Bees & Wasps
A typical European wasp worker is about 1.75mm long, and is short and blocky. All European wasps are yellow and black or white and black. Paper wasps are 2mm long, and more slender.
Paper wasps may be distinguished from European wasps by their long legs and by their colour. They are usually red and yellow, or mostly yellow with small areas of black. Identification is important, as the two wasps have different nesting habits.
European wasps nest below the soil in mouse burrows or similar sites, inside walls of houses, and roof voids.
Paper wasps also build nests of wood fibre, but theirs consist only of a naked comb, they never have enclosing envelopes. An average nest of one species of paper wasp, contains about 200 cells; the largest nests have fewer than 400 cells. Paper wasp nests are most noticeable on the eaves of houses, but they also are constructed in logs, under rocks, in grass clumps, and inside pipe used as clothesline poles.
Treatment Method –
European wasps’ treatment involves locating nest, usually underground in wall cavities, or roof voids then injecting nest with a low toxic environmentally friendly insecticide into the nest, leaving entry points unblocked so that any wasps that are out foraging will return and contact the insecticide.
Paper wasps treatment involves locating nests, there could be several, usually under eaves, pergolas or on tree branches. Then spraying the nests directly using a surface spray, hence eradication of wasps immediately. Paper wasp nests are removed were possible.
Treatment Time – approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour.
The first honey bees (Apis mellifera) to be introduced to Australia were brought to NSW in 1822. Because of the abundance of nectar and pollen sources provided by the native eucalypts, they soon became widespread across the country. This is the bee species most commonly encountered by pest control operators in Melbourne.
Honey bees often leave commercial hives and settle in and around houses. Often they will settle in trees, but when hives establish between walls or inside buildings, they present special problems, and in most cases, professional beekeepers reject the idea of accepting relocated hives because of the chance of diseased wild bees being introduced to their commercial apiary.
When a swarm of bees settle or establish a new colony (hive) on a property, where necessary, the colony must be killed, particularly when allergic people are likely to be stung. Bee stings are very painful and most people reject the idea of a hive remaining anywhere on their property, especially if children are present.
Biology and habits
There are three castes of honey bees ? the queen, worker bees and drones.
The external structure of the honey bee is divided into head, thorax and abdomen. It is covered with featherlike hairs which collect pollen, as do the hairs on the legs. On the head are the eyes, antennae, mouthparts and various glands.
The honey bee has two kinds of eyes: the three ocelli on the top of the head are light sensors, keeping the insect in a state of stimulation and thus quickening the response of the compound eyes. The large pair of compound eyes provides a mosaic of surroundings and can see the higher spectrum colours, such as ultraviolet, violet, green and blue, and analyse the polarity of sunlight.
The antennae are touch and odour sensitive. They act as sound receptors and may serve as a flight speed regulator.
The mouthparts, which include the mandible and proboscis are used for biting and chewing and sucking or lapping. The mandibles are grasping implements used for collecting or eating pollen, working wax, cleaning hives, fighting, gathering, working and fixing propolis (a glue produced for hive production), nursing the brood, and other purposes. Liquids such as nectar, honey and water are drawn up the proboscis by means of a sucking pump located in the head.
These liquids and pollen pass from the sucking pump along a slender tube through the neck and thorax into a thin walled honey sac (honey stomach) in which they are carried. This sac has a posterior valve which regulates the passage of food into the true stomach. This valve is constructed so that pollen may pass to the stomach and nectar or honey is retained within the honey sac.
Glands are positioned in the head, thorax and abdomen, and all have different functions, sometimes differing from each caste of bee. Glands produce pheromones, saliva, wax, hive identification odours, food, alkaline and venom. These are produced for hive production, colony motivation and identification, the sexuality of the castes, protection, and food (royal jelly) production.
The reproductive organs are almost entirely internal and fully developed only in the drone male and queen female. Worker bees have undeveloped female organs which, under certain conditions may become functional but produce only unfertilized eggs.
The testes of the drone secrete spermatozoa which are inserted inside the queen while both are airborne above ten to fifteen metres. Between two to fourteen drones mate with the queen on the mating flight, and the drones have their sexual organs torn from them at the termination of the mating.
Queen and worker bees have a sting which injects venom. The sting is composed of three parts, a tapered stylet and two barbed lancets, interlocked to form a hollow tube with a poison sac at the base of this shaft. The venom is pumped into a reservoir sac and then passes through the hollow sting tube into the victim.
The worker bee’s sting is shorter than that of the queen, which is smooth and not barbed. The queen’s poison gland and poison sac are long and well developed.
The worker bee is able to use its sting only once, sacrificing its life by doing so. The queen can use hers again and again, usually only against another queen.
