Have you spotted a swarm of flying insects coming out of a wall? Or did you notice a rattling noise coming from inside the house? If this sounds familiar, a colony of European honey bees (Apis mellifera) may be building their home on the walls of your home.

First, determine who the HouseGuests really are. Honeybees are often the culprit, but European hornets (Vespula germanica) sometimes build their nests inside man-made structures. Their nests have a papery appearance and are made of chewed plant fibres.

European hornets are more dramatic yellow and black in color and have narrower waists. Honeybees have slimmer waists, appear furrier, and have a dull orange-brown color.

If they are inside homes or crowded areas, both honey bee European hornets usually need to be removed by a professional.

European honey bee colony It is sometimes possible to transfer colonies while they are still alive, although this may not always be possible (Source: Pixabay)

Depending on where you live, other social bees such as stingless bees and bumblebees may occasionally build colonies in human-built structures, but they rarely cause any serious problems.

Solitary native bees such as carpenter bees, blue-banded bees, and teddy bear bees do not live in colonies. However, they sometimes build their individual nests close together. These insects are rarely aggressive and can often be left alone.

How did they get there?

When the honey bee colony outgrows its current home, the bees proceed to search for a new home.

During preparation, the queen bee lays eggs in special cells known as “queen cells”. The larvae in these cells are fed royal jelly, which helps them develop into new queens.

Once the new queens emerge, the old queen leaves the hive, accompanied by a large number of worker bees.

Now homeless, the foraging bees huddle together in a tight mass called a “swarm ball” on a nearby object. From this temporary base of operations, the bees send out scouts to find potential nesting sites.

When a scout spots a suitable location, it returns to the swarm ball and performs an extraordinary routine known as the “shake dance”.

Surprisingly, this dance communicates the location of the potential new home to the other scouts, who then go out to inspect the advertised location. If they agree to fit in, they go back to the hive and do their waggle dance.

Once enough scouts have agreed on a new home fit, the entire squadron takes to the air to their new home.

Unfortunately, bees sometimes choose to settle in man-made structures. Once inside, they produce wax to build the hexagonal cells that make up the nest. Some cells are used as nurseries for larvae, while others are used to store pollen and honey.

The most obvious sign is usually a steady stream of bees flying in and out of the hive, usually from a small hole or recess in the wall.

You may also hear a wheezing sound.

European honey bee colony If bees are inside your home, they should be removed by some professionals (Source: Unsplash)

What will the bees do to my house?

The honey and wax produced by the bees can melt when the colony dies or during hot weather. This leads to stains and damage to the walls, while the remaining honey may attract rodents.

The increasing weight of the colony can also cause structural damage over time.

While honey bees are not generally aggressive, they will sting in self-defense, especially near their colony.

Moving slowly and avoiding hitting can reduce the chance of getting stung.

Dealing with honey bees at home

If honey bees have taken up residence in your home, ask a professional, such as a beekeeper, to remove them.

Do not attempt to remove bees yourself; This could be dangerous. Spraying insecticides or repellents may not kill all bees and may lead to aggression.

Even if the insecticide kills the colony, the dead bees, wax, and honey will decompose and dissolve, creating an even larger mess and attracting pests.

Not all beekeepers are equipped to remove bees from their homes. Look for beekeepers who advertise “bee removal” or “bee rescue” services.

You can also try contacting amateur beekeeping associations, which may keep a list of experienced bee removers. If there are no suitable beekeepers in your area, or the colony is not easily accessible, you may need to contact a pest control unit.

Sometimes, live colonies can be removed and transferred but this is not always possible. Your options will depend on the size of the colony, whether or not the beekeeper has access to the colony, his level of experience, and how long the colony will be there.

If you live in certain areas of NSW it is very important that you report wild honey bee swarms or colonies to the Department of Primary Industries.

Wild colonies may harbor the invasive Varroa mite, which is a lethal parasite of honey bees. The Varroa mite is currently undergoing an eradication programme. Varroa mites are only found in New South Wales at the moment.

Prevention is key

Try to prevent bees from entering your home in the first place. Seal cracks or holes in exterior walls and place armored mesh over exterior ventilation openings.

Beekeepers can prevent swarms from occurring in the first place by making sure they manage their hives appropriately. Joining a local beekeeping club is an excellent way to learn about bee care.

While honey bees are important pollinators and honey producers, they can also be a nuisance in your home.

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