How To Get Rid of Bees
18–20 minutes to read | Updated for 2018
Wherever you find flowers, you’ll find bees doing their job as nature’s pollinators.
But if your home is attracting large numbers of them, they can quickly become unwelcome guests for you and your family. North America alone is home to more than 4,000 kinds of bees, and there are over 20,000 species around the world.
Bees are among the most social of creatures. Honeybees live in colonies of up to several thousand – practically a small town. Those colonies are built on a caste system that includes the queen bee, female workers, and male drones.
If you’re worried about a colony near your home, it’s important to know the difference between bees and wasps – for the purposes of both pest control and treating stings. Elimination methods vary, and it’s possible that a license will be required to remove a bee colony due to the chemicals or treatments involved.
Bees Versus Wasps and Yellow Jackets
- Wasps’ bodies feature narrow waists, four wings, and bright colors, often with black or yellow patterns.
- Like wasps, bees have two pairs of wings. But bees are much hairier insects (relating to pollination) with more rounded bodies and more black or brown coloration.
- Though bees might sting if provoked, wasps are more aggressive by nature and more persistent when challenged.
Bees are acrobatic and surprisingly swift flyers, reaching speeds of 12 miles per hour or more. This can make excluding them from your property more difficult. Before you begin the work, you’ll need to know which species you’re dealing with.
If an insect could be called a helpful workhorse, the this bee would earn the title for the way it pollinates crops, flowers, and orchards. Bumblebees will take flight in spring after overwintering in the ground in order to search for nectar and pollen and find new spaces to nest.
While bumblebees are social, their colonies are usually much smaller (50-400 insects) than the massive hives built by honeybees. Whether in abandoned rodent holes, gaps in siding, piles of wood, or even compost heaps, bumblebees will build a nest in a dry, protected place.
How To Identify:
½” to slightly more than 1” long
May appear plump, with fuzzy or hairy bodies
Often mistaken for the carpenter bee
Most often found in wooded areas, fields, or parks
Hives are typically built on the ground using rodent holes, though some hives may be found in trees and birdhouses
Capable of stinging multiple times
May be controlled using DIY solutions
One of the most common bees found in the U.S., this species is not social. Their nests are found in trees or buildings as a result of their persistent drilling — their method of creating a place to rear their young. Young carpenter bees branch further into the wood, creating new tunnels and increasing potential for damage to the structure.
How To Identify:
½” to 1” long
Hibernate in their tunnels during winter and mate in spring
Usually seen near the eaves of a home
Only the female can sting – and rarely does
Males are attracted to movement and will approach humans when they attempt to wave the bees off
May be controlled using DIY solutions (dust or liquid)
The phrase “busy as a bee” likely comes from this species. They’re capable of flying for miles but prefer to stay with about 300 feet of their hive. Honeybees pollinate more than 100 agricultural crops, making them useful to farmers.
Taking into account their beneficial role, a large colony near your home could still be a concern. This species is likely to become more defensive or aggressive when its hive is threatened and will sting in defense.
How To Identify:
Hives are found in the holes of trees and even in crevices of rocks
A colony may be home to thousands of honeybees
Workers, as well as the queen bee, all have stingers
May be removed with DIY solution
Even without training in pest control, there are some common sense steps you can take to determine what kind of response is needed for a bee population near your home.
1. Know the Type of Bee
The species we’ve discussed have different behaviors and different kinds of nesting or hives. For example, you won’t see a honeybee attempting to drill its way through wood, a trait associated with carpenter bees. Since bees are not aggressive or predatory by nature, most are a nuisance rather than a threat.
2. Repair and De-clutter
Bees look for sites of convenience for building their homes near yours. To care for your property, check for obvious entry points like gaps in siding or holes in wood. Lush areas of flowers or vegetation and heaps of leaves or decaying brush can also entice them. Conduct a walk-through of your home and yard to patch or clean potential problem spots.
3. Know the Signs of Infestation
Secure open food in containers and make sure your cabinets and floors are clear of crumbs and other food scraps. If you must leave pet food out in a bowl, place vinegar water around the bowl so you’re interfering with the food smell and discouraging ants from crossing the barrier.
