How To Safely Remove Unwanted Hives
Excerpted from: Removing Honey Bee Swarms and Established Hives
Sometimes it’s difficult to determine whether a honey bee cluster on the side of a building is simply
resting there or moving, one by one, through a hole into an inner portion of a building. If the cluster
size is shrinking but hasn’t flown away, chances are they’re moving in. When the bees first arrive,
they are short on food and have to build combs from wax they produce from the honey they are
carrying. They must continue to go outside to forage for nectar for the colony to survive.
At this point, they can be “locked in” their new home with screen, steel wool, or something else
through which they can’t chew to escape. If sealed in, they will die in place over the next week or two.
However, trapped bees will search around between the walls trying to find a new way out. Some of
them are likely to find their way into the living quarters, especially by following beams of night time
A well-established colony may have up to 100 pounds of honey, many pounds of adult and
Bees don’t fly in the dark, but they will fly to the windows the next morning and stay there most of the
day while they die of dehydration. You can safely suck up these bees with a vacuum cleaner hose.
Remember there may be live bees in the bag for a couple days after they’ve been vacuumed up.
Extracting honey bees from buildings is considerably more difficult than collecting swarm clusters.
When the colony is first established, only a few pounds of adult bees are present, but these bees
rapidly build combs, collect honey, and begin to rear more bees. A well-established colony may
have up to 100 pounds of honey, many pounds of adult and developing bees, and many beeswax
combs. Removing such as nest is a challenge.
The first step is to determine the exact location of the combs and size of the colony.
Although honey bees can be killed in place inside buildings by using pesticides that are labeled
for killing bees inside of structures, this removal option often leads to undesirable consequences.
Note: These chemicals are available only to licensed pest control operators. If the adult bees fall
into a large pile, they may hold their body moisture and rot in place, producing a very bad odor.
Liquid from the decomposing mass frequently penetrates the structure, leading to costly replacements.
If the colony is well established, there are further issues associated with killing the colony. Unattended
brood can also rot and become very odorous. Unattended honey stores can absorb moisture and
ferment, creating gas that causes the cappings holding honey in the cells to burst. Gravity will start
moving the honey down attached surfaces until it encounters a horizontal impediment, such as a
window frame, doorframe, firebreak, ceiling, or floor. Honey then seeps through the drywall, leading
to large amounts of cleanup and expensive replacement.
If pesticides were used to kill the bees, then the honey, wax and, dead bees are contaminated and
must be handled as hazardous waste.
A better procedure than applying insecticides, especially if you have a beekeeper who is willing to help,
may be to eliminate the bees without killing them. First the beekeeper will need to locate the nest by tapping
the wall and listening for the hum of the colony. Some beekeepers rely on stethoscopes to find the edges
of the nest. Others drill extremely small holes in the wall and insert a fine wire to find the periphery of the nest.
To take honey bees and their combs from the nesting spot requires opening a fairly large hole in some
portion of the building. That is best done by a professional contractor so that the hole can be easily closed
after the bees are removed.
If the bees are to be saved, the beekeeper gently removes them and their combs. If the bees aren’t going
to be saved, they can be removed from the void with a vacuum device such as a Shop-Vac. This process
tends to stimulate the bees to release an alarm pheromone that smells like bananas and increases defensive
behavior, so everyone nearby must be fully clothed in a bee suit. Many beekeepers have baffles and
collection containers in their vacuum lines to try to protect and save the bees. If the homeowner has a lot
of patience and knowledge, the bees can be “trapped” out of the building using a one-way wire screen
device that forces bees that leave the building to relocate into a beehive placed adjacent to the original
It is relatively easy to remove a swarm cluster but a lot of work to remove bees in a cavity. Beekeepers
might be willing to collect swarms for free, but generally it isn’t worthwhile for them to remove established
colonies without charge, and in some areas your only option will be to hire a structural pest control company.
Both contractors and some beekeepers list their services on the Web. Beekeepers available for swarm calls
and extractions also tend to put their names on lists of bee clubs to which they belong. Those clubs
usually have Web sites that list locations.
Wisconsin Beekeeping Clubs
Swarm Removal By Wisconsin Beekeepers