Well before commercial pesticide applicators came under scrutiny as the result of honey bee colony collapse disorder and suspicions of neonicotinoid effects on these valuable pollinators, we made every effort to call in local beekeepers to collect live, open swarms of honey bees that were phoned into our company as service requests during the springtime months. We figured this worked in our favor as a win-win-win proposition: The customers win because they have their honey bee swarms removed at little or no cost. The beekeepers win because they are acquiring the occupants of a new hive. We win because we are environmentally responsible, helping to preserve one of the most beneficial of insects.
Setting Up a “Bee Team.”
More recently at ProGuard/Varment Guard we have raised the bar for ourselves and eliminated the middle-man — the third-party beekeeper. (No offense to the eager, helpful apiarists out there!) We now have a beekeeper on board whose primary role with the company is serving as a nuisance wildlife technician. Our beekeeper-technician, plus a few “deputized” specially trained and equipped technicians, weave calls about honey bees into their service routes, often finishing their days collecting swarms or setting up and monitoring nuclear colony extractions.
What We’ve Learned.
The simpler of these two procedures is removal and relocation of an open swarm of honeybees — that is, when they are readily accessible. If a swarm is on a lower tree branch or some similar situation, the aggregation is dropped into a clean cardboard or wood box using one aggressive shake of the supporting branch or brisk sweep of the surface with your gloved hand. (Note: Do not use gloves or other PPE contaminated with pesticides.) If 90 percent or so of the worker bees (numbering in the thousands) are dropped or gently swiped into the box, along with “her majesty,” the rest of the workers will join the majority on their own. At this point, the swarm is transported without delay in a ventilated container to a clean hive box, provisioned with hive frames, at a secure location — a bee yard or apiary. (Note: The aspiring beekeeper must check with municipal and residential community laws and regulations before setting up even a small bee yard on a property. Also, see the related story on page 148 for a list of tools and materials to have available in order to professionally perform these services.)
The extraction or trap-out of honey bees from a building is not so simple, but is certainly doable and rewarding. This involves the placement of a wood or wax-impregnated cardboard box — a nuclear colony or “nuc” box — as close as possible to the primary honey bee entrance hole in the exterior sheathing of the building. This method only works if all but the primary entrance has been closed off prior to nuc box installation. Shelving brackets and appropriate fasteners or adhesives will hold the nuc box in place on the exterior wall, soffit or roof. Any fastener holes in exterior sheathing will need to be sealed closed, in a craftsman-like manner, following the extraction process.
In order for the nuc box to entice worker bees from the feral colony in the structure, it must be pre-populated with a laying queen honey bee and her nucleus colony comprised of workers and two or three frames occupied by brood (larvae). The final piece of the trap-out puzzle is the installation of a one-way, out-only funnel over the entrance to the feral colony nest in the structure. The out-only funnel can be crafted from 1/8 inch mesh hardware cloth; it should extend about 1 foot outward from the exterior sheathing.
Once these components are in place, worker bees exiting the feral colony in the building will be unable to reenter the building and will adopt the nucleus colony in the nuc box as their “second home.” Due to the nurse-bee and queen-attendant roles of certain workers associated with the feral colony, and the reluctance of specialized workers to leave the nest, the trap-out process may require three to five weeks, as determined by visual monitoring at least twice per week. Therefore, honey bee nucleus colony relocation is not a quick fix.
When worker bees are no longer exiting the structural void, the nuc box is carefully detached from the brackets and relocated to the bee yard. Larger colonies may require several replacement boxes for maximum extraction. At this point, following removal of the out-only funnel, the nesting cavity can be treated with an approved residual insecticide dust or foam to ensure zero occupancy by honey bees and secondary pests (e.g., dermestid beetles, drugstore beetles and wax moths) or the entrance can be kept open for a while to permit residual bees to consume stored honey and allow other feral bees to rob honey from the abandoned honey comb in the structure. Although the latter option allows for natural removal of unwanted honey in the structural void, it carries the risk of allowing another feral honey bee swarm access to the same cavity. Therefore, the customer will need to be made aware of the risks and benefits of the options before making a decision.
Your candidate technician(s) for honey bee swarm collection and nuc trap-out would do well to apprentice with a beekeeper in order to help build the skill set necessary. Likewise, it may be beneficial for the honey bee responders to join a local beekeepers club or association in order to help promote the environmentally responsible nature of your company to the community.