A couple months ago I unhappily discovered bees swarming our house. DISCLAIMER – DON”T try this at home. I then proceeded to get a very long pole, stuck a wad of steel wool at the end of it, and used it to seal the hole they were headed into by our roof. Yes, I probably killed some bees in the process, but I managed to prevent them from taking up residence in our wall and attic. Not a single sting and crisis averted! I patted myself on a job well done . . . until the next day, when a massive swarm of bees located a new home in a crack in a hollow stucco wall that surrounds our patio. Whether you have dealt with a swarm of bees in the past or just want to be prepared for one in the future (or better yet, you’d like to avoid a bee invasion altogether), you’ll definitely want to read on for our adventures in live bee removal.
First, let me confess, I did some stupid stuff in the course of this adventure. As a result, this article is a little painful to write. Rather than hide my shame, I thought documenting it in detail might redeem me and help some of you in the process.
The first mistake is one that happened to work out for me. . . plugging the initial entry point saved substantial damage to our home. However, if the pole I was using wasn’t 20 feet long, or if some of the bees had figured out I was at the end of the pole, that part of the story could have been really unpleasant. In other words, don’t mess with the bees on your own.
Mistake number two was the hilarious notion I could smoke them out. I again took the DIY approach of cutting open an aluminum can, putting some damp wood in it, adding flame, and then carefully holding the can by the hive entrance with my 20′ pole. The bees were not impressed. Maybe they were from Los Angeles and are unphased by smokey air. After spending about an hour trying to smoke them out with no success, I gave up.
Mistake number three was taking the hands-off wait and see approach. I had read sometimes swarms just up and move after a week or two. I let about six weeks go by, which resulted in a small colony of bees turning into a massive colony of bees (more on that shortly).
Live Bee Removal vs Bee Extermination
If I was willing to kill thousands of bees, I could have sealed them in the wall and moved on. However, given that bees have been dying off with alarming frequency without my help (check out this article on Colony collapse disorder if you’re curious), I could not live with myself. Serial buzz killer is not a title I’m willing to take on. Even if you’re a heartless bee-killer, there are other reasons killing bees is a bad idea. If you simply kill the bees, chances are you’ll leave behind a bunch of comb and honey which will attract other pests. Bees also locate nests with pheromones, and after seeing the aftermath of our live bee removal, it’s no joke. Bees will be drawn back to the original hive location even if you thought you killed them all off. Lastly, bees pollinate literally billions of dollars in crops. When there is a shortage of bees, farmers have to buy or rent them (seriously, bee rental is a thing) and that increases their costs and probably your costs in the grocery line as well. Whether you’re doing it for beemanitarian reasons, or selfish reasons, live bee removal is definitely the way to go.
How Much Does Live Bee Removal Cost?
The answer to this depends on where you live, who you hire, and what the nature of your bee infestation is. If you luck out, contacting your local beekeepers association can sometimes connect you to a beekeeper willing to come out and relocate your bees for free. We weren’t that lucky. Based on research I did, most live bee removal pricing fell into the $200 to $1000 price range for typical jobs. Generally speaking, the more accessible the hive is, the less costly it will be to hire someone to remove it. If the bees have taken over part of your attic and the beekeeper has to cut open a section of your roof, or an exterior wall of your home, then live bee removal can start approaching $1000 pretty quickly (especially if the price includes the repair of the roof or wall). Make sure you ask your bee removal company what their pricing includes, as sometimes the repair can cost more than the live bee removal part of the job.
How to Avoid a Swarm of Bees Taking up Residence in Your Home
Perhaps the best piece of advice I can give is to make sure all vents and openings to your home are properly sealed. Vents should remain clear, but you don’t want screens or holes in screens that are big enough to let bees in and out. This same advice applies to controlling mice and other pests that might want to sneak into your home uninvited. Very small openings around pipe penetrations or under eaves is all it takes for a colony of bees to get rolling.
Hiring a Live Bee Removal Professional
Sites like Yelp, Angie’s List and even NextDoor.com can be great resources for finding a good live bee removal company. I did research on several promising options based on reviews and contacted two companies. One failed to respond and needless to say they didn’t get the gig. The second company, Bee Man Dan, was ultra-responsive, friendly and accommodating to my scheduling request. The day after I called, bee wranglers Christopher and Sierra showed up ready to go to work on our colony.
Is it Hot in Here, or is it Just Bee(s)?
The first trick Christopher showed me was that a thermal imager can help you assess the size of the colony. This is useful for determining how much demolition your bee professional might need to undertake. I (carefully) took the image here using a Milwaukee Thermal Imager, and it gave me a quick sense of just how large this colony grew in less than a couple months.
