Bee Removal

 

Bee RemovalExperienced Bee Removal in Florida

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Our Bee and Pest Services

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University of Florida

Topics: Entomology and Nematology | Ellis, James D | Neal, Anita S | O’Malley, Michael K | Africanized Honey Bee

Frequently Asked Questions about the Africanized Honey Bee in Florida1

M. K. O’Malley, J. D. Ellis and A. S. Neal2

What’s the difference between Africanized honey bees (AHBs) and regular bees?

Not much! The “regular” honey bees that beekeepers manage (European honey bees) are actually a little larger than the AHB. The most notable differences are the AHB’s propensity to nest basically anywhere—including close proximity to humans—and the AHBs’ increased defensiveness. All honey bees are defensive; that means if a colony is disturbed, bees will come out of the hive to defend against the possible intruder. European honey bees will send out 5-10 bees to defend an area about 20 feet around the colony, but if an AHB colony is disturbed, it may send out several hundred bees to defend an area up to 40 yards around the colony.

Is it possible to tell an African honey bee from a regular or European honey bee by looking at it?

 

Figure 1.An Africanized honey bee (left) and a European honey bee on honeycomb. Despite color differences between these two individuals, mostly they can’t be identified by eye.
Credit:Scott Bauer, USDA-ARS
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

 

No. The size difference is very subtle. The only way to be sure is via laboratory testing. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services uses a system called FABIS: the fast African bee identification system, which is conducted at one of their labs. The bee samples they test are usually sent in from feral (or wild) colonies that have been eradicated. If a bee’s identity remains questionable after FABIS testing, FDACS will use the USDA-ID test (a more comprehensive morphological test) to confirm the bee’s identity.

I watch nature programs on television; does this qualify me to be able to tell the difference between AHBs and EHBs by looking at them?

No. The only visible difference is the size, and AHBs are only 10% smaller—it is nearly impossible to tell without the help of lab tools and specific measurements.

Is the Africanized bee the same as the killer bee?

“Killer bee” is the name given to the Africanized bee by the media and Hollywood. The sting of an Africanized bee actually contains less venom than that of a European bee. However, Africanized bees have caused human and animal fatalities as a result of their heightened defensive characteristics (thus more stings from more individual bees), so it is important to carry a healthy respect for AHBs.

What’s the difference between African and Africanized bees?

Technically, African refers to the pure race of bees that live in Africa. Africanized refers to the hybrid that results from African and European bees mating. The terms are often (though not always correctly) used interchangeably. AHBs in Florida are probably mostly Africanized although the only way to be sure is via laboratory testing.

Do Africanized bees hunt people down and kill them?

No, the only thing they hunt for is pollen and nectar from flowers. However, if an AHB colony is disturbed, the bees will defend their nest.

Do Africanized honey bees produce honey?

Yes. AHBs are honey bees and do produce honey. However, they are not easily managed in Florida because of their defensive characteristics.

How many times can the Africanized honey bee sting?

All female worker honey bees can only sting once. A portion of the abdomen remains with the stinger when she flies away, and she dies soon afterward. The male honey bees (drones) cannot sting.

What exactly is a swarm of bees? Is it dangerous when bees do this?

Most people use the term “swarming” to refer to dangerous bee activity or just bees flying around; however, this is a misnomer. Swarming is bee reproduction at the colony level. When a colony swarms, the queen leaves the colony along with about 60% of the bees while the remaining colony members produce a new queen. The cluster of bees (or swarm) that left the colony begins a search for new nesting sites. Swarming is actually the cluster moving from its previous colony to a holding area until the bees find a home. Bees in swarms are generally docile and not defensive as they do not yet have a nest to protect. Despite this, swarms should be removed because they will soon establish a colony and exhibit defensive behavior.

What should I do if I see a swarm of bees?

First, stay away from the bees. Even though a swarm is usually docile, honeycomb construction may be starting (thus a colony being established and defensive behavior being exhibited) underneath the bees. Second, contact a PCO that handles bee removal.

If I swat at a bee, will it go away?

Swatting is not a good idea because it will agitate the bee and cause it to sting more readily. Also, if the bee’s body is crushed by swatting, it produces an odor (or pheromone) that incites other bees to attack the possible culprit.

What is a PCO?

PCO stands for pest control operator. A PCO is a professional pest control company; many PCOs offer bee removal services, yet some do not. Certified PCOs are the only people according to Florida law that are allowed to apply pesticides to honey bees, so if you are having a honey bee issue, contact a PCO.

Is it true that African bees are wild bees and can never be managed by beekeepers?

