Catherine Zettel Nalen
UF/IFAS Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab
Tel # 352-273-3932
Spring is here, which means honey bee swarm season also is here. Calls to our office on campus and county Cooperative Extension Service (CES) offices around the state have increased as swarming season gets underway. The State of Florida has a series of recommendations for handling honey bee swarms and nesting colonies, and it is very important that all CES offices are aware of the recommendations. We placed additional information at the end of this page for those of you who want to know more. That said, we recommend that all county faculty and other interested persons read the first part of this page.
The State of Florida recommendation established by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service's (FDACS) Apiary Section is that all wild colonies or swarms located in close proximity to people or animals should be eradicated by a pest control operator (PCO) trained in honey bee colony eradication and removal.
Further, FDACS recommends that swarm and nesting bee calls not be forwarded to beekeepers but only to trained PCOs. If you are interested in understanding the reasoning for this recommendation, please read the information at the end of this page.
How do you find a trained PCO? It's simple.
Additional Information Concerning Nesting Honey Bees:
The reason FDACS recommends eradicating swarms or nesting honey bee colonies located in close proximity to people or animals is due to the presence of African honey bees in Florida. African honey bees (AHB) and European honey bees (EHB) (the latter is the kind beekeepers usually keep) bees cannot be distinguished from one another with the unaided eye. The only way to identify African bees is to send a sample of 50 freshly collected bees in alcohol to the Apiary Section of FDACS (Jerry Hayes - firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once received, the samples undergo rigorous morphological computerized testing to determine the bee race. Obviously, it is not safe to tell a customer to collect a sample of bees from a living bee colony. As such, the state recommends that the suspect colony be eradicated to avoid any negative encounter.
Additionally, European and African honey bees are capable of interbreeding, meaning a hive that has been in a tree quietly for years may become Africanized suddenly if, following a swarming of the colony, the new queen in the colony mates with Africanized drones during her mating flight.
Besides general safety, nesting honey bees and swarms become a liability issue for the homeowner. If the suspect bees are Africanized and attack a neighbor's child, pet, etc., the homeowner is liable for the attack because they knew the nest was there and chose not to follow state recommendations. In Texas, 50% of African bee attacks are reported to occur on victims who knew the nest was there but did nothing about it since "the bees seemed calm."
The state does not recommend that beekeepers collect these hives or swarms as they once did. It only takes about 5 seconds for African bees to become defensive if disturbed, and they will travel much farther from the nest than European bees. The PCOs on FDACS list have been trained to handle nesting honey bee colonies and should know the proper procedures for handling an African bee nest.
Many people are aware that honey bee populations are suffering and see a dichotomy between the "save the bees" and "eradicate the bees" messages. However, this dichotomy is false. Colony Collapse Disorder is a managed bee colony problem and not an African bee one. So eradicating a nesting colony on ones property does little, if anything, to the total number of wild honey bee colonies in Florida. Homeowners often assume that a newly arrived swarm "can't be Africanized because they haven't bothered anyone". The problem is that neither AHB nor EHB swarms are defensive for the first several weeks, but once baby bees are present in the comb, AHB colonies become dangerously defensive. This behavior will often first shows itself in a dangerous attack.
For more information on honey bees and beekeeping, see UFhoneybee.com. For additional information on African bees, please visit our African Bee Extension and Education Program website at AFBEE.com.