We find feral colonies of honey bees across the state of Florida. When these colonies nest in close proximity to humans or domestic animals, they can pose a stinging threat and may be considered a nuisance and possibly a threat to animal or public health.
A property owner or authorized agent who finds a nuisance colony of honey bees must remove the bees (keeping the bees alive) and not eradication (killing the bees). Municipalities and homeowner associations have specific formal codes related to the removal of honey bees in natural settings and in structures. Moreover, honey bees may need to be removed when they are nesting in close to places where humans or domestic animals live.
In 2013, Rule 5E-14.151 of the Florida Administrative Code was created to allow registered Florida beekeepers to perform live removals of nuisance honey bee colonies and swarms „for the production of honey and related products or the pollination of plants or crops“ without the need for a pest control operator license. To operate legally in this capacity, a beekeeper must be registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services pursuant to Chapter 586 of the Florida Statutes. Furthermore, beekeepers must maintain their honey bee colonies. As such, property owners can deal with nuisance honey bees via live removal (via a registered beekeeper) and should not attempt to remove a honey bee colony themselves because the job may pose a risk to the individual as well as the community and surrounding areas if the bees are not handled properly.
There are three main ways in which a beekeeper may remove honey bee colonies. All three ways concern the removal of the entire colony of bees and are referred to as „live bee removal“
or „bee removal“.
- Swarm trapping
- Swarm removal/capture
- Colony removal
Swarm trapping is a preventative measure used to keep honey bee colonies from becoming a nuisance. It is much easier and more cost effective to capture a swarm than it is to remove an established colony from an enclosed area such as inside a wall. The removal and capture of swarms is usually a simple procedure when a swarm lands in a tree or on a structure. The removal of established colonies becomes relevant after the honey bee colony is already considered a nuisance, usually when it has established on a client’s property.
Africanized honey bees (AHBs)
It is a hybridization of an African (A. mellifera scutellata) and various European-derived honey bee subspecies, are established in southern Florida. Generally, African honey bees are more defensive than European-derived honey bees, and this heightened defensiveness is expressed often, but not always, in the Africanized hybrid. All honey bee colonies (African, European, and Africanized) are defensive when they have resources (honey, brood, pollen, etc.) and a colony to protect and defend, but they are considerably less defensive when they are in a swarm state. In fact, honey bee swarms are often considered comparatively docile, though even they can exhibit heightened defensive responses. All honey bees, whether in a swarm or an established colony, European- or African-derived, should be approached with caution. More information about Africanized bees can be found in the UF/IFAS Electronic Data Information Source (EDIS) subtopic, Africanized Honey Bee (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/entity/topic/africanized_honey_bee), particularly in the following publications: African Honey Bee, Africanized Honey Bee, Killer Bee, Apis mellifera scutellata Lepeletier (Insecta: Hymenopter: Apidae) (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in790) and Living with the African Honey Bee (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in1205).
We gather Information
Before beginning a bee removal, we talk to the property owner/authorized agent about what, if any, previous work has been done to remove or eradicate the nuisance colony. This may provide us with valuable information about the temperament and condition of the colony, which can better prepare you for the job. Previous attempts at eradication are a particular concern because bees and comb may still contain pesticides that we as a beekeeper should not handle unless we have personal protective equipment. We consider asking clients to sign a contract stating that chemical controls have not been used on the bees/colony, to the best of their knowledge.
Before starting the removal, we survey the removal site to determine the equipment that we will need, that is the reason why we inspect before working and so that we can estimate
the time it will take to complete the removal properly and the cost for the removal. It is best to survey during daylight hours and in weather conditions that will allow us to see
any obstructions that may pose a complication to the removal. We consider height, access points, multiple entrances, bushes, conduit, etc. It may help to have the client describe
where they have noticed bees or actually show us. At this point, we should know whether we are dealing with a swarm or an established colony. If it is an established colony,
we look for flight patterns to and from the hive site. In particular, we look for bees bringing in pollen. Established colonies may be collecting pollen, while swarms will not.
At this point, it is also a good idea to check with the local municipality, property association, or other regulatory groups in the area to confirm that no additional permits or
approvals are required to remove bees in/on certain structures (consider historical buildings, protected tree species, etc.).
Controlling the Surrounding Area
When we perform a bee removal, we will be purposefully disrupting a live honey bee colony. It is our responsibility to ensure that property owners, other passersby, etc. do not enter the worksite during and immediately after the removal. The size of the area that we need to control will depend on where the removal is happening, the time of day it is being conducted, and the size of the colony. In highly trafficked areas, for example, we may consider roping off a larger area around the honey bee nest and posting signs and/or employees around the perimeter to warn passersby. In more contained environments, we simply need to alert those present to clear the area. When dealing with bees in public places, it is always safest to be overly cautious to ensure that bystanders are not stung.