How the Seasons Affect Bees
All bee activity slows during winter, but of the three species we’ve covered, only honeybees do not hibernate. In fact, the fall and early winter serve as the start of a new year for honeybee colonies. The queen lays eggs to replenish the previous year’s losses and to prepare for spring. One sign of an expanding colony is a cluster of bees at the front of the hive as the days begin to warm.
For hibernating bumblebees and carpenter bees, winter is about survival. You’re unlikely to see much activity near your home as insects stay in their nests and tunnels. When they emerge with the start of spring, their goal is to expand their homes or find new ones in which to raise their young.
When treating for carpenter bees, do your work after the sun goes down. Use a flashlight with a piece of red cellophane over the front. Carpenter bees cannot see red light, which gives you the opportunity to locate their holes without arousing their attention. Be sure to wear protective clothing and a dust mask if you use an insecticidal dust, as the particles can go airborne.
Bees are far from humans’ worst problem. They don’t carry disease like mosquitoes, ticks or cockroaches. They’re typically fairly harmless, only stinging when they feel threatened. And despite common misconceptions, they prefer to build hives in more remote locations far from human dwellings. Yet they can spell trouble, for those allergic to them, or who happen to encounter the more aggressive strains of bees. If you have a significant bee problem, take a closer look to see what you measures you can take yourself and what might require a professional.
Important Note: The Ecological Benefits of Bees
Bees bear a huge responsibility in the pollination of many of our flowers and crops.
While flies, beetles, wasps, ants, butterflies and moths all play their roles in pollination as well, none is so prolific or so reliable as the bee. Without them, we would have to pollinate plants by hand or rely on other insects to do the job.
The importance of the honey bee really cannot be understated. They are responsible for $30 billion a year in crops. According to the BBC, they pollinate 70 of the around 100 crop species that feed 90% of the world.
A bee extinction could mean losing all the plants that bees pollinate, all of the animals that eat those plants, and so on up the food chain. Groceries would have half the current amount of fruit and vegetables. In fact, the global human population of 7 billion may not be able to sustain itself.
Unfortunately, we are much too close to this potential outcome. Colony Collapse Disorder is bringing us even closer to the brink. National Geographic defines this as “a phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony (hive) disappear, leaving behind a queen, food, nurse bees and baby bees. Without the mature worker bees to bring nectar and pollen back to the hive, it collapses (dies).” While the rates of Colony Collapse have slowed somewhat over the past few years, the concern is still all too real.
A cautious approach to bee management is crucial. Never automatically assume that bees are a nuisance. In fact, many people actively encourage a bee presence in their landscape by planting bee-friendly specimens, and familiarize themselves with native bees, which rarely pose a pest problem or sting humans, in order to help them thrive.
Some people can have a severe allergic reaction to bee venom. This includes dizziness, fainting, vertigo, headache, vomiting and even convulsions, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you or someone in your family has an allergy, you will want to take stronger steps to prevent a bee presence on your property. In the case of allergies, it’s also important to look into obtaining an epinephrine autoinjector to have on hand, which can stop deadly allergic reactions in their tracks.
Whatever approach you do decide to take will depend on the bee species on your property and what types of trouble they’re causing. Make sure you have properly inspected and identified the pest problem before choosing a treatment method. The severity of your problem can vary, and you may even be dealing with paper wasps, hornets or yellow jackets instead of bees. There are also many different species of bees that behave differently, such as bumblebees, Africanized honey bees, and carpenter bees.
One of the easiest solutions to a bee or wasp problem is to take precautionary measures so you aren’t dealing with a full-blown problem later on.
1. Make Yourself Unappealing to Bees
If you’re finding that you get stung when you’re outside, you can reduce this incidence with a few easy steps.
- Wear darker clothing. White and yellow are bright, noticeable colors that look like flowers and attract bees and other stinging insects.
- Fragrances will attract bees as well, because they can mimic floral scents that bees are attracted toward in order to feed on nectar. You should avoid wearing perfume or strong-smelling shampoos before heading out to the yard.
2. Store Food Properly
Food isn’t as much of an attractor for honey bees and native bees as it is for wasps and yellow jackets, but it can still help mitigate bees if you’re properly sealing and storing food that’s outside. If you eat on your patio or have parties and picnics:
- Keep foil or plastic covers on your food until it’s being served.
- Take it inside as soon as possible once everyone has finished eating.