The hind legs of the worker bee are covered in fine curved hairs. These hairs form a pollen basket to hold large quantities of pollen for transportation to the hive (and to other flowers, thus causing cross pollination).
The Bee Colony (Hive)
The cells of the colony are of two principal sizes, workers and drone cells. These are constructed by the workers using the wax secreted from their glands.
Honey may be stored in both types of cells, although pollen is stored mostly in worker cells. Special cells in which queens are reared, are occasionally built. These are known as queen cells. The cells are about two and a half centimeters long and larger at the base than the tip.
The queen usually deposits a single egg in each cell. She deposits either fertilized or unfertilized eggs. She deposits a drone egg (unfertilized) in a drone cell, or a worker egg (fertilized) in a worker cell. If a queen cell is built, a worker larvae is placed in it. Occasionally, newly mated queens, and laying workers, may deposit several eggs in each cell.
Combs are nearly white when first constructed but those used for brood rearing become darker because of the accumulation of excreta and cast skins left by the larvae. The cappings placed over the brood cells are constructed of bits of wax taken from various other combs and are combined to form a porous cover through which the developing insect can breathe. Whitish cappings over honey are made usually from new wax. Eventually these may be travel-stained from bees passing over them.
Cells are never filled completely with pollen and they are not capped unless the pollen is covered with honey which acts as a preservative.
The largest bee in the colony is the queen and she is required to be a prolific egg layer if a colony is to be strong and efficient. She is an egg-laying machine and may lay from 1200 to 1500 eggs in 24 hours for a short period under favourable conditions. In situations of dearth (scarcity of food) or cold, egg laying may cease.
The queen is reared under three conditions: supersedure, swarming and queenless nest. She is the only member of the colony capable of depositing eggs which have been fertilized by drone spermatozoa.
Queens develop in special large cells which are constructed as required and then dismantled shortly after they are vacated. Worker bees however, regularly partly construct queen cells and demolish them without ever developing a queen in them.
The queen emerges by cutting her way out of the cell with her mandibles and may help herself to some honey. She occasionally solicits food from workers.
If another virgin queen emerges, a battle ensues until one of the queens is killed by being stung. If the virgin comes across any other sealed queen she attacks at the base and tears a hole in it. There can be only one queen in each colony.
Queens make a curious shrill sound, called piping, even while they are still in the cell before emergence. The manner in which the noise is made is not fully understood.
The queen will take orientation flights after several days, gradually extending the distance and time she is away from the hive. Queens take one or more mating flights and some have been known to mate when only four days old, while others take up to sixteen days. The usual time is between six and ten days. She may mate from two to fourteen times on such flights and seldom leaves the hive after commencing to lay eggs, except to accompany a swarm.
The workers in the colony pay great attention to the queen after mating. They touch her continually with their antennae and lick her. The pheromones from her mandibular glands, referred to as queen substance, are passed to the workers in this way. This queen substance controls the workers’ behaviour.
The size of the queen’s abdomen increases enormously after mating and, after three or four days, she commences egg laying. A brood area is maintained by the workers at a temperature of between 31 and 33 degrees Celsius, and it is in this area that she lays. The queen lays in the ‘brood area’ at random, constantly recrossing her tracks.
Young household bees form a circle around her as she lays and attend to their needs constantly, grooming her and removing faeces.
The queen may live six or seven years, but she is of maximum egg productive value for the first two seasons. She may lay about 1,000,000 eggs during her lifetime. Eventually, in natural circumstances, when the queen begins to fail, she is superseded by one of her daughters who is especially reared for the purpose.
The drones are the male bees. They have no stings, nor do they perform any duties. Their main function is to mate with the queen, although they do also contribute to the warmth of the hive. At about ten days old they are capable of impregnating a queen.
Drones are structurally incapable of collecting food in the field and they are fed by the workers; their food supply is stopped when the brooding slackens, a dearth period is experienced, or in late autumn. They are not allowed to live over winter when food is scarce. When they are weakened, their wings and legs may be torn off by the workers. They are eventually dragged or driven out of the hive.
Drones may drift into a strange hive. If they do so when nectar and pollen are abundant often they are not attacked and are permitted to stay.
At the peak of the season, the colony may consist of anything from 20,000 to 60,000 worker bees. The worker bee breaks through the cappings of her brood cell with her mandibles and appears bedraggled and in weak condition. After a few days she appears considerably larger and her appearance is bright and fresh.
The life span of the worker is short. Those which are reared in the Spring and early part of the Summer live from 35 to 42 days, while those bred at the close of Summer and during Autumn may live over Winter but they die quickly during early Spring. The length of the worker bee’s life depends upon her wings, which wear out quickly during a busy season.
