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Frequently Asked Questions

Bee swarms
Carpenter Bees
Africanized Honey Bees
Other bee mysteries
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Bee swarms

My family and I were leaving home this morning and during our drive, we encountered a huge swarm of bees. I, unfortunately, can't identify themas I know nothing about the bee culture. However, as I drove towards them, they seemed to be approaching our car at a high rate of speed. In the foreground, I could see this dark mass of movement coming in my direction. Suddenly, my entire windshield was covered with bees; most of which were smashed against the windshield. I've never had this experience and thought I would share this with you. I don't know if they were the infamous Africanized offshoot or just an unusually active swarm of ordinary honey bee. I know this isn't very much to go on. When I stopped my car in a safer area, I had collected a bumper full of dead bees. I tried to take them to a lab here in San Diego, but some of them flew away as I attempted to gather the bodies. Pls advise with any identifying elements that I can look for in the future.

> What you encountered was a flying swarm of bees: When a colony divides, about half the workers and the queen fly en masse from the nest to a clustering spot from which they search for a good cavity for their new nest. When they find it, they fly en masse again to it. You drove into a swarm doing one of these movements. Africanized and European bees both do it. A guess of the subspecies could have been made from the wing lengths of the bees involved, or DNA analysis from preserved (alcohol) remains.

Hello, I have a question about bees. When the bees begin to form anew swarm and leave the colony, what chemicals are used for communicating which bees leave? If you know an answer to my question, I would really appreciate it.

> Probably the answer to your question is "none". Chemicals involved in swarming behavior include queen pheromones, Nasanov pheromone, and possibly pheromones given off by the brood. Queen pheromones are produced mostly in the head, but also other chemicals from glands elsewhere may be important. One use is sure: it is used to identify the queen and allow the bees to tell whether a queen is present (in the hive, or in a swarm of bees after leaving the hive). Reductions in queen pheromones have been hypothesized to be one cause of swarming, but this is not well established.

Nasanov pheromone is released by workers from a gland in the tip of their abdomen. It has a lemony scent. It says, "come here" and is used to help assemble the swarm cluster after the bees leave the hive, and help them find the nest entrance when the swarm moves to a new site. How the decision is reached about which bees go and which bees stay when a swarm departs is not known. Probably this is not determined by chemicals, but by a combination of the ages of the bees, its location in the hive at the time of swarm departure, and chance.

I have a bee colony in my roof. They are going in and out of the roof area beside the chimney, where there is no flashing. We purchased our home last August and as part of our closing deal the previous owners had the bees removed. The realtor told us the bee man removed 70 lb. of honey and comb. The bees supposedly were gone. We frequently saw dead bees on the ground for a couple of months and felt they were dying off. As November rolled around, we called the original company to come back to check the bees and tell us why they were not totally gone. In our first conversation with him, he told us it was the previous owners' problem to handle the completion of the job. We have tried to ask him back but he has never returned our calls.

> It is fairly common for bees to re-occupy sites from which they have been removed. I think this is because the smell of beeswax, propolis, etc. stays on the site (don't bother trying to remove it, you are unlikely to succeed), making it easier for house-hunting scout bees to find the formerly used cavity. How to prevent this? Ideally, the cavity should be filled up when the bees are removed. I recommend fiberglass bat insulation where it can be placed into the cavity, but other materials that fill the cavity and are not likely to settle should also work. You can sometimes plug up the holes or cracks leading into the space well enough that bees can't get in. However, it is risky to count on just this, since if the caulk cracks, or there were other gaps you did not know about, bees may still find a way in. I expect that the arrangement between the bee-removal company and the former owner was that they would remove the bees, but closing off the hole they left, and filling up the cavity were the homeowner's responsibility. If this was not done properly, as above, it is not surprising that bees are back. In this situation, the bee removal company cannot guarantee work they were not contracted to do. The above situation should have been, and probably was, explained to the former owner It is possible that the bees are Africanized, but not very likely at this point, since they have not been reported in your area yet. You might call vector control and see if they are interested in sampling the bees.

