The dangers of treating bees and wasps yourself

Some home owners are willing to do “home handyman” jobs and so may be tempted to try removing wasp nests and swarms of honey bees. However there are potential serious problems with disturbing both kinds of stinging insects.

The dangers of treating bees and wasps yourself
The dangers of treating bees and wasps yourself

Paper wasps make nests of various shapes and are often found around windows and doors. Spraying them may seem simple but it is easy to underestimate how many wasps are sleeping inside the folds of the “paper” nest and they are very quick to identify where a new threat is coming from. Unlike bees, wasps have the ability to sting many times in quick succession. Their thick skin or cuticle is far more resistant to the absorption of chemical sprays than a fly and being much larger than most flies, they must receive a larger dose of chemicals to paralyse their nervous system. Even dying wasps can sting. As they fall to the ground from the effect of the spray on the nerves controlling their wing muscles, wasps still have the ability to sting which can be a problem if they fly into you or land on exposed areas of your skin. Many retail spray packs have labels that specifically say they are not for use against bees and wasps because the effect is unreliable.

Honey bees can cause a variety of problems. Sometimes they simply form a “bee ball” which is usually a fist sized mass of bees gathering around a queen bee (she is in the middle); some of the bees, called scouts, fly away to find a future nest site and then return to tell the others were to hide. So if the bee ball is left alone, the bees will usually move away within a few hours. If they do not then spraying them with insecticide is the worst possible course of action because you will usually only affect the ones on the outside surface of the “bee ball”. The bees in the middle will usually fly rapidly upwards and outwards in a way that cannot be included in the sprayed area and since they are defending their queen, they will immediately attack the source of the threat and anyone else nearby. This can have serious consequences if there are unsuspecting members of the public nearby. Professional bee removalists will usually wear a bee suit, clear away any members of the public and enclose the swarm in a bag and relocate the swarm to a new hive. Alternatively if not safe they may treat the bees with a motorised powder sprayer.

If bees are established inside a property for many months, honey may leak through walls and ceilings. In those situations it is rare for anyone to be able to evacuate the bee colony effectively and so we usually recommend cutting holes in the walls or ceiling to remove the whole nest and all the honey. Every year we hear of home owners who try to “smoke out” a bee swarm inside a wall in the mistaken belief that the smoke will drive them away. While it may make the bees sleepy, they will return to use their honey and defend the queen bee. In fact the most likely result is setting fire to the house because the beeswax and heated honey is flammable. We have seen badly scorched walls and destroyed electrical wiring due to attempts to use smoke! While cutting holes in walls is drastic, it is usually the only permanent long term action, and best done by someone with the experience to predict where the nest is likely to be.