How to Estimate How Many Bees are in a Hive
This question seems to be hotly debated among beekeepers. Christopher (the crazy bee pro that doesn’t wear his bee suit much of the time), said that if you count how many bees are returning to the hive in a minute and then multiply that by 1000, that’s a VERY rough estimate of how many bees you have. In our case, a minute equated to about 30-40 bees returning per minute. That means we had roughly 30,000 – 40,000 bees in our bee colony! Despite that number seeming high to me, suffice it to say we had A LOT of bees thanks to my casual approach to scheduling the live bee removal.
Let the Demolition Begin
Our live bee removal dynamic duo quickly got to work staging their gear. One thing that was fairly shocking to me was that Christopher wasn’t wearing the upper half of his protective gear or his hood. After seeing him pluck several bees off his skin I asked how many times he gets stung in a typical day. “Oh, maybe 30-40” he replied casually. Given that his bee suit was around his waist I asked why he didn’t suit up, and he said it gets really hot in the suit. Personally, it would have to be over 150 degrees in the suit for me to choose bee stings over heat.
Extracting the Combs
As you’ll see from the images here, our bees were really busy. The size of the combs coming out of our wall was amazing! I had no idea how much comb was in the wall, but it was a lot more than I expected to see. Christopher and Sierra were pulling one giant comb after another out of the wall. Normally the Bee Man Dan team tries to save some of the honey, but given that this extraction involved a great deal of stucco dust, they wisely advised against trying to harvest any of the stucco-infused honey. However, if you have a live bee removal that doesn’t involve messy demolition, you might be able to talk your bee profession into leaving some of the comb and honey with you.
Smokin’ the Bees
Smoking the bees does not send the bees swarming away, as I originally thought. Instead, smoke is mainly used to keep the bees calm. It masks some of those crazy bee pheromones, especially the pheromone that tells bees to attack whoever is nearby. As Bee Man Dan was applying the smoke, it also appeared that the bees would try to get away from the smoke, enabling them to better access certain parts of the bee colony.
I’ll Take a Box of Many Thousands of Bees to Go Please
As the team began to remove the insanely large chunks of comb from our colony, they would them break the comb to fit in multiple wooden frames. The frames were inserted into this box that had a section cut out and replaced with wire mesh. While some bees were already on the combs being inserted into the box, the live bee removal crew literally were scooping up thousands of bees with their hands and then placing them into the box.
Pheromones Bee Gone!
Once the crew was done getting the comb and bees out of the wall, they sprayed Kilz primer on all the interior surfaces. This does the trick in blocking the pheromones and hopefully preventing the bees from returning en-masse. Since our cut open wall is likely to go away in the near future, we opted not to have the wall repaired and re-sealed. As a result, Christopher and Sierra crammed fiberglass insulation into every nook and crevice to reduce the temptation for the bees to start over.
Bee Aware of the Stragglers
The Bee Man Dan crew warned me that there would still be bees hanging around for the next week or two. The next morning, I was shocked to see a huge clump of them hanging out in the corner of the the opening in the wall. I texted a photo of it along with an “is this normal” text and they said it was completely normal. I was skeptical. After several days, the size of the clump began to drop rapidly. A week later, the clump was gone and only a very small number of bees remained. Expect stragglers who were busy foraging for pollen when all the action went down to continue to loiter around the former hive for one to two weeks.
Where do All the Live Bees Go?
I asked the Bee Man Dan crew what they do with the bees after they remove them. They said they donate them to local beekeepers and farms. I would imagine many bee removal companies turn around and sell the bees as well, but the Bee Man Dan team seemed to be all about sharing the love (and the bees)!
Have you ever seen someone post a question online like, “I’m thinking about clearing my own clogged drain, any tips?”, only to be pounced upon by countless tradespeople warning them of the many perils of the DIY approach? You’ll have plumbers weighing in saying, “Your tie could get caught on the drain snake and you could be forced down the drain, head-first! You MUST call a plumber for this. Oh, and here’s my number.” Well, when it comes to live bee removal, I have to say this is one task you should NOT try on your own. While live bee removal might seem expensive at the outset, getting the job done right by a bee removal professional is definitely the way to go. Even if you somehow manage to pull off a live bee removal safely, then you’re still left with finding a home for thousands of homeless bees. Pro is definitely the way to go when it comes to bees. If you happen to be in San Diego, CA, I highly recommend Bee Man Dan for Live bee removal. They clearly love what they do, are conscientious, and they did a fantastic and thorough job.