Setting Expectations with the Client
Before beginning work, it is important to communicate with the client about expectations. In a written or verbal agreement, we discuss our recommended course of action and the
scope of the work to be performed. It is strongly recommended to execute a written contract with the client before beginning work.
The possibility of property damage associated with opening a cavity for easier access to the colony should be clear to the client before work begins. Furthermore, unless we are
a licensed and insured contractor, we cannot attempt to repair structures ourself after a bee removal. It is crucial that this be made clear to the client before commencing any work.
It is equally important that our client understands that if the remaining cavity is not filled or properly repaired, another honey bee colony may soon take up residence in it,
resulting in the need for subsequent bee removal(s). This is especially pertinent if we issue a warranty with the removal. It is crucial to note in the contract that client failure
to follow up with repairs/close the original nest site will void the contract/warranty.
The client must have clear expectations about the number of bees that may remain after the work is completed. It is not realistic to expect that all bees will be removed in a live
bee removal, because some forager/scout bees may return to their nest after the removal is complete. There are ways of reducing these „straggler“ bees as discussed in „Bee Removal“
in this publication; however, the possibility of bees being left behind should be made clear to the client before work begins. We encourage the client to allow a few days after the
removal for returned stragglers who may be lingering to desert the nest before scheduling maintenance or repairs.
Colony Removal via a Trap-Out
Trap-outs are one way to remove a colony out of a structure, tree, or wall. Trap-outs are a good option for bee removal in situations where a cut-out is not suitable, such as when
colonies are found in a live tree or cinder block wall. When using this method, trap boxes is marked marked with proper identification, such as personal/business contact information,
the date the box was installed, and the apiary firm number. We make sure to add trap-out specifications (such as the extended amount of time the process takes to complete) in the initial
agreement with the landowner. We follow these steps for colony removal via a trap-out.
Steps we perform
- Locating all the hive entrances/exits.
- Sealing off all access points to the colony except the principal entrance. (We do not use standard construction foam because bees can chew through it.)
- Setting a trap box near the principal entrance of the colony. The trap box include at least one frame of brood to encourage establishment.
- Using an escape cone to connect the trap box to the entrance of the nest the colony is currently using (i.e., the one from which it will be trapped).
- Monitoring the trap-out weekly.
- Removing the box when migration is complete (i.e., when the colony has relocated from its original nest site to the trap box).
The process for a trap-out can take weeks, so it is important to mitigate the possibility that the colony will become problematic during or after the trap-out. We schedule regular check-ups on the colony throughout the process, during which we will look for secondary nest entrances that the bees may be using in the tree or structure. Whenever the trap-out method is used, it is important to seal the hive entrance once the removal is complete. This will discourage honey bee swarms from taking over the newly vacant cavity.
Swarm traps are a precautionary measure through which one captures swarms before they occupy a nesting site from which they may be difficult to remove. Swarm trapping is done by setting
out traps in strategic locations. These locations attract cavity-searching scout bees with a lure.
If a client has had a recurring problem with nuisance honey bee colonies on their property, we recommend that they have swarm traps installed. Swarm trapping may be a service
that we as a beekeeper choose to offer to our clients.
Our work is not finished even after we have removed honey bees from a structure. We must clean up the site, try to collect any loose bees, and transport the new hive to an apiary where
it can be managed, all before a job can be considered complete. Before we begin a removal, we let the clients know what will happen after the removal so that their expectations are accurate.
After you have removed the colony and patched any cavities, we clean up the work area.
Our clients have always a way of contacting us after we have performed a bee removal on their property. We make sure to leave our phone number and/or email address at the removal location.
Beekeepers and live bee removal experts play an important role in the maintenance of public safety and the continued growth of the beekeeping industry in Florida. The live removal of honey bee colonies itself is an essential and thriving industry. To maintain the integrity and effectiveness of this trade, standards of practice need to be widespread among beekeepers. The purpose of this website section is to inform about Beeswild.com Practices used when performing live bee removals around the state. All Beekeepers providing such services are encouraged to follow these practices before, during, and after the live removal of honey bee colonies to ensure the safety of the owner or authorized agent, themselves, other beekeepers, and members of the public, as well as for the safety of bees that are removed and relocated.
For more information, please contact [email protected]