I was wondering what the behavioral differences were between clustered and swarming bees.

> Swarming bees are somewhere in the process of rearing new queen, departing colony with old queen, clustering on an intermediate site and looking for a good cavity, flying to it, or moving into it. Usually, it means the intermediate cluster of bees with scouts flying out looking for home sites Clustering just means clustering together. This could be on a swarm or it could be a "winter cluster" in which the bees form a relatively tight cluster on the combs to stay warm.

I have a swarm of bees that is gathering in my patio. I want to get rid of them, do you have any suggestions. Will your trap idea work for me?

> By the time you get this, the bees will either have left or moved into a wall or your house. If they are gone, that's it. If they are in the wall, you will need to call a specialist to remove them (see bees in yellow pages). I am afraid it will be rather expensive. If the removal does not include opening up the wall and removing everything, there is a danger that honey and bees left behind will cause further problems. This danger is less if the bees have been in place only a short time. In any case, it would be best to fill up the cavity with insulation to prevent future bees from moving in (and seal up or screen the entrance hole, but sometimes they find others)

Mysterious recurrent swarms of bees around trees at sunset?


Carpenter Bees

Do you have any information about bees that live in wooden fences, digging out holes for themselves? I want to remove them in as humanely away as possible.

> The most humane way would be to leave them alone. They are Carpenter bees (Xylocopa). They are rather harmless. The females can sting, but only do so if grabbed or stepped on. The males are territorial, and may approach and investigate you if you get near, but they cannot sting. The females drill the holes, and place balls of pollen and nectar which they collect from plants into cells in the tunnels, and lay eggs on them, which develop into next year's bees.

There is an unusual phenomenon in Western Virginia. Extremely large bees have been swooping a homeowner in a recently cleared area for a new home site. The observation by the homeowner was that the bees were more aggressive to one another than to the individual who occupies the home. It appears to the homeowner that there might possibly be opposing colonies. Could you enlighten us as to what may be occurring?

> Hard to say for sure without seeing the bees, but my guess is that they are carpenter bee males (Xylocopa virginiana). These bees are territorial, and defend an area against other males, but also investigate and or chase other insects and animals in the vicinity. The females build nests in tunnels they bore in wood. The males, I think, have yellow on their face but are otherwise black, and the females are all black. The bees are about 1 inch long, and quite robust, with dark-colored wings. The males are unable to sting, and harmless. Females can sting, and will if picked up or restrained, but generally do not defend their nests with stings like eusocial bees and wasps.

We live in So. New Hampshire (in the same house for 11 yrs now). This is the first time we have experienced a very unusual bee of this description: Large, Larger than a Queen Bee. My husband first thought it was a "humming-bird", because it flutters as it bores holes in our pine house. It has almost the same coloring as a queen bee, but maybe the yellow is a bit darker. My husband sprayed bee spray on about four of them, but they were very strong to a direct spray. (He used Zep "Tox") which is very strong. The bee that he finally made fall was then attacked by two more bees of the same kind. I am somewhat allergic to a bee stink, where so far, I swell quite a bit, and last yr. went to the hospital because the swelling got so bad from a small yellow jacket. So, were somewhat concerned as to what is trying to invade our property. If you have any information, please write back. Thank

> If it is boring 3/8-inch diameter holes in wood, and is black (males also have some yellow) it is probably a carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginiana). It will not sting you. The males have no sting. They defend territories, and chase other males, and often fly toward people to check them out, too. But they can't sting. The females gather pollen and nectar from flowers, and rear young bees in the burrows. Unless you capture or step on them, they are very unlikely to sting.


Africanized Honey Bees

I am concerned about a colony of Africanized Honey Bees at my parent's house. The location of the nest is not known, however they are apparently there, because they are attracted to the hummingbird feeder. Are there any measures my parents can take in order to get rid of these bees? If so what are they? In addition, if not what can they do to protect themselves. I really appreciate your time.