The worker bee is a modified female bee and performs the work of establishing and maintaining the colony; she gathers the nectar, pollen, propolis and water; she build the comb and attends the queen; she produces the brood food or royal jelly; she cleans the hive; and she protects the nest against intruders.
The worker is well equipped to carry out these duties. She has a honey sac in which to carry pollen, an efficient navigational system, a method of communicating the locations of nectar and pollen sources, wax glands to provide colony building materials, glands to provide brood food, a system for lowering and raising the temperature within the colony, a scent gland that secretes an identification odour, and a sting to protect the colony from enemies.
The worker bee does not perform all these functions at one time. Invariably, after emergence from the cell, the young worker bee moves across the comb until she arrives at a cell containing honey. She then enters it and eats. Her next move is to polish and clean the cells from which the young bees are emerging. She feeds the larvae and this leads her on to pack the pollen into the cells, to clean the comb and ripen the honey. These duties as ‘house bees’ last for just over two weeks and then her duties change and the worker joins the field force and participates in the gathering of nectar, pollen, water and propolis.
Perhaps two of the most interesting functions of the worker bee are controlling the hive temperature and communicating the location of food. In the first, the workers cluster together to raise the temperature of the brood especially which should be kept at a constant temperature of between 32 and 34 degrees Celsius. To lower the temperature, the workers fan with their wings. Fanning bees are bees that for a short period of time, give their energy to producing a current of air. This is used to ventilate the hive and also to evaporate the water in the nectar. Expansion and contraction of a cluster of fanning bees is capable of raising or lowering the hive temperature quite readily.
A definite pattern of circulation of air is maintained, and if you put your hand into the entrance of a hive while fanning is in progress, you will find that the air is being taken in one side of the entrance and expelled on the other side.
The wagtail dance is something of a phenomenon. It is done by a scout bee to indicate the direction and distance of food sources which have been searched out.
On the face of the comb, the dancing bee runs around in a figure eight pattern, wagging its abdomen vigorously from side to side, and then it moves across the centre of the eight in a straight line. If the bee runs up the comb, it indicated the foragers should fly towards the sun. If the straight line is down the comb, then the direction indicated is away from the sun. As the sun changes position in the sky, so does the axis of the dance.
The number of figure eights completed, along with the speed of the waggle, indicates the distance. The faster the waggle, the closer the food source – the slower the dance, the greater the distance to the source of nectar. At frequent intervals, the dancing bee will stop and pass some nectar to the workers in the hive, seeming to indicate to the other bees the type of food to seek out.
In colonies which are hopelessly queenless, the ovaries of a number of worker bees will commence to function and lay generally unfertilized eggs which produce only drones. Colonies with laying workers endeavour to produce queen cells and a female be is very occasionally produced.
During the active period of the year, that is when food is plentiful and temperatures warm, there are all stages of developing bees (brood) in addition to adult honeybees in the colony. All castes pass through four stages; egg, larva, pupa and adult. Each caste requires a different time to complete its stage of development. They all spend three days at the egg stage. The queen spends 5.5 days in the larva stage and 7.5 days in the pupa stage, emerging from the cell in 16 days. Drones spend 6.5 days in the larva stage, 14.5 days in the pupa stage, and emerge in 24 days. The worker spends 6 days in the larva stage, 12 days in the pupa stage, emerging from the cell in 21 days. Emergence times may vary slightly depending on colony strength and temperature and availability of food.
Eggs deposited in worker or queen cells have been fertilized. Eggs placed in drone cells are unfertilized and this method of development is called parthenogenesis. Drones have no male parent and carry only the hereditary features of the queen. (Exceptionally, one out of 1,000 unfertilized eggs may produce a female bee).
Once the eggs hatch, the larvae are provided with a supply of brood food in which they float. The food of the newly hatched larvae is royal jelly. Those larvae in queen cells receive an abundance of this food throughout their feeding period, while the diet of those in worker or drone cells is changed to honey and pollen on the third day of feeding.
At the end of the feeding period, the adult house bees fix porous wax cappings over the cells containing the larvae. The capping of the sealed worker brood are slightly raised, while those of the drone brood are significantly dome-shaped.
Larvae spin cocoons to line the inside of their cells. Then they stretch out and pupate. During growth, each larva sheds its skin, or moults, five times. The last moult produces the pupa which moults once before the adult bee emerges from its cell.
Yearly life of the colony
The active time of year for the colony is in spring and summer when the weather is warmer and there are supplies of food in the form of nectar and pollen from trees and plants in flower. The queen begins to lay eggs at the beginning of this season and a large colony should have developed by the time of maximum food supply in summer.
