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Bee Information and Research

Posted On Dec 20, 2013

Africanized honeybees are well established in central and southern Arizona. They are an invasive species and there are very few to no feral European bee colonies left. In order to establish more colonies, honeybees raise a new queen and the old queen and one half of the members of the mother colony leave in what is called a swarm. These swarms are usually made up of between 8,000 and 15,000 bees. People frequently see swarms flying through the air, swirling like a tornado of bees, buzzing loudly. Often these swarms will land on a tree or bush in a large clump. Other times, they will land on a structure with a small opening to a larger cavity, such as the vent boards of a house, a concrete block perimeter wall with a crack in the mortar, a water valve box, saguaro cactus, etc. When these bees land on a structure of any type, they have found a new home and immediately begin funneling into the cavity through the small opening previously discovered, nearly disappearing inside within 10-15 minutes. Any opening large enough to slip an ordinary writing pencil into is large enough for a bee to enter.

Whereas European honeybees swarm once in the late spring and very occasionally in the fall, Africanized honeybees, apis mellifera scutellata, will swarm up to 15 times a year. This fact alone helps to explain why Africanized bees have become so prevalent in Arizona, although the first colony wasn’t discovered and identified until 1993, in Tucson. Since that time the number of Africanized honeybees has increased dramatically. In fact, research has documented that a single Africanized honeybee colony will become 33 colonies within one year, due to their frequent dividing and swarming.

Once inside the selected cavity, the bees begin cleaning the cavity, spreading their pheromone scent and building honeycomb. This is often when homeowners get their first clue that they have a bee problem. As the newly-arrived honeybees explore the cavity they have selected and before it is well marked with their pheromone, some of the bees who are exploring the cavity will get too far away from the outside entrance and no longer be able to see the light coming from that entrance. In an effort to find another way outside, these lost bees may come into the living area of the house via lighting fixtures or outlets or other small openings. They will immediately fly to the brightest light they see, during the day they will fly to a window or skylight, at night to a lamp. People will often think the bees have come in through a hole in a screen or through a door. This is very seldom true.

These bees do not want to be inside your house; they must be with the rest of the colony to survive and are trying to get back to the outside entrance. If you discover dead bees below your window, glass door, skylight, or other light-filled area, you should take some time to walk slowly around the outside of your home. Frequently homeowners are able to locate the outside entrance to the cavity. You may be able to see 3-4 bees going in and out of a specific opening or area of your home. This activity indicates the entrance to a cavity the bees are using. If you discover dead bees in the house, call a bee removal specialist immediately to have the colony located and eradicated. Do not allow them to become well established and create a dangerous situation. As the bees build honeycomb, the queen will begin to lay eggs, as many as 1,500 per day. The queen may begin laying eggs as soon as two days after the bees arrive and the eggs of Africanized honeybees hatch in 19 days. The honeycomb cells are also used by the foragers who immediately begin bringing nectar and pollen back to the colony to store it in the honeycomb cells. Reflecting on the fact that 21 days after the bees arrive, there will be 1,500 more bees, then the next day 1,500 more bees than the day before, etc., etc. one can see why it is recommended that you call a bee removal specialist immediately upon discovering you have bees in a structure.

When you see a colony or swarm of honeybees it is appropriate and wise to assume they are Africanized and should be treated with respect. These bees have justly earned the reputation and handle of “Killer Bees.” Many, many animal deaths, including dogs, horses, ducks, geese and chickens have been caused by the stings of Africanized honeybees. Men and women have also been killed or critically injured by Africanized honeybee stings. Aside from being overly aggressive, these honeybees are unpredictable. We often take calls from people who say they have had bees under their shed for a year and have never been bothered, then, on that day, they walked past their shed and 50 bees chased them into the house. Shed colonies are perhaps one of the most dangerous situations commonly faced by homeowners and their neighbors. Most of the dogs who have been stung to death in Tucson have died as a result of a neighbor’s unknown, or ignored shed colony. These colonies will frequently perceive a threat because of repeated barking of a dog next door. It is thought that the vibration resulting from the barking triggers the attack. Once these bees begin stinging, they will continue long after the dog is dead. Further, they will attack not only the barking dog, they will go after any animal or human within about a one-quarter mile radius. The 46-year-old Sunizona woman who died in 2002 as a result of an Africanized honeybee attack knew the bees were in her shed wall for over a year without incident. No one knows why bumping the wall on that particular day caused such an extreme reaction from that Africanized honeybee colony. She suffered enough bee stings to cause her death. Her boyfriend, who it is claimed suffered more than 200 bee stings, but was a much larger person, was in intensive care for several days due to the effects of the bee stings. If you know you have a honeybee colony on your property and you experience bees bumping into your face and head as you get close to the colony, you are being given the gentle warning that you are threatening them. Bumping frequently, but not always, occurs before an all-out attack is launched. Bumping is sure indication that you have an established colony nearby.

