What are the Signs of Honeybee Colonization?
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, cows, rabbits, 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 shed 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 a relatively 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 may or may not 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, is a strong indicator of colonization. The entrance is usually a small crack or opening which leads to a larger cavity. If the colony has been resident for a fairly long period of time, you may see a dark stain just below the opening. If you are close enough, and you see that the bees have pollen on their back legs, it is a sure sign that there is an established colony. In and out behaviors from any specific opening should be treated with caution. You may wish to have a licensed bee removal specialist perform an inspection of the site to provide certainty.
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, above ground 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, and 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. Even though there may be many bees moving through the flowers, and you hear loud buzzing noises, these are worker bees that may originate from many different local colonies. They will not attack in mass. When the peak blooming period is has passed, they will move on to other forage sources.
5. 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 and prevent it from melting down. These bees are not usually aggressive, and don’t attack in mass, 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 or on your property. Again, you may wish to have a licensed bee removal specialist perform an inspection of the site to provide certainty.
6. 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), humming bird feeders, etc. You can avoid this foraging behavior 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 or where trash has been discarded. Hummingbird feeders should be taken down at night when the bees are not foraging and removed from the site for at least a week.Many people report to us that they do not think their bees are Africanized because they have never been aggressive. Please do not make this assumption. As has been discussed, this false assumption is the cause of many stinging deaths and injuries in Arizona and other southwestern states. African honeybees are not always aggressive; however, they can be extremely defensive if they perceive they are in danger. Known triggers for all-out bee attacks are the presence of dark colors in the vicinity of the colony, vibrations and loud noises, and foreign scents like perfumes or insecticides. It is also a false assumption that African honeybees can be harassed or “smoked out” to the point that they will leave their home site voluntarily. If they leave (abscond) voluntarily, it is because they have run out of available food sources in their forage area.