Removal/Swarm/Honey/Beekeeping FAQ

Q: What is the difference in a *SWARM* and a hive or colony?

A:  A swarm is part of the honeybee hive’s way of reproducing.  As a quick answer – during the spring (when we’re past the spring equinox, and nighttime temperatures are higher than 50 degrees (F), the bees start building up brood (eggs, larvae, and nurse bees).  When they have too many bees for their enclosed space, the bees start the process of creating a new queen from one (or more) of the young larvae, and the old queen leaves with the majority of the adult forager bees.  They can fly anywhere from a few feet from their old location up to about 1/4 mile from the old location (or farther if needed).

The queen is large, and cannot fly very far – so when she rests on a tree branch or the side of a building, the other bees cluster around her to protect her.    A swarm has NOT established a cavity or location to be their home.   Once a swarm finds an acceptable spot in which to call home, they fly/march into the new home.   At this point – they start building wax comb, and have an established (albeit young!) hive/colony.

Q:  I’ve heard that some beekeepers will take bees for free…

A:  Some may.    The woodenware (box) costs money to buy or make.  There are frames inside that also cost money to buy.  These are real costs associated with the rescue of feral (wild) honeybees, plus labor and time/gas.  An average hive that has been through a re-homing (and survives!) will not produce excess honey until the following year.  Special knowledge of honeybees and tools are needed for removing honeybees successfully.

Q:  What are Rex’s removal fees?

A:  *Swarm* pickup:  $125.00  *minimum* (as of 5-25-2015).   This is because of the cost of the woodenware, frames, and drive-time, and labor time.  It can often take an hour (or longer) and several tries to get the bees to orient to the catch-box.  If the queen is located, this becomes much easier.

For established hive removal – call me to discuss your situation.  In all cases, my rate is based upon actual time and difficulty to remove the colony from your home or structure.   Removals take time, because we are trying to save the bees, as well as clean up the comb and nectar/honey/pollen inside the structure.  It takes time and construction experience to open up the structure in a respectful manner that allows it to be put back together.  It also takes time and beekeeping knowledge to carefully remove the comb, orient it correctly and place it into commercial hive frames; then to remove as much of the wax as possible that has been attached to the inside of their home/cavity, remove the bees themselves, and then to put the structure back together.   In some cases, the homeowner may choose to do their own repairs (themselves – or with their own handyman/contractor) after the removal is complete.  Just be aware that foragers coming back to a structure that is left open will cluster inside.  For this reason, I recommend having the repairs done at the time of bee removal.

Q:  Why am I charged sales tax for labor?

A:  The State of Texas requires that sales tax be collected for “real property services”.  Specifically included in the rule ( Rule 94-157 ) are:  Structural Pest Control Services.  Bees removed from a taxed structure (home, commercial building)   In contrast – bee removals from “other than ‘structures'” are not taxed.  Examples would be: Trees, Valve Box, Storage Shed, Fence column, etc.

Here’s a link to their pages where it is listed:

Q:  What types of removals can be done?

A:  Typically – once bees have moved into a void/space and have set up their honeycomb (which is done with a day or so of moving in) – there are two ways of performing a removal.

(a) Physical removal.  This is by far the fastest and most effective way to remove the bees and their associated “housewares”.    It involves physically opening up the structure and removing the bees, honeycomb (wax), nectar/honey, and pollen.

(b)  Forced abscond (typically from a tree) – smoke is used to force the bees out of the tree.  As they exit the tree, they are collected, while watching for the queen.  This method is time consuming – however can be done in a day.

(c) Trap-Out.  Not really an ideal method.  This method can take up to 6-8 weeks to complete, and is far from foolproof.     For a trap-out to be successful, a new hive box must be able to be placed next to the old entrance to the hive, and there must be NO other ways in/out for the bees. A trap-out consists of placing a one-way screened exit over the opening to the hive.  Once a bee exits the hive, they cannot find the entrance to return to their home/queen.   The bees generally will decide to use the provided box to store their nectar & pollen in since they cannot return to their old home.  After 2-3 days, a frame of eggs/young larvae is placed into the new box – and the bees can raise a new queen from known genetics, or a mated queen can be introduced to the colony.

Q:  What are the procedures used for removing bees from a structure?

A:  As a broad overview, here are the steps used in the removal of a honeybee colony:

  • Lightly smoke the bees
  • Remove trim / open the void space in which they live
  • Carefully remove the honeycomb.  Comb with eggs / larvae will go into a new hive box for the bees to live in
  • Carefully remove the bees
  • Remove wax residue.  (scrape as much as possible with a paint scraper)
  • Fill void space with insulation
  • Replace the soffit/siding/trim (if the homeowner wishes)
  • Silicone-caulk the trim so that bees cannot re-enter the structure at that location

Q:  What repairs do you perform?

