Bee-Proofing for Pest Control Operators

Introduction

As Africanized honey bees (AHBs) continue to spread throughout Florida, the need for awareness and precaution will continue to grow, and the role of pest control operators will expand to accommodate the needs of the public. One AHB characteristic that concerns the public is the bee’s ability to nest almost anywhere. While European honey bees — the docile race of honey bee that beekeepers manage — generally only nest in enclosed areas, AHBs are more likely to construct exposed nests. This trait becomes an issue when AHBs begin to build nests in proximity to humans. Naturally, this generates an area of concern for Florida residents although with proper training and education, pest control operators can work to alleviate such concern of their clients by offering a bee-proofing service.

Bee-proofing is the practice of methodically removing or restricting access to potential honey bee nesting sites. This practice is beneficial for many reasons. Naturally, if an area is bee-proof, the potential for feral colonies to move into that area is greatly lowered; therefore, the risk of stinging incidents is also lowered. Since colonies that establish themselves inside a wall or near a structure must be removed immediately (click for information on why to remove colonies), bee-proofing can save clients money on removal costs and subsequent structural repairs. Bee- proofing a property not only makes the area safer, but it also saves the client time and money. It is an ongoing process that requires an initial assessment to address a majority of the sites on a property; also, it requires follow-up inspections to maintain the bee-proofed area.

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Locating Potential Nesting Sites

The first step in eliminating areas that may be attractive to honey bee nests is actually locating these areas. What areas might bees favor as a nesting site? AHBs, especially, have been known to nest almost anywhere, yet all honey bees favor certain sites over others. Sites that are potentially attractive to honey bee colonies are composed of a small opening or entrance that accesses an open, sheltered area. Examples are eaves under roofs, water meter boxes, manholes, electrical boxes, gutter down-spouts, or other holes in a structure that lead to open space inside a wall, etc. Examine these photos as a reference:
See: fig.1 Gutter downspout
See: fig.2 Space under eave of building
See: fig.3 Screening over pipe
See: fig.4 Vent in the Attic
See: fig.5 Hole in a utility pole
See: fig.6 Opening in a fuel tank
See: fig.7 Space in structure near pipe
See: fig.7a Close-up of space near pipe
See: fig.8 Hole in wall in structure
See: fig.9 Void in side of tree
See: fig.10 Closed water meter cover
See: fig.11 Open water meter
See: fig.12 Colony removal from eave of house
See: fig.13 Colony within electrical box
See: fig.14 Colony in water meter
See: fig.15 Colony removal from under house
See: fig.16 Colony near outdoor light

Although this type of nesting site may be the first choice for the bees, they certainly may nest at many other locations. Some of these locations are difficult to bee-proof; therefore, it is important that regular inspections (weekly is best) are done to monitor for any bee activity. As a reference point for your inspections, examine these pictures of areas that may be difficult to bee-proof but where bees may choose to nest:
See: fig.17 the eave under a roof
See: fig.18 Abandoned vehicle
See: fig.19 Large branches
See: fig.20 Openings in AC unit
See: fig.21 Cinderblocks
See: fig.22 Space under shed
See: fig.23 Playground areas
See: fig.24 Under house

Sites where colonies have been found include signs, eaves of buildings, hollow trees, abandoned vehicles, empty containers, fence posts, lumber piles, barbecue grills, utility infrastructures, old tires, tree branches, garages, outbuildings, sheds, walls, chimneys, playground equipment, etc.

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Preventing Nests from Forming

Once an initial inspection reveals what the potential nesting sites might be, the next step is to block-off or remove those sites. This can be done using several methods:

Screening

Close off areas by stapling or attaching 1/8th inch hardware cloth or standard insect screen over the hole. This method is best for closing off vents, drains, downspouts, or other plumbing as the screen allows air/water to escape while stopping bees from entering.
See: fig.25 Screening placed over pipe

Caulking

Use 100% silicone caulking to seal cracks, crevices, or other voids 1/8th of an inch or greater. Also, latex concrete-crack filler can be used to seal cracks and crevices in cinderblock or concrete surfaces.
See: fig.26 Caulking openings in siding

Foam

Expanding/insulating foam sealant is best for sealing off holes/cracks in walls. Foam can deteriorate if exposed to weather. So be sure to paint the exposed surface to prevent cracking or eroding of foam.
See: fig.27 Foaming holes in a structure

Filler

Wood filler or concrete patching can also be used to seal crevices or voids in walls where foam or caulking is not appropriate.

Tape

Duct tape can be used to close off holes in water meter covers or other small holes.

A note on closing off holes in walls: If bee activity is detected within or around a hole in a structure (bees are seen entering/exiting the hole, bees can be heard within the wall near the hole), do not seal off the opening, for this would force the bees further into the structure and possibly into the living/working area. The colony must be removed first, and then the opening can be sealed.

Equipment List

  • Silicone and latex caulking
  • caulking gun
  • roll of screen mesh
  • clippers to cut screen
  • staple gun
  • staples
  • wood filler
  • concrete filler
  • putty knife
  • duct tape
  • expanding foam
  • carrying container

Equipment List

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Inspecting Property

It may be difficult to eliminate every potential nesting site as AHBs can nest virtually anywhere. However, it is still important to take steps to bee-proof areas that would be of considerable interest to the bees and areas exposed to frequent human traffic. Because some potential nesting sites might be left open, it is essential to conduct regular inspections of the property to check for bee activity and to maintain previously bee-proofed sites. The primary swarming season for honey bees occurs between the months of March and July, so it is vital to inspect weekly during these times as bees looking for a suitable nesting site and are most likely to move into an area. Look for bees entering and/or exiting an area or hole; this signifies that a colony is nearby. Bees visiting flowers are not a threat.

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Standard Operating Procedure Summary

  1. Conduct initial property inspection to identify potential nesting sites.
  2. Bee-proof the sites using screening, caulking, foam, filler, or tape.
  3. Regularly inspect property to check for bee activity and to maintain previously bee-proofed sites.

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