No. In South America and Southern Africa, African bees are managed by beekeepers; however, this poses a problem in Florida because most bee yards are in closer proximity to humans than they are in South America. African bees will live anywhere regular European bees will live. It is illegal for Florida beekeepers to knowingly keep African honey bees.

There’s a beekeeper near my property/house; how do I know he or she does not have Africanized bees?

Recently, Floridas beekeepers have been given 10 guidelines (called the Best Management Practices) that if practiced will ensure their bees to be European. If the beekeeper is following the BMPs, then he or she is not keeping Africanized bees, but if the BMPs are not being followed, there is no way to be sure. If you know a beekeeper, encourage him or her to comply with the BMPs. Also, registered beekeepers have their hives checked annually by the state inspectors. Defensive colonies are recommended to be re-queened to ensure that the bees are European.

For further information, visit the AFBEE Program website at http://entnemdept.ifas.ufl.edu/afbee/, visit the Solutions For Your Life website athttp://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu, or contact your local county extension agent.

Footnotes

1.

This document is ENY-140, one of a series of the Entomology and Nematology Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date September 2007. Reviewed April 2012. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

 

2.

M. K. O’Malley, extension assistant, J. D. Ellis, assistant professor, Entomology & Nematology Department, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611 and A. S. Neal, extension agent, St. Lucie County, Ft. Pierce, FL.

 


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county’s UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.

University of Florida

Keeping Africanized Honey Bees Out of Wildlife Nest Boxes1

William H. Kern, Jr.2

Introduction

In 2005, Africanized Honey bees became established in Florida. Africanized honey bees are the same species as European honey bees and therefore are impossible to identify by simple appearance. There are behavioral differences that make Africanized honey bees more of a problem for cavity-nesting wildlife than European honey bees. European honey bees will occasionally use large nest boxes as hives, while Africanized honey bees will inhabit smaller nest boxes (Table 1). Wood duck, screech owl, barred owl, and barn owl nest boxes have a large enough cavity to entice European honey bees for harborage (Table 1). Africanized honey bee colonies produce 4 to 8 swarms per year compared to the 1 or rarely 2 produced by European colonies. This means that there will be many more swarms to begin feral bee colonies in areas where Africanized honey bees are established. Africanized honey bee swarms are generally smaller than European swarms and will select any protected cavity, even burrows in the ground. The swarming season for African honey bees is year round in South Florida. The other hazard associated with Africanized honey bees is that they are much more defensive of their colonies than the gentler domestic European honey bee. Africanized honey bee colonies in residential areas or parks pose a potential risk of stings and defensive attack to people, pets, and wildlife.

The Africanized honey bee has a habit of setting up colonies in unusual locations compared to European honey bees. Africanized honey bees have been found in water meter boxes and irrigation valve boxex, under decks, inside sheds, inside covered boats, within crawl spaces, in storm drains, in rock piles, inside soffits, in discarded tires and appliances, woodpecker holes, and in the burrows of animals like gopher tortoises and armadillos. By using smaller and lower locations these bees may displace wildlife that uses these locations as dens in urban, agricultural, and natural environments.

Recommendations

Although these recommendations target Africanized honey bees, the benefits extend to other pests as well. Put up bird and mammal nest boxes just prior to that particular animals nesting or birthing season (Table 2). This will reduce the likelihood that honey bees and paper wasps will find and occupy it. Take down houses during non-nesting seasons to discourage starlings, house sparrows, and bees and wasps.

Thoroughly treat the inside of the box and any nesting litter with a repellent pyrethroid insecticide such as permethrin. Only use a product that is registered for use on poultry or caged birds. If using a spray, let the material completely dry before putting up the box or allowing animals access. If using permethrin dust, treat the inside thoroughly prior to adding any sawdust, then treat the bedding before adding it to the box. Permethrin is effective in controlling blood-feeding mites, fleas, parasitic flies (Hippoboscidae, Calliphoridae, Muscidae), and blood-feeding bugs (Cimicidae and Rejuviidae) in addition to discouraging Africanized honey bee scouts and paper wasps. Controlling these arthropod pests may also improve survival of nestlings in treated boxes. Permethrin has very low toxicity to birds (oral LD50 >9900 mg/kg in mallard ducks and > 13,500 mg/kg in pheasants) and low toxicity in mammals (oral LD50 in rats of 430 – 4000 mg/kg and dermal LD50 in rats > 4000 mg/kg and in rabbits >2000 mg/kg) making this insecticide a good choice. Toxicity is determined by the lethal dose to kill 50% of a defined population. The larger the number is, the lower the toxicity of the substance to the test organism. To better appreciate relative oral toxicity, compare the LD50 of two common materials (salt and chocolate) with that of Permethrin. The oral LD50 for table salt (NaCl) is 3,000 mg/kg for rats and 4,000 mg/kg for mice. The oral LD50 for chocolate is 1265 mgkg for rats, 837 mg/kg for mice, 200 mg/kg for cats and 300 mg/kg for dogs. The half life of permethrin in soil is about 30 days. It should protect a nest box longer than 30 days because it is away from soil moisture and microbes. Permethrin tick repellents for clothing are effective for six weeks, so permethrin products may give similar duration of protection inside a nest box.

