tree limb or bush near the old hive before entering a hollow tree, home or building void, or other permanent cavity for the purpose of establishing a new nest. There is no need to fear a swarm; honey bees are usually docile when full of honey and without a home to defend.
Honey bees living within a building do not cause structural damage, though if abandoned, their waxy comb and honey will melt and foul wall board, siding, and insulation. Occasionally, foraging bees may enter rooms of a building rather than using their outside entrance. If the nest is accessible, call a beekeeper for removal. Unfortunately, removal of an established colony may require moving siding, soffit, or roofing on the exterior, and cutting through walls and/or ceilings to get access to the hive. This is why some beekeepers refuse to remove a colony and professionals will charge for this service, often referred to as a cut-out, and repairs.
Removal or control measures are best accomplished in late winter or early spring when the number of bees and the amount of stored honey are low. Once the entrance is established, a professional beekeeper who is experienced in complicated colony removals can pinpoint the location of the hive through a variety of methods, including the use of thermal cameras and a thorough examination of the area. The work of removing the bees is best done methodically in order to ensure the survival of the bees and to minimize damage to the structure.
Once the entire colony is removed, it's best to fill the void with insulation and seal and paint all entrances to avoid reestablishment. If the colony is deep inside the structure and access is impossible, an alternate method called a trap-out can be utilized. A trap-out is a time consuming endeavor, taking anywhere from 4-8 weeks. If time is not critical, and there is no imminent danger due to the location of the colony, and you want to minimize damage to the structure as a result of a direct extraction, a trap-out might be your best option.
A trap-out involves installing a one-way exit at the hive entrance, so that bees can only leave and not return. A new hive box is installed in that location, so that the forager bees will continue to work, but any resources they gather will be stored in the new box and not the original hive that's within the building structure. Ideally the hive box will have previously drawn comb inside, so that the bees will be able to utilize it as a storage medium right away, and become comfortable with it as their new home. The key, of course, is to lure the queen into the new hive.
The theory with a trap-out is that the original hive will run out of resources eventually, the queen will stop laying, and the bees will abscond the hive. Once they all leave, they cannot get back in, and will either wind out in the new box, or leave the location entirely. Only in the most difficult of situations should killing of the colony be considered. Honey bees are in short supply and declining in numbers, and given their importance and value as pollinators, destroying a colony should always be an absolute last resort.
Keep in mind that spraying poison into a hive will most likely not be completely effective in killing all the bees, as the comb acts as a barrier, and hives are often complex and deep, ranging anywhere from 4-12 feet or more, and can span walls and floors and ceilings. Leaving a dead hive in your walls or ceilings, with wax, honey, dead bees, and poison is most certainly not a desirable outcome. While nobody would be thrilled with the prospect of opening up their walls, ceilings, and floors to remove a colony of bees, it is often the best method in the long run; the bees and comb will be removed, the void properly filled with insulation and the entrance sealed so that another hive doesn't wind up in the same place in the future.
Bees in Trees
It is very common for a honey bee colony to reside in a tree cavity. You may have several on your property, high off the ground, and you'd be unlikely to ever know they were there. It could be high in the trees or within reach, wherever they find an existing cavity in the tree. If the colony is out of the way and not adjacent to your front door, for example, there is no reason why it cannot coexist peacefully with its human neighbors. You will instantly become aware of the hive, however, if a storm comes through and knocks the tree down, and now you've got an angry colony spilled open on your lawn with bees buzzing about.
There is no need to panic, but it's best to keep away from the bees when they are in this agitated state. Time to call a beekeeper who is experienced with tree removals. It's generally easier to cut-out a honey bee colony from a tree than from a structure, so generally more beekeepers would be willing to take on a job such as this. After an initial period of high activity, the bees will generally settle down and mass on a section of the exposed hive. They may even resume normal activities if the comb inside hasn't been too severely damaged.
Depending on how much of the hive has been exposed, it's often necessary to use a chain saw and carefully make cuts so that the beekeeper has enough access to remove the comb. The comb can simply be put in a box, or better yet, cut into frames on the spot. The bees will want to be near the brood frames especially, and once you have the queen, the rest of the bees will go right into the box. The drawn comb with the hive resources inside such as eggs, larvae, honey, pollen, and water is very valuable to the bees, so as much of it that can be recovered is critical to the survival of the colony.
If you suspect that you have a honey bee colony in a structure, call a beekeeper who has experience in safely removing them. It won't be free, as it's a time consuming and delicate procedure, but it will be worth it in the end, as you'll be contributing to the survival and recovery of honey bees. The beekeeper will no doubt give you some honey from the hive, so you won't be left empty handed. If you are in Northern NJ and have an issue with honey bees in a structure or elsewhere on your property, contact Eco Bee and we'll dispatch an experienced beekeeper to make an assessment.