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Help I Have Bees!

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Yellowjackets and other wasps

Not all stinging insects are bees (and not all bees sting)! Before taking action, make sure you know who you’re dealing with. Yellowjacket wasps tend to be the most aggressive stinging insects in North Carolina. Use the resources below to determine whether you have a bee or a wasp, and which kind.

Non-honey bee stinging insects in North Carolina

There are no ‘murder hornets’ in North Carolina. What *is* that big wasp, then? 

Managing yellowjackets

Identification guide to bees of North Carolina 

Ground-nesting bees

It’s early spring and a sparsely vegetated swath of your lawn has erupted into little ‘anthills.’ Look closely on a warm day and you may see flying insects zigzagging through the area about a foot above the ground. What to do? These bees have a weak sting, and their nests are only visible for a few short weeks. For the rest of the year, immature bees are present underground, usually about 6-12” deep–invisible and inactive. Our top recommendation is to leave them alone, but if they’re really non-negotiable, you may be able to deter them by applying a layer of mulch to the nesting area. Wait until adults bees are no longer flying in the area, then add mulch. New bees may still climb out through the mulch the following spring, but they won’t likely be attracted to make new nests in the same place.

More about biology of ground-nesting bees

Colletid Bees (Plasterer Bees, Cellophane Bees, and Polyester Bees

Bee identification

Honey bee swarms

When you say “bees are swarming,” are they simply a few dozen of them foraging on flowers? Or are they clinging underneath a branch by the thousands? To a beekeeper, the latter is a true swarm of bees, where the colony is looking for a new home. If the former, the bees will go away once the blooming source is done flowering. Importantly, the bees are not nearly as defensive while they’re foraging (or even true swarming) because they only defend their nest or if provoked, so as long as you’re not trying to swat at them there is little risk.

Also be sure that you don’t have a case of mistaken identity and confusing yellow jackets (or other wasp species) as honey bees. Honey bees very rarely (if ever) nest in the ground, so if that’s where you see them coming and going you’re most likely dealing with wasps and probably yellow jackets. See our What “bee” is this? page.

A swarm of honey bees is a natural process of their colony reproduction, where the mother queen departs their original hive with ~75% of the adult workers to establish a new nest. During this time, they are actually quite non-defensive (since honey bees only sting to protect their nest, when they are in transit they do not have anything to defend). They often cluster on nearby vegetation (see picture) for hours or days while they search for a new nest site, at which point they lift off en masse and fly to their new home.Swarm Cluster in a Tree

While in the swarm cluster, beekeepers are more than happy to come and collect them if they are accessible (free bees!). They will arrive with a hive, knock the bees into it (although there may be stragglers), and move them away to their apiary. Because time is of the essence, contact your local Cooperative Extension office or local chapter of your state beekeepers association (for North Carolina) for a list of local beekeepers willing to provide this service. See also Swarm Season Is Here.

If the swarm has moved into a structure, beekeepers will have a difficult time to remove them since they have already started to build their nest. It is difficult, although not totally impossible, to coax bees out from a cavity once they have established their nest. You definitely don’t want the colony to grow any bigger; while it is important to preserve honey bees, when they are clearly a nuisance destroying them may be the only recourse you have. Some local beekeepers are able and willing to get inside a structure to remove the colony for a fee, but very few have the knowledge and capability, so check your local extension office or beekeeping club. Note that a lot of pest control operators (PCOs) do not like to handle stinging insect removals, to the point where many will actually say it is illegal because honey bees are endangered, but that is not true and is just a convenient way to decline the job. What you will likely need to do is secure a PCO who can exterminate the colony, then once dead have a team of housing contractors and beekeepers go into the void and remove the wax comb. You can try to exterminate the bees yourself, but it is usually ineffective since the hive entrance is often far from the main nest so it is hard to kill the entire colony. Even if you do, the bees will leave behind wax, honey, and brood inside the structure, which can then spoil and ferment causing a runny mess that can do significant secondary damage to the structure (and in some cases exacerbate the initial problem). Thus it is strongly encouraged to consider the physical removal of not just the bees but the nest as well, which involves some less-than-minor construction work.

Carpenter bees

The eastern carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica) is a native bee that can be a nuisance pest of wooden structures. Adult bees chew tunnels in wood to create nesting space, where their young develop in the spring and summer, and where adults spend the winter. Common targets are porches, decks, patio furniture, fences, and wooden siding. At present, there is no solid, research-based advice on eliminating or repelling these bees from your structures. Although they are generally thought to be nuisance pests rather than true threats to structural integrity, nesting space does become extensive over time. Common recommendations are to proactively protect wood by painting it, or to plug nest holes as they appear. However, many people report that these measures are not very effective.

Learn more about carpenter bee biology and management options 

A video about carpenter bee biology 

More about carpenter bee management research at NC State