Honey Bee

While honey bees are well established in the Kansas City area, as well as across the United States, they are not native to this country. They were brought over and established by the first colonists from Europe, primarily as a sweetener for their food and drink.

Domestic honey bees get their common name from the sweet yellowish to brownish fluid they make from the nectar of flowers which they use as food. Through extensive cultivation on our part, they provide honey and wax. But as pollinators, they are of far greater importance, as they are reared for the purpose of growing many of the fruits and vegetables which we require.. They are also responsible for a large share of insect stings, although many stings blamed on “bees” are actually done by yellowjackets.

Recognition

The average adult worker’s body length is about ½-5/8 inch. Their color is orange- brown to almost black. Their body is mostly covered with branched, pale hairs, being most dense on the middle section. Even the eyes are hairy. The stinger of the worker is barbed, causing it to remain in the victim, while the insect may fly or crawl away. The body of the queen is slightly larger, about 5/8-3/4 long, with a pointed abdomen which extends well beyond the wing tips. The queen’s stinger is smooth. Males or drones are robust, about 5/8 inch long and they have no stinger absent.

Africanized honey bees look just like our “domestic” bees. A specialist is required to identify individual specimens.

Similar Groups

  1. Other bees (various families) lack hairy eyes.
  2. Some syrphid flies (Diptera: Syrphidae), which resemble honey bees, have only 1 pair of wings

Biology

Honey bees are social insects and live as colonies in hives, with mature colonies of 20,000-80,000 individuals. Adults are represented by workers which are infertile females, a queen or inseminated female, and drones (males) which come from unfertilized eggs.

The entire population overwinters. There is only one egg-laying queen in the hive and she mates only once. She can lay as many as 1,500 to 2,000 eggs per day, and may live as long as 5 years. The queen produces many pheromones, mostly from her mandibular glands, which regulate other things such as the production of new queens and inhibit development of worker ovaries. The young workers care for the young or brood, build the comb, provide hive ventilation, and guard the hive entrance. Older workers serve as foragers to gather pollen, nectar, and propolis or bee glue. Workers live only about 5 to 7 weeks during the summer, while those emerging in the autumn, overwinter. Drones (males) appear periodically and are short lived, usually living only a few weeks.

Habits

Honey bees are not aggressive, and do not search for something to attack. Instead, they are defensive and will attack only whatever seems to threaten the colony.

Swarms first move to a temporary site such as a tree branch. The swarm will usually remain here for about 24-48 hours until permanent quarters are located, and then moves on. Permanent quarters may consist of a bee hive, hollow tree, hollow wall, attic, etc., typically some place which is sheltered from the weather.

Honey bees swarm primarily when the colony size gets too large for the available hive space or the queen begins to fail or die. New queens are produced and the old queen leaves with a large number of workers. Swarms first move to a temporary site such as a tree branch. The swarm will usually remain there for about 24-48 hours until permanent quarters are located, and then moves on. Permanent quarters may consist of a bee hive, hollow tree, hollow wall, attic, etc., typically some place which is sheltered from the weather.

Bees in a swarm are very docile and not likely to sting because they harbor no food stores or young and therefore, have nothing to defend. Likewise, honey bees encountered away from the hive are unlikely to sting unless severely provoked, like stepping on them. However, if the hive entrance is approached, the guard bees can become very aggressive. Worker bees have barbed stingers and when used, the stinger, poison sac, and associated tissue are torn from the body. If the stinger is not removed immediately, muscle contractions will drive the stinger deeper and deeper into the skin and there is greater time for toxin injection. In addition, the stinger gives off a pheromone which attracts other bees and induces an alarm and attack behavior. Therefore, immediate removal with a fingernail or knife blade is recommended; squeezing only forces more venom in.

The normal reaction to bee stings is local pain for a few minutes followed by swelling at the sting site which subsides in a few hours. Often itching and heat may last for a few hours. First-aid consists of quickly removing the stinger with a fingernail or knife blade. After stinger removal, do not rub the area because this causes the venom to spread, or scratch the area which may cause secondary infection, but clean it with soap and water followed by an antiseptic. A cold compress will reduce pain and swelling. If the reaction is more severe than a small welt, consult a physician immediately because death can occur within 15-30 minutes from severe allergic reactions.

Africanized honey bees are much more aggressive and will sting with little provocation, even swarms may be dangerous. They will pursue the intruder/victim for up to 328 ft (100 m) whereas, domestic bees pursue only about 33 ft (10 m). They use a wider range of nesting sites, sometimes including subterranean cavities.

Control

For swarmers in the yard, contact the cooperative extension service or call a local beekeeper supply shop for beekeepers interested in removing swarms. These same contacts are worth a try for live removal from walls and attics.

Live removal of honey bees is desirable and the preferred method in the case of brick walls, but it is often impossible to locate anyone willing to do this. Live removal involves trapping the bees out and capturing them with a decoy hive containing a queen and a few bees, killing the queen and the few remaining bees with pyrethrins or resmethrin, and after several days allowing the bees back in to remove the honey. Next, the nest void should be treated with a long-lasting repellent dust to discourage wax moths, dermestid beetles, etc., and then immediately sealed. This whole process may take 3-6 weeks.

If honey bees must be killed in a wall or attic, pesticide application should be made at night using only background light; a bee veil should be worn. Appropriately labeled aerosol pyrethroids are most convenient and effective, with dusts being second choice.

For walls, first locate the entrance/exit(s) being used. Next, the colony’s nest should be located because the nest can be far enough away from the entrance that entryway-applied insecticides will not reach the bees. The nest can best be located at night by tapping on the walls in the area of buzzing and listening for the loudest sound. Also, honey bees keep the center of their nest at about 95°F (35° C) which will warm the wall enough such that it can often be detected with one’s hand.

For walls, first seal any possible entrances to living quarters such as window sashes. Then the insecticide application can be made either directly through the entrance hole or by drilling a small hole (3/32-1/8”) through the inside wall, the latter being necessary for nests located some distance from the entrance hole. Seal the application hole immediately after insecticide introduction. For attics, direct application is required.

The next day the dead bees, comb, and honey must be removed or else as the wax deteriorates, there will be a strong honey and dead bee odor, the honey will often seep through the plaster walls, and/or this debris will attract other insects and mice. In the case of a wall, the wall must be opened up. It is suggested that the potential customer be notified in writing of their responsibility in this matter before any contract is signed.

In the residential situation, it may be desirable to discourage foraging bees from coming around the home. This is especially true if small children or allergic people are present. Discouragement consists of the removal or preventing access to any sugar, food, or water which may attract them, such as soda cans, flowers, water dishes, etc.

Recommend that flowering vegetation be located away from doorways, decks, sidewalks, mailboxes, and other areas frequented by people. Also, lawns should be kept free of white clover and flowering weeds.