Frequently Asked Questions About Honeybees

Why should I care about honeybees?

Although honeybees are not native to North America they have become absolutely indispensable to our current system of food production. Essentially, bees are directly responsible for about one third of our crops. For every third mouthful of food you eat, thank a bee.

How many queens are in a hive?

The easy answer is that there is only ever one queen in the hive.

There is a bee buzzing around my head! What do I do?

The most important thing to remember is to STAY CALM. Honeybees do not want to sting you - they die when they do - but they will sting if they feel threatened.

You will usually get two warnings from the bees before they sting, but not always. First, they will buzz angrily around your head in an attempt to get you to leave. If you don't heed this first warning, the bees will begin bump into your head. This is called "head butting", and when this occurs a stinging event will happen if you remain in the area.

If you find that bees are buzzing around you and bumping into you, DO NOT SWAT AT THEM and DO NOT BLOW ON THEM. The swatting motion aggravates the bees and increases their aggressiveness. Bees are also very sensitive to the chemical compounds in your breath. Your breath tells them that a mammal is in the area and heightens their defensiveness. The best thing to do is to put your hands under your arms (so that they don't swing and mimic a swatting motion), tuck your chin into your chest, protect your eyes & hair, hold your breath, and quickly walk away. When the bees think you are far enough away they will leave you alone. If you are following these steps and the bees are still being aggressive towards you and possibly even stinging, then RUN! Get out of the area as fast as possible and into a place where the bees can't follow. Get into a house, a shed, a parked car, anywhere the bees can't get to you, but do not get into water - the bees are patient and will wait for you to surface.

If you are stung:

Remove any stingers as quickly as possible by scraping them off with a fingernail, the edge of a credit card or piece of hard plastic rather then squeezing and pulling them out. Removing them quickly is the key.
If stung on the extremities, remove any constricting jewelry.
Wash the areas that were stung with soap and water to help minimize the chance of a secondary infection.
There is much debate as to whether the application of heat or cold is most effective and we can make no recommendation.
If they are safe for you to use, over-the-counter antihistamines can help reduce swelling and itching.
Immediately call 911 and seek medical attention if you are stung numerous times, are allergic to bee stings, begin to feel lightheaded, or are having difficulty breathing.

What do I do if I see a swarm of bees?

Swarming is the way that honeybee colonies reproduce - don't think of a colony as the individual bees, but rather as a 'superorganism' composed of thousands (or even tens of thousands) of independently operating components (the individual bees) which act together, a classic example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. When the bees feel they have outgrown the space in which they are living, about half of the workers and the reigning queen will pack up and take off to find a new nesting site. This group of bees in transit is called a swarm. You will often see swarms clustered on the limbs of trees or bushes or hanging from other exposed locations. In other parts of the country swarming is generally confined to the late winter through early summer months, but here in Southern California swarming happens year-round.

Although it can be frightening to see, honeybees are at their most gentle when they swarm. If you are surrounded by a passing swarm, remain calm and don't swat or blow at the bees. Either remain still and quiet as they pass, or tuck your head down and walk at a medium pace at a right angle to their direction of travel, holding your hands firmly against your chest so your arms are not swinging which the bees may interpret as swatting. If the bees are becoming aggressive you should run as fast as you are able to a place where the bees cannot reach you - a house, a shed, a car - any enclosed space that the bees can't enter.

How long will a swarm remain before leaving?

It is impossible to say how long a swarm will remain. They can leave in 15 minutes, or they may hang around for 3 or 4 days before taking off. Occasionally the swarm will simply stay put and set up shop where they are, but this is very unusual. The bees in a swarm are not aggressive as they have no hive to defend, but it is best to keep a safe distance and not disturb them.

If you do nothing, it is pretty much a sure thing that the swarm will leave on its own. The drawback to this course of action is that the bees are going to go somewhere, and there is a good chance that they will wind up in a location where they are not wanted, will be difficult to remove, and where they may be killed. We would prefer that you call us toll free at 1.855.588.2337 to have the swarm safely and gently relocated.

There is a colony of bees on my property. Can I remove them myself?

We strongly advise against attempting to remove a honeybee colony yourself. Without the proper tools and training you expose not only yourself but people and animals nearby to the very real possibility of being stung numerous times, a potentially life-threatening situation.

Except in very rare instances, applying any poison which is available to consumers to the entrance of the hive will NOT kill the colony. Poisons available to consumers are easily detected by bees and they will avoid them. This means that if a commercially-available pesticide has been applied to a hive's entrance, the bees will have to find a new way in and out, which they will. Also, it is unlikely that enough poison will enter the nesting area to cause significant damage to the colony, although any honey and wax in the hive is now contaminated and useless. If you have applied any poison to a colony, let your removal technician know this prior to arrival so that they can take precautions to avoid exposing themselves to dangerous toxins. Any gear used during a removal where pesticides have been previously applied must be either thoroughly decontaminated or destroyed. The bees themselves can still be rescued, but the contents of the hive - comb, nectar, pollen, honey, and baby bees - will most likely have to be destroyed to prevent contaminating other colonies.

Lastly, in California there are no pesticides available to consumers that are legal for use on honeybees.

If I plug up their entrance will the bees leave?

In the overwhelming majority of cases, no. Do not use spray foam, rags, or anything else to seal the entrance to a hive. By doing so you expose yourself and others to the possibility of being stung, and you force the bees to find another way in and out of their hive. If the colony is in some part of your home or office there is a good chance you will end up with a building full of bees because they will send hundreds and possibly thousands of scouts to look for an alternate entrance. By closing their entrance you have placed the bees in a life-or-death situation, and they will do everything they can to stay alive.

Are beekeepers stung often?