Bees and Winter

Recently, I have been receiving a lot of questions about bees building nests in people’s houses. I want to take the time to write about a few types of bees and how they overwinter. My hope is that I can help you understand why the bees are moving into your space and how you should react to them doing so.

The first type of bee I want to discuss are honeybees. These busy creatures are the provider for the honey that most of us love! Honeybees are also considered to be the most important pollinator due to the amount of pollination they preform. In fact, honeybees account for approximately one third of all pollination.

Honeybees are a smaller bee that live in large colonies. At their peak in the summer, honeybee hive populations average 60 000 bees. During our Nova Scotian winters, the population of a honeybee hive will often drop to approximately 25 000 bees before the cold sets in.

With so many honeybees being part of a hive, you can expect that there will lots of activity on warmer days. Once the temperature drops, honeybees cluster inside the hive with the queen at the center. By vibrating muscles behind their wings, honeybees are able to generate enough heat to keep the cluster warm throughout the cold weather.

Honeybees tend to make their nests in larger areas due to the size of the hive. This could include hollow trees, caves, wall cavities, or attics. Despite the intimidating number of honeybees in a colony, this species is normally quite docile – provided you are not invading the hive, of course. If you find a honeybee hive, leave it alone and they will not hurt you. If the hive needs to be relocated, talk to a beekeeper. Most beekeepers would love to find a wild hive to help build their apiary!

Another common pollinator seen throughout North America is the bumblebee. These furry bees are quite possibly the most docile bee you will find. Unlike honeybees, bumblebee colonies have a small population reaching 300-400 bees at its peak. In the winter, the hive will die off leaving only the queen behind.

Bumblebees are more nomadic than other colony bees. The hive is built each spring and only reaches the size of a softball. Bumblebees tend to nest in the ground or in small openings such as pipes on the side of houses. If you find a bumblebee hive, unless it poses a danger to you or those around you, leave it be. Bumblebees relocate every spring, abandoning their previous hive locations. Once the bees have moved out, block access to the location to prevent future hives from settling into the same location.

A close cousin of bees are wasps. These creatures are often feared as they tend to be more aggressive than bees and have the ability to sting more than once. Despite the irritation that they cause to those trying to enjoy a nice picnic or trying to clean out their shed, wasps also serve as important pollinators.

Wasps tend to build their nests either hanging (in a tree, from a ceiling, etc.) or in the ground. The location of a nest is generally related to the species of wasp you are dealing with. As with other bees, if it is possible to allow a wasp colony to continue where it is, you should do so. However, do to the more aggressive nature of wasps, it is often necessary to remove nests as they are found.

If a nest needs to be relocated, assess if it possible to take a plastic or paper container with a lid and fit the container over the nest. Use the lid or a stiff piece of cardboard and slide it between the cup and the spot where the nest is attached, severing the connection. The nest should drop into the container. Put the lid on and move the nest away from your home. This technique is best done at night as the wasps will be in the hive for the night.

As wasps are territorial creatures, hanging fake nests around your home can also help deter colonies from moving into your area.

If it is not possible or safe to use non-lethal methods to relocate a wasp hive, most hardware stores carry chemical solutions for killing a hive.

The world of bees and other pollinators is world of adventure, danger, and important work. Without our flying friends, many of the world’s food crops would not produce any food. With their populations declining, it is up to us to educate ourselves and help our pollinators to survive.

If you have questions regarding bees in your area or if you need help to relocate a beehive, reach out to a local beekeeper. In Nova Scotia, you can contact the Nova Scotia Beekeeping Association through their website (https://nsbeekeepers.ca).

Feel free to drop any questions for me down in the comments!

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