> You have not mentioned where your parents live, and that would be important for evaluating whether it is likely, there are AHB in the area. Foragers at hummingbird feeders could be coming from some distance (more than a mile), and pose no real threat themselves. There are attachments for humming bird feeders to exclude bees while allowing the birds to sip (they have longer beaks than the bees have tongues). Looking carefully around the house in the middle of a fine-weather day might reveal a location where bees are coming and going from a single spot, indicating a nest, and this could be re moved by a specialist (see bee removal in yellow pages).

When do you think the AHB are going to be established in our counties? Presently we control unwanted feral bees during the daylight hours and use traditional coverall-type bee suits. We have never had a problem performing our work in this manner, however I believe that we will need to switch to dawn and dusk control times and use the improved bee suits that are being sold from Texas (with padding sewed into the fabric). Can you give me an opinion?

> If a bee colony is removed quite soon after it moves in (and most calls probably involve such colonies, I don't think you will run into many problems. More populous, longer established colonies are likely to be more defensive (in both AHB and EHB). I have worked with AHB with ordinary bee suits, and usually this is fine. In a PCO situation, you are unlikely to be exposed to as many living angry bees as a beekeeper encounters manipulating colonies, and I would guess you will not a problem. The mesh suits are cooler to working, though, and pretty good at preventing stings. I don't really know whether dawn and dusk will be needed. The principal advantage is that all the bees are present then, so the number of flying (and potentially angered) bees is reduced.


Other bee mysteries

My mother who lives in Franconia, NH lives next door to people who have honey bees. She told me today that the honey bees come to her birdfeeder at her window and try to carry off the cracked corn. She says they try to gather it up with their feet and fly away with it. Unfortunately, they are not usually successful. Can you tell me why they would do this? I find it very interesting.

> In early spring, bees are rearing young bees (larvae) to which they feed pollen. However, since there are not many flowers yet, pollen is scarce. Under these circumstances, bees have been reported to gather many inappropriate powdery amino-acid-containing substances, including the meal from birdseed and even coal dust. When flowers become more available, they stop.

We really need some information. Every night at dusk a huge swarm of bees arrive in our backyard and the neighbors on both sides of us. I live in northwestern New York State.... (Newfane-Olcott area, just 20 miles east of Niagara Falls) This is a rural area. The swarm hovers in the trees and quite a few (100 or so) hover around the eaves of our house. I have never seen anything like this before. There are millions of bees that gather. This wouldn't bother us so much except that these bees are aggressive. They will "buzz" you just standing in the yard. If you run, they go after you. These bees are larger than the common little honey bees, smaller than bumble bees, and still look different than the larger honey bees which are fuzzier with a bit of yellow. They do no look like a wasp or in the family of such. As soon as the sun is gone, they seem to disappear. Are they still in the tress? We do not see them all day. When they come at dusk, they don't appear to be going to a hive.... Just swarming in the trees. I have sat on the porch and waited for them to arrive trying to see what direction they seem to come seems from the northwest. Is this normal behavior? Our weather here has been unusual. Very hot in the afternoon 85-90, and cool at night around 60. We have not had much rain. Whom should I contact? We are afraid if they would swarm; someone could get seriously hurt. My husband is allergic to bees to make matters worse.

> Fortunately, I used to study in New York State, so I know what you are talking about. I am almost certain that what you are describing are not bees at all, but beetles. Scott Camazine and I wrote an article on these beetles once, called "swarms at sunset: the case of the European Chafer" because we got so many calls about this phenomenon from people who mistook them for bees. These are mating swarms of European Chafers, scarab beetles slightly larger than honey bee size. They develop as larvae in turf (where they sometimes attain pest status by killing grass). In the evening in June and July, they swarm around trees in search of mates. They are harmless, and cannot sting.



I need information how I should manage 10 hives by myself in Trinidad?

> That is a big subject. I recommend a book on beekeeping, and starting small, with three or four hives.

In general, mine is not the appropriate source for beekeeping information. I know a lot about beekeeping, but there are other sources. There is a listserve group on beekeeping.

Another useful beekeeping link:

About beekeeping








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