The worker bees feed the development brood through these months, and at times of maximum food they store extra supplies of honey and pollen away for the cooler months to come.
These warm months are times of great activity in the hive with worker bees foraging for food, feeding the brood and cleaning, and drones apparently ‘taking the air’. The worker bees take occasional rest periods. They may rest on top of the frames or in empty cells. The periods of rest will vary from half an hour to half a day and then the bee will resume work. It then appears to be in quite a hurry as though to make up for lost time.
As the temperature drops with the approach of winter, the bees settle into their hive. They cluster together for warmth and live off the food stored in the cells. No further brood is developed, and gradually the workers stop feeding the drones and they are allowed to die. The workers are also reduced in numbers.
Disturbing the Colony
Bees are very temperamental and at times can be very aggressive. This can be a result of weather conditions that bees become more aggressive in cooler weather and overcast days. They can also become aggressive on very hot days or in hot spells. Another factor is tampering with the colony. This can be either a householder trying to treat the colony themselves or with the colony being ‘stirred up’.
This can happen by a tree containing a colony blowing over in a storm, or a tree lopper chopping limbs off a tree containing a colony, or even a swarm falling from a tree
Prior to the colony sending out a swarm, they send out scout bees. These bees look for a suitable place for their swarm to establish a new colony. This might be in a wall void area, around wall ventilators, in a hollow limb of a tree or any sheltered and secured area.
Scout bees cannot be collected for commercial use and are quite often very hard to control as they are continually moving from one point to another. Usually, this occurrence only lasts from between half a day to a week and happens from August through to November.
Swarming takes place naturally as the colony expands. It is nature’s replacement process and means for splitting of the colony into two or more smaller colonies.
For this to occur, a new queen must develop and the old queen leaves with about half the colony. Quite often, these swarms are seen hanging on bushes, this is usually only a temporary occurrence as the queen needs to rest, she lands and the worker bees follow and collect around her. Quite often they rest for two to three days and then move on to a more secure environment, eg. a wall void area or a hollow tree.
At this point, this is the only time the bees can be collected and physically removed economically, providing weather conditions are favourable and the positioning of the colony in bush or tree is easily accessible. (Most bee swarms found in urban areas are of no commercial value and professional Apiarist are reluctant to remove them).
These may be swarms that have reluctantly occupied a suitable position, eg. wall void, hollow tree or colonies of bees that have occupied the area for a number of years. Generally, these are the colonies most often attended to by Pest Control Technicians as removal of bees are of very little, if not any, commercial value.
It is important that after treating an established colony of bees that the excess honey and comb be removed or the entry points to the colony secured, as residual honey and wax is attractive to other bees and in the future this can quite often cause re-colonisation of the same area in following years.
Quite often after an established colony of bees has been treated, toward the end of summer and autumn, robber bees will come and rob out excess honey. On warm winter days, bees can appear in large numbers.
Often bees are seen foraging on flowers or flowering shrubs and trees. This sometimes causes concern to householders, although there is very little that can be done to control them in this situation other than trimming the foliage and flowers.
Complaints are also often heard about bees landing on washing or hovering around near swimming pools in the warmer months. Quite often, this is the bees foraging for water, and once again, very little can be done to eliminate this from happening.
Facts and fiction regarding bee swarms and control
1. The myth of smoking bees out of a wall or tree:
A smoker is used in a commercial apiary to calm and settle the bees. This is because the bees fill their glands with honey. Well fed bees, like well-fed man or beast are better natured than those that are hungry or starving and become lethargic.
2. Using the garden hose on a swarm of bees:
An action often recommended by people that should know better, eg. pest control operators, council authorities etc, will not make the bees move on, but have the opposite effect of wetting their wings and making the bees incapable of moving off until they have dried out.
3. Blocking of bee entry points to void areas:
Basically the bees will not die and they find another entry point or find entry into internal living areas of the house. Often by the time a Pest Control Technician gets to this job, a seemingly straight forward treatment has been complicated, making treatment difficult and sometimes unsuccessful.
Control of bees
Physically removing an established colony of bees from a wall void, chimney or hollow tree is possible, but considering factors of safety to the public, operator or apiarist, in most cases, it is not economical or practical to try and perform this task, as sections of the wall, chimney or tree would need to be removed. The comb inside is then cut out and placed in boxes, and at this point, the bees become very aggressive and it is impossible to ensure the safety of the public. These days, this task would not be attempted by a professional apiarist, Pest Control Operator or other, as the bees themselves are of no commercial value and in most cases, the honey collected would be of low quality.