A:  Repairs to the home are the responsibility of the homeowner.  If the homeowner chooses to have the opening repaired with new materials, I will be happy to provide a bid for replacement materials and will charge for actual labor time required for the repairs.  Every home is built differently, and I will communicate with you regarding what I can do and what you will need a repairman/handyman to perform.

Q:  Will bees come back to live in the space that they were removed from? (or: “How do I keep bees from returning?” )

A:  While repairs to the home are the responsibility of the homeowner – I do take as much care as possible to take apart the structure in a manner that allows it to be put back together.  There are some types of siding material that must be replaced. (i.e. “Hardie Siding”) because it usually falls apart or breaks when pulled with a pry-bar.

For a removal to be effective – long-term – the entrance that the bees used must be sealed so that subsequent re-entry is prohibited.  This means using a product such as silicone latex caulk to fill any seam-cracks that are wider than 1/4 inch.  The void-space in which the bees inhabited should also be filled with fiberglass insulation.  This removes the void space that was one of the main criteria for bees to choose that spot in the first place.

So to recap:  (a)  Fill the void with insulation, and (b) properly seal the trim so that no further entry to the structure is allowed for the bees.

 Q:  Will a swarm of bees attack me?

A:  Absolutes cannot be guaranteed – however, when a *swarm* of bees leaves their old home, they remove and carry out as much honey as they can carry.  Think of it as compared to eating your Thanksgiving Dinner.  After eating – you generally will be in a restful mood, and more docile.  The bees are the same.  Usually, there is no call for them to attack when swarming, because they (a) are full of honey, and (b) have no home to defend.

Q:  What is wax?

A:  When humans consume too much sugar, we gain weight (or get fat) and possible heart disease and hardened arteries.   Evolution has graced  the honeybee with a method of losing the fat.  When a honeybee consumes excess sugars (nectar) – they form a cholesterol – a fairly pliable waterproof substance that we call “wax” from a gland under the abdomen of the honeybee.  The bees use this cholesterol (wax) to make honeycomb in which to give the queen a place to lay eggs, and a place for the foragers to put the nectar and pollen that they bring to the hive.  Because wax is a cholesterol – it also has a scent associated with it.  It is important to remove as much wax as possible from the structure in which the honeybees have lived – along with filling the void, and properly resealing/caulking any cracks to prevent the bees from accessing the space again.

Q:  What do the bees use nectar and pollen for?

A:  Nectar is the sugary liquid that some flowers produce to attract pollinators.  This is used by the bees as their carbohydrates in their diet.  Pollen contains the male portion of the genetics of a flowering plant – and is consumed as the protein (and amino acids, etc) for a bee’s diet.

Q:  Why do beekeepers use a smoker?

A:  When honeybees smell smoke, they behave as if there is a forest-fire.  They quickly consume as much honey as they can in order to save it and to be ready to move to a new location.  This makes them a bit more docile when performing a removal.  Another important aspect of using smoke is that it masks the honeybees alarm pheromone.  When alarmed, the honeybees can release a scent (pheromone) that tells the rest of the bees to “defend our home”.  A few light puffs of smoke can greatly reduce the ability of the bees to detect that alarm scent.

Q.  Why has my honey crystallized (or granulated)?

A:  It is a normal process for pure, raw honey to eventually crystallize or granulate. The rate at which it crystallizes is dependent upon the flower (or nectar) source and the ratio of fructose to glucose – and some nectars will have more (or less) moisture in them than others.   Honey from crops (flowers) like cotton, mesquite tree, rapeseed, wild mustards (brassica family), and several other crops sometimes is crystallized before it is even harvested from the hives!

Honey itself is a super-saturated sugar solution, that has had the moisture evaporated out of it by the honeybees while in the hive.  When pollen granules are still in the honey, they provide a place for sugar crystals to form and grow.  Honey in a crystallized state IS still honey, and is just as good to eat.  It will just have a different texture.  Some marketers of honey may warm the honey to a temperature that re-liquefies it – and that is normal also – as long as it is not “heated” beyond a temperature that kills the beneficial enzymes and pollen in the honey.  Normal summertime temperatures in Texas can reach well over 100 degrees – so that’s near the ambient temperature that you will need to get your honey to if you wish to re-liquefy it.  Your jar of honey can be set into a warm water bath to re-liquefy it if you wish (no more than about 125 deg. F to preserve the natural enzymes in the honey).  I just prefer to spread my granulated honey onto a morning biscuit or put a tablespoon into my morning tea or coffee.  No reliquefication is needed for me.

Rex Smith is a member of the Texas Association of Professional Bee Removers – #TxAPBR