3. Secure Your Entrances
Secure any entrances to your home, especially smaller openings and holes that may be under overhangs or inside crawl spaces. If you leave openings, bee colonies can move in and set up shop. Use caulk or expandable foam for cracks and crevices, or simply put away any objects that are lying around in your yard. Bee colonies are all attracted to the following places to start building a nest:
- Empty plant containers or buckets.
- Places that aren’t visited often, such as garden sheds and basements.
- Empty pipes, such as the type used to build swing sets or play sets. If you bring these onto your property, your first step should be to block up the bottoms.
Also consider leaving your lights off at night if possible. Light attracts bees and a range of other insects.
When Bees Become Pests
Again, bees are not automatically pests. Rather, it is their behavior that dictates whether or not you need to deal with them.
A few of the most common issues that arise with bees include:
- Tunneling into your home. Carpenter bees setting up shop can weaken your home’s foundations and support structures and should be removed immediately.
- Building hives in your home. If bees are able to make their way inside your home to build hives, this can ruin your home’s structural integrity. When filled with honey, hives can weigh anywhere from 20 to 100 pounds, or even more. Imagine that pulling on the inside of a wall, ripping out insulation, and destroying other structures. The honey itself damages many home-building materials as well.
- Stinging. If you or family members are stung frequently or suffer allergies, consider removing or relocating a hive. Pets are also susceptible to bee stings, and some are allergic.
- Swarming. While we associate the word “swarming” with any cloud of insects, it actually has a specific definition when it comes to bees. Swarming is when part of the colony breaks off with its own queen and leaves, en masse, to form another colony elsewhere. Because their queen is on the move and they are temporarily homeless, bees tend to be more aggressive at this time. As swarming is a temporary activity, you are unlikely to experience an ongoing problem with it. The exception is if there’s a large colony nearby that frequently outgrows its home and sends part of the colony packing.
Even if it’s frightening to see a lot of bees in your yard or notice a nest, their mere presence isn’t necessarily an issue. There are several different treatment options you can use, and bees shouldn’t be killed unless they’re truly causing a problem. Your first step should be prevention, and then you can move on to treatment if your prevention methods haven’t been able to stave off an infestation.
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The temptation when you see a bee is often to kill it to avoid being stung. While this is a natural instinct, it’s not at all helpful.
One bee has no impact on the colony as a whole. In any case, most bees won’t sting anyway unless they are disturbed. Swatting at them or being menacing in other ways is one of the best ways to guarantee a sting, because it puts the bees on the defensive.
Swatting and killing one bee could also make your problem worse, because they’ll release pheromones when they die and alert other bees in the area. The other bees that arrive will be aggressive even more likely to sting than the lone bee you swatted at.
If a bee lands on you, remain still and wait for it to go away. Instruct children that the proper response when encountering bees is to walk away slowly or wait for them to leave. If you encounter a bee in your car, calmly pull over, open the windows or doors, and wait for it to leave. While you may guide it out, avoid swatting.
To deal with a large infestation, you can use the following methods:
1. Relocating the Beehive
Don’t move a beehive unless it is close to an entrance of your home or in a spot in your yard where your kids and pets tend to play. The hive will have to stay in your yard even when you’re relocating it. If you move it too far, the bees can get confused and have trouble finding it. For this reason, this method is only appropriate if you have a medium to large yard and a place to put it where your family and pets usually don’t go.
The process can be difficult as well, so you shouldn’t take the task upon yourself unless you feel confident that you can do it successfully. You can always call professional beekeepers to move a hive if you’ve decided it’s the best option for your home.
Inspect the hive, determine how big it is, and decide where you’d like to move it. Good spots could be on sturdy tree branches or piles of cinder blocks or wood. Moving a beehive is at least a two-person job, so you’ll also want to make sure you have help. Schedule a time to move the hive – preferably at night, because that’s when all the bees are inside the hive but less likely to fly out.
Before you approach the hive, make sure you and your helper are properly dressed with long pants, long sleeves, gloves, goggles and a face mask.
3. Block the Entrance of the Hive
You’ll want to make sure no bees can fly out while you’re moving the hive. To block the entrance, use a breathable material that the bees will still be able to get oxygen through. This could be tulle fabric or mesh. Simply wrap the material around the hive slowly and carefully, paying extra attention to covering the entrance.
