Honey bees are valuable pollinators playing an important role in both
native and agricultural crop production. Beekeepers keep bees in wooden
manufactured hives, but the most common natural nest site for bees is
a hollow tree or other cavity. Occasionally, honey bees may use a wall
void or attic space in a house as a nesting site. In these situations,
the decision to take action depends upon the circumstances. Here are some
common questions asked by people who discover bees nesting within their
For more information about bees, visit the NCSU
Apiculture Program website.
- Will the bees cause any damage to my house?
NO. Honey bees will do no structural damage to a building. Unlike
other pests, such as termites or carpenter bees, honey bees do not chew
or eat wood. Some people choose to leave the colony alone and have had
bees inside a wall for many years. If you do decide to exterminate them,
any large quantities of honey left behind should be removed to avoid
staining and destruction of inside walls or ceilings. The honey and
nest debris may also attract other insects pests and rodents.
- When did they move in?
Honey bees reproduce by swarming where part of the old colony leaves
to seek a new homesite. Swarming occurs mostly during the months of
April and May. If you notice bees in your house at another time of year,
especially summer, chances are great that they have been there since
spring and you have just now noticed them.
- Can I just plug up the hole and suffocate
If the entrance hole is plugged, the bees will look for another exit.
They may find another crack or opening or they could follow light and
enter your living quarters instead through gaps in baseboard, electrical
outlets or vents.
- Can a beekeeper come and take out the bees?
Yes. However, removing the bees usually takes a lot of time and effort
once they've moved within a wall. The value of the bees, alone, is not
sufficient to justify the effort and liability of involved in removing
them. Fewer and fewer beekeepers are willing to do this, and those who
do, often charge a fee and may still leave the responsibility of any
repairs up to the homeowner. Be sure that you agree about price and
what is expected in this service. Contact your county Cooperative
Extension Office and ask if there is a list of local beekeepers
who perform this service.
- Can the bees be trapped out or made to leave?
Trapping is sometimes done, but it is rarely practical because it
takes several weeks and doesn't remove 100% of the bees. After one or
two days in a cavity, almost no amount of prodding or trickery will
cause them to leave on their own.
- Is it illegal to kill
Many pesticide labels include warnings to avoid spraying flowering
plants or crops outdoors where honey bees are likely to be foraging
for nectar and pollen (e.g., in a garden or planted field). In those
situations, it is important to obey the labeling to help protect the
bees. However, when bees invade a home,
or a colony is a threat
, you have the right to remove them (preferably) or to kill them if
- Why isn't simply spraying the bees sufficient
to solve the problem?
A honey bee colony within a wall can be killed with insecticide by the
homeowner or a licensed pest control operator. However, if the bees
have been in the wall for more than a few days, wax combs and honey
may already be stored within the wall. The longer the colony has been
there, the greater is the likelihood that large amounts comb and honey
have accumulated. There may be as much as 40 pounds of honey within
a wall by the end of spring. The remaining honey and wax could eventually
ferment and run down the wall or ceiling, so it should be removed after
the bees are killed in the best way possible. The greatest amount of
honey will likely be found at the end of spring and the least amount
found at the end of winter. Large quantities of decaying bees may also
attract carpet beetles which could, in turn, attack natural fibers materials
(e.g., wool, fur, or silk) within the house.
- How do I spray the nest?
Use an aerosol "bee and wasp" spray; the kind typically found
in most lawn & garden centers or retail stores. Spray the chemical
directly into the entrance hole during the evening hours, when all adults
are most likely inside. If you're spraying overhead, protect yourself
from any chemical mists that drift down toward you. If you need to use
a ladder to reach the nest, be extremely careful. The spray may cause
the bees to fly out of the nest toward you. Wear long-sleeved shirt
and pants and a hat, if it makes you feel more confident. If the colony
has been active in the wall for more than two or three weeks, consider
opening the space to remove any wax and honey. Once the bees and nest
material have been removed, fill the void with insulation, caulk or
close off the entrance so that future swarms will not be attracted to
the same cavity.
- Why didn't the spray kill them?
The insecticide must contact the colony to be effective. Sometimes
the nest area is not close to the opening. Try to locate the exact
nest area by tapping the wall and listening. If necessary, a quarter-inch
hole may be drilled into the wall to introduce the insecticide. In
this case use a pesticide product that has a "crack & crevice"
tool (a straw-like attachment for the nozzle that allows you to inject
the chemical into the void).
- Are there other house-nesting insects that
might be mistaken for honey bees?
Yes. Yellow jackets sometimes build a nest
in a wall cavity, as do honey bees, and many people are not able to
distinguish the two insects. The difference is important because yellow
jackets do no build wax combs, do not store honey, and their colonies
die out each year by spring. If you have questions about which insect
may be nesting in your wall, collect one of the adults and send it to
your county Cooperative
Extension Service Center for identification.
S.B. Bambara, J. T. Ambrose and M. G. Waldvogel
Entomology Extension Specialists