If Bees have Invaded your Wildlife Nest Box

If bees invade your birdhouse, bat house, or mammal den box, contact a pest management professional with bee experience to remove the colony. These social insects will defend their colonies and a bee suit is usually required to remove them safely. Do not use “wasp spray” on honey bees. It will kill those bees it contacts directly, but it also causes those bees to release their alarm / defense pheromone. This excites the rest of the colony into a defensive frenzy and you will be stung unless you are wearing a bee suit. After the box is down and the bees are dead, scrap out all the comb and wax. Wash the inside of the box thoroughly with hot water; dont use soap or detergents. After cleaning, allow the box to air dry completely, then store indoors until next nesting season.

 

Figure 1.A screech owl nest box occupied by a colony of honey bees in Broward County, Florida.
Credit: W. H. Kern, Jr, University of Florida
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

 

 

Figure 2.A wood duck nest box containing a European honey bee colony in Mississippi that is at least two years old.
Credit: http://www.beesource.com/eob/feral/feralhive8.htm
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

 

Summary

Africanized honey bees became established in South Florida and the Tampa area in 2005. They are expected to spread over the state of Florida within the next few years. Africanized honey bees are more likely to invade bird boxes, bat houses, and den boxes than European honey bees. The use of appropriate insecticides (especially permethrin) may discourage Africanized honey bees, paper wasps, and parasites that feed on the blood of baby birds and mammals from moving into these valuable wildlife structures.

Other Sourses of Information

Brown, L. N. 1997. Mammals of Florida. Windward Publishing, Miami, FL. 224 pp.

Maehr, D. S., H. W. Kale and K. Karalus. Florida’s Birds, 2nd Edition; A Field Guide and Reference. Pineapple Press, Sarasota, FL. 359 pp.

Sanford, M. T. and H. G. Hall. 2005. African Honey Bee: What You Need to Know. ENY-114/MG113. Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville FL 32611 (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/MG113).

Schaefer, J. 1990. Helping Cavity-nesters in Florida, SS-WIS-901, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville FL 32611-0304 (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/UW058).

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the following colleagues for reviewing this manuscript; Tim Broschat, FLREC, Frederick M. Fishel, UF Pesticide Information Office, Jerry Hayes, FDACS, DPI, Steve Johnson, UF/IFAS, W.E.C., Philip Koehler, UF/IFAS, Entomology and Nematology, Frank Mazzotti, FLREC, W.E.C., and Van Waddill, FLREC Center Director.

 

 

Table 1.Artificial nest or den boxes likely to be occupied by European and Africanized honey bees.

European Honey Bees

Africanized Honey Bees

Wood DuckBarn OwlBarred OwlRaccoon den box

Screech Owl / Kestrel

Wood DuckBarn OwlBarred OwlRaccoon den box

Screech Owl / Kestrel

Squirrel den box

Woodpecker (all species)

Eastern Bluebird

Great Crested Flycatcher

Purple Martin

Burrowing Owl artificial burrows

 

 

 

Table 2.Nesting seasons for Florida’s cavity nesters.

Cavity Nesting SpeciesNesting or Birthing Season
Wood DuckBarn OwlBarred OwlScreech Owl

Burrowing Owl

Kestrel

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

Eastern Bluebird

Great Crested Flycatcher

Purple Martin

Raccoon

Gray Squirrel

Fox Squirrel

Southern Flying Squirrel

Bats that use bat houses

February-JulyYear-roundSeptember-JuneMarch-June

March-June

March-June

March-July

April-July

April-September

March-July

April-August

March-July

March-June

April-August

March-August

Birth February-April, kits in den until July

January-March & May-July

January-March & May-July

March-June & October-December

May-June, pup season April 15-August 15

Species whose nest boxes aren’t likely to attracted honey bees
Prothonotary WarblerCarolina WrenTufted TitmouseCarolina Chickadee

Brown-headed Nuthatch

April-JuneMarch-AugustMarch-JulyMarch-July

February-July

 

Footnotes

1.

This document is ENY-838 (IN682), one of a series from the Entomology and Nematology Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Published: January 2007. Revised March 2011. Please visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

 

2.

William H. Kern, Jr., assistant professor, Ft. Lauderdale Research and Education Center, Entomology & Nematology Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.

 


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county’s UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.