4. Move the Hive
Grab the hive gently and slowly move it to its new destination, trying to keep it as level as possible. Once you’ve placed it there, you can remove the material you used to block the entrance. Once the hive is successfully in its new spot, be sure to monitor it for about a week, but don’t disturb it. This will give the bees time to clean up any honeycombs or other materials that may have shifted. After that point, you can determine if the bees have successfully reoriented to their new home.
5. Bee Catchers
Bee catchers are a good option if you’ve seen a lot of bees around your home but haven’t identified a hive, or if they’re simply attracted to the flowers in your yard yet don’t live there. There are many different types of bee catchers on the market which you can buy, and there are both kill and no-kill options. It’s also easy to make your own DIY bee catcher, and only takes slightly more time to be able to monitor the catcher and periodically let bees loose.
DIY Bee Catcher
2-liter soda bottle
Cut the head off the soda bottle right where the slope ends. Add a small amount of maple syrup and water to the open-faced bottle — just enough to coat the bottom. Once the mixture is inside, take the head and place it back on upside down so that the top is facing down towards the mixture. This allows bees to make their way inside but not escape until you let them out. Make sure you staple the sides together so that it’s secure.
This DIY trap offers a no-kill solution, so you’ll have to check the trap daily and carefully remove the bees away from your home. The bees will get stuck in the small amount of syrup but won’t drown. While it isn’t encouraged to use a trap that kills bees, you can add enough liquid to drown them you feel it’s truly necessary.
6. Bee Sprays
Bee sprays come as both repellents and insecticides. While it’s best to only use insecticide sprays on bees as a last resort, it may be called for if you’re dealing with a hive inside your home or in a hard-to-reach spot like inside your walls . We’ve already done the research for you and found some of the best bee sprays on the market that you can use to kill off a hive.
Another downside of bee sprays is that you must spray them directly onto the bees or hive, which can be dangerous to do on your own. Unless you feel comfortable, it’s probably best to contact a pest control professional who can come spray the hive with the proper equipment and protective clothing.
However, if you’d like to use a spray on your own, there are some DIY options you can try to help save money.
DIY Bee Spray
1 quart of water
1 teaspoon of vinegar or canola oil
A few drops of dish soap
Take the DIY ingredients and add them to a spray bottle. The mixture will prevent bees from flying and suffocate them.
Perhaps you’ve noticed a beehive in your yard, but it’s far enough away that it isn’t a problem. Bee repellent spray is great option to spray a perimeter around your house that will keep bees from bothering you or coming indoors. It will also keep other colonies from trying to set up shop nearby.
There are several bee repellents on the market that can be great options for your specific budget and needs. You can also use some natural methods to keep bees away while using items you may already have inside your house.
Some natural repellents include:
- Garlic powder
- Citronella candles
- Cucumber peels
These are all items that bees are averse to because they don’t like the smell, so leaving them outside near your home can help keep bees away.
If you already know that your best option is killing off an intruding colony, dust insecticide is another method you can use and possibly perform on your own. To apply this dust to a beehive, you’ll want to prepare similarly to the method of using spray insecticide. Make sure you’re wearing proper clothing such as long pants, long sleeves, and face protection. For this particular method, you’ll also want to have a foam sealant ready so that you can block the hive after applying the dust.
Apply the dust to hive quickly through the opening of the hive, and use as much as you can.
Take your spray sealant and close off the entrance hole. This will ensure that everything inside the bee hive dies, including larvae and any immature bees.
Spray more dust around the seal and on top of the hive to prevent any bees from coming out of other locations.
Some of these treatments are dangerous, and unless you know for sure that you’re capable of performing them, you should never attempt to deal with bees on your own.
The methods we’ve outlined are all proven to help prevent and treat a bee invasion on your property. Some of these treatments are dangerous, and unless you know for sure that you’re capable of performing them, you should never attempt to deal with bees on your own. While they are typically not aggressive creatures, they are likely to sting and even swarm if they feel their home is being tampered with or their queen endangered.
A much better approach is to call an exterminator. For the most part, these professionals will not need to use insecticides, because bee colonies are rarely dangerous in and of themselves. The whole job can usually be done without ever spraying or using a chemical. Experts have the necessary knowledge to assess the situation, determine if the colony can/should be saved, and remove it with the least possible danger to everyone nearby so that you don’t need to worry about stings.
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