I have honey bees in a tree. Can I remove them and keep the bees?

When honey bees swarm, the old queen leaves the hive with most of the bees. They usually cluster on a limb of a tree for several days while scout bees search for suitable cavities to nest in. They actually “tell” other bees where the cavity is by dancing on the surface of the swarm. If enough bees start visiting the cavity, the swarm will take flight and move in to start making new honey comb for their nest. Problems arise when the nest is in someone’s house or a tree that is close to where people frequently go.

Honey bees sting to defend their nest but not when they are foraging on flowers (unless you step on them). Bees rarely pose a stinging threat unless you are very close to the entrance to their nest, or if one accidentally flies into your hair, gets stuck in your clothing, or you step on one barefoot. If the entrance is above the heads of kids that are in the area, it is very unlikely they will get stung, unless they throw stones at it. If the kids are in the flight-path, they could get bees stuck in their hair and get stung, or the bees may see them as a threat.

Removing bees from trees actually requires opening the tree or cutting it down so that you can cut out the brood comb and get the queen. It is best to take the brood comb and wire pieces of it into empty frames in a standard hive. If you get the queen, the rest of the bees will move to the hive within a few hours. It can then be moved to a new location, preferably when it gets dark so that all the bees are inside.

There is another method to get most of the bees out of a tree but it takes up to two months and is not always successful. In fact, I don’t personally know someone who has told me they did it successfully. It involves sealing all but one entrance and putting an inverted screen funnel over the entrance so that bees can exit but not return. A hive is placed very near the exit hole containing some empty comb. This method gets most of the bees to adopt the new hive, but the queen and a few bees will remain in the tree and new bees will emerge so the nest continues. If it is absolutely necessary to kill the bees, there is a dust called apicide that is registered to kill honey bees. Seven dust, is more readily available and contains the same type of active ingredient. It can be injected using a dust sprayer into the entrance. After several treatments, the colony will eventually die. Some exterminators do not kill honey bees because they believe they are endangered. Officially, honey bees are not an endangered species and it is legal to kill them. There have been a lot of problems in recent years with honey bee health because of new bee parasites and diseases, but beekeepers are still able to keep bees, provided they control these problems.

– Greg Hunt, Purdue University

This video demonstrates the following steps to remove a honey bee colony from a tree.

  • The colony is smoked
  • A chainsaw is used to create an opening to access the colony.
  • Combs of brood and bees are removed, trimmed, and placed in beehive frames. Rubber bands are used to hold the combs in the frames. These frames are then placed in a beehive.
  • Combs of honey are harvested at this time since placing these in the new hive is problematic.
  • The queen is found and placed in the beehive.
  • After all the combs are removed from the tree, the beehive is placed near the former entrance to the colony.
  • The beehive is left in place overnight for the remaining bees to settle into their new home.
  • The beehive is then removed early the next morning before bees are foraging.

-Michael Wilson, University of Tennessee