Bee control

Donald Bottger
Assistant Facility Manager
San Diego Convention Center
San Diego, California

The advance of the Africanized Honey Bee across many regions of the United States has led to an enhanced danger to the public and to service personnel. Bee nests and swarms have always been problematic in public areas and on public facilities, but with the colonization by Africanized Honey Bees, the problem has intensified and the danger to the public and to the service personnel has increased. Honey bee hive eradication must be undertaken with the emphasis that the safety of the public and the service personnel is of the utmost importance and that methods which ensure safety must be undertaken.

There are many aspects of hive control and eradication. First, a determination must be made whether the presence of bees means that the insects are in a swarm or that the insects are in the process of building or have built a nest. On many occasions I have come across swarms where the Queen has stopped temporarily and the insects accumulate around her. This is usually a temporary situation where the only control method needed is to limit access to the general public from the area to help prevent potential stings. Bees in swarms generally don't threaten to attack and they tend to dissipate. Bees that are in the process of building a nest must be treated differently because they will attack perceived threats and can become a hazard to the public.

The first step in controlling an established bee nest is to isolate the area from the public. Warning barriers should be placed around the area of the nest to prevent access. The best time to control a bee nest is at dusk or dawn. The bees are less active at these times and they all tend to be congregated together in the nest.

Grounds worker Thomas Hahn in full bee suit removing a nest from a palm tree

Service personnel should be properly trained. They must wear proper protective equipment that includes a full bee suit with veil and gloves, and in many areas they need to be certified by the proper regulatory agency before attempting a nest removal and eradication. A determination should be made if the nest can be removed without the use of pesticides. If the nest is out in the open and easily accessible, then non-chemical control means can be implemented. Service personnel can surround the nest with a large plastic bag and place the insects inside the bag. The resulting mass should be double-bagged and the bees can be destroyed by placing them in a freezer. Another non-chemical control method is to use a small vacuum cleaner to collect the bees. The collected insects should also subsequently be placed in a freezer.

If the nest is in an area that is not easily accessible then chemical control means should be used. An insecticidal dust that is labeled for bees should be used. Dusting the entrance into the void where the insects reside should result in control. This control method should also be attempted at dusk or dawn if possible to ensure that the maximum amount of insects are in the nest when application takes place.

It is extremely important to remove any honeycomb and residue from the area where the nest was. This may involve removing drywall, siding or architectural structures. Once the comb has been removed, the opening that the bees had accessed must be closed off to prevent reinfestation from another swarm.

Bee removal should be undertaken with the safety of the service personnel and the general public in mind. The methods need to be adjusted depending upon the location, but if protective zones are established and personal protective equipment is worn, then it can be accomplished professionally and safely.

Donald Bottger is a Certified Grounds Manager and a Licensed Pesticide Applicator. He can be reached at (619) 525-5472 or at Donald.bottger@sdcc.org.