The eradication of honeybee colonies on private property is the responsibility of the owner. Once you have knowledge of a honeybee colony’s presence on your property, you have liability, should someone else be injured. It is important that you walk around your property weekly observing any bee flight. Important indicators that you have a honeybee colony include:

1. Direct bee flight, usually not more than 3-4 bees going in and out of the entrance within about one minute. The entrance is usually a small crack or opening which leads to a larger cavity. If the colony has been there for a fairly long period of time, you may see a dark stain just below the opening.

2. Finding dead bees under a light you leave on at night. Bees in an established colony within line of sight of a porch light or other light visible from the outside are attracted to the light and will fly at the light until they are exhausted and will usually die, dropping below the light. If this is happening at your home, look around your property during daylight hours and try to locate bees flying away to a specific location. If this is not on your property, you should contact the property owner and alert them to this hazard.

3. A few common areas in homes where colonies become established include, behind vent boards, in house walls going in through holes where conduit or pipes go into your home, in boxed-in beams, below or above bay windows, inside decorative stucco pop-outs of any sort, through scuppers into parapet walls, vega beams, under decks, spas, sheds, dog houses and play houses, inside water or irrigation valve boxes, inside old tires, under boat covers when the boat is used infrequently, at joints between two sections of manufactured homes, under the belly pan of mobile homes.

4. You do not have a bee problem if you see bees going from flower to flower in your garden or on blooming trees.

5. You may have a bee problem if you see bees flying in a direct path in and out of a small opening. If you are close enough, and you see that the bees have pollen on their legs, that is a sure sign that there is an established colony.

6. It is common to have bees foraging for water in your pond, pool or water feature, or fountain. There will be more bees during hotter times of the year and when there are fewer natural sources of water as is the case during a drought. The bees require water to keep their honeycomb cool.

These bees are not usually aggressive, but can be a nuisance and you may be stung if you should happen to put your hand on one. Heavy foraging for water is an indication that there are established colonies near your home. If you are having a pool installed, consider having a chlorination system which uses salt as the source of chlorine. The bees are less likely to use systems disinfected in this manner than they are to go to pools using the customary chlorination systems.

During times when there are not a lot of natural sources for pollen and nectar, honeybees will forage on other sweet liquids including soda, fruit juice, jelly (perhaps dropped onto a table from a peanut butter and jelly sandwich), etc. You can avoid this foraging by keeping lids on garbage cans, or if there are no lids, the trash bags should be changed frequently. Wipe down or hose down areas where sweet substances may have been dropped as people are eating.

If you are stung by a honeybee, if possible, SCRATCH THE STINGER OUT to remove it from your skin. TRY NOT TO PINCH it to pull it out. That will only inject the more of the venom into you. However, if you can’t scratch it out, get it out as quickly as possible in any manner, rather than leave it in until you can get something to scratch it out. The venom sac will continue pulsing, injecting the venom into you as long as the stinger is imbedded in your skin. If you are chased by honeybees, get away as quickly as you can safely do so. You don’t want to run and trip and fall if you are on rocky or uneven ground. Get into your vehicle or inside home if at all possible. You may bring bees in with you, but they will fly to the windows trying to get out. DO NOT JUMP INTO A POOL OR LAKE, the bees will wait for you to surface. Honeybees target areas on your body where carbon dioxide is exiting. They will begin stinging around your nose, mouth, eyes, etc. Do not flail or attempt to swat the bees, just get away as quickly as you can safely do so. If you can cover your face, except your eyes as you make your retreat that will be helpful. If you can’t get inside, you must get at least ¼ mile away before the bees will stop attacking you. If you begin to have difficulty breathing after you are stung, it is critical to get emergency assistance immediately. It is also prudent to seek medical attention if you have been stung more than 15 times. A normal reaction for a person who is not allergic to a bee sting may include swelling and redness in the area of the sting, after a day or two you may experience extreme itching. When you are first stung and after you have scratched out the stinger, you can make a paste of baking soda and water and put it on the sting site to relieve some of the pain. If you are not sensitive to antihistamines, they may also help (consult your doctor if there is any doubt).

If you do discover a honeybee colony on your property, immediately look under Bee Removal in the Yellow Pages and call a company who is licensed with the Office of Pest Management. Beware of companies who advertise that they are licensed; however, they may not be legitimately licensed with the Office of Pest Management. By law, a licensed pest control company must display their OPM license number in their display advertising. Companies which are not licensed with the Office of Pest Management are unable to purchase the appropriate chemicals with which to eradicate an established colony as these chemicals are restricted and are sold only to licensed Pest Control Operators. Using the wrong chemicals can cause an attack, can result in bees fleeing the pesticide and coming inside the living space of the home, and can cause nausea or chemical reactions in people with chemical sensitivity.

Unlicensed individuals do not necessarily obtain adequate education or carry an appropriate amount of liability insurance as licensed Pest Control Operators are required by law to do. Additionally, it is a Class 6 felony to apply pesticides on property you do not own without an SPCC license. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO ERADICATE THE BEES YOURSELF, unless you are a licensed Pest Control Operator and know the appropriate procedures to follow to abate Africanized honeybees.