How Do Africanized Honeybees Colonize Your Home So Quickly?
Africanized honeybees (African 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 the wild. 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 are 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 a swarm of African honeybees land on a structure of any type, they have found a new home and immediately begin funneling into the selected 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 the bees to enter.
Whereas European honeybees swarm once in the late spring and very occasionally in the fall, Africanized honeybees, apis mellifera scutellata, may swarm up to 15 times a year in ideal environmental conditions. 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 honeybee colonies has increased dramatically.
Once inside the selected cavity, the bees begin exploring and cleaning the cavity, spreading their pheromone scent and building honeycomb. Pheromones are glandular secretions the bees use extensively to communicate with each other throughout the hive. In this case, the most damaging scent for the homeowner is the tracking scent they apply that marks the site as unique to that particular colony. Foraging bees from the colony can recognize the scent from as far as two miles away and use it to track back home. Unfortunately, unless treated, the scent is long lasting and can lead to future infestations. Even if the original colony is no longer in residence, a passing swarm of bees can register the pheromone and will occupy a former bee site preferentially to other new locations.
Often, the homeowner’s first clue that they have a bee problem is when they begin finding bees inside the house. As the newly-arrived honeybees explore the cavity they have selected and before it is well marked with their pheromone scent, 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 lost 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 or dying 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 the bees have colonized. You may be able to see 3-4 bees or more going in and out of a specific opening or area of your home as they begin to forage for pollen, nectar and water. This activity indicates the entrance to a cavity the bees are using and starting to develop. If you discover dead bees in the house, call a licensed bee removal specialist immediately to have the colony located and eradicated. Do not allow a new colony 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 sufficient honeycomb structure is built, and the eggs of Africanized honeybees may hatch as quickly as 19 days after they are deposited in honeycomb cells. The honeycomb cells are also used by the foragers who immediately begin bringing nectar and pollen back to the colony to store it in these cells. Reflecting on the fact that 21 days after the bees arrive, there may be 1,500 more bees, and then the next day 1,500 more bees than the day before, etc., one can see why it is recommended that you call a licensed bee removal specialist immediately upon discovering you have bees in a structure.