Bumblebees: so cute, but so ouchy
May 14, 2010 2:54 PM   Subscribe

I just found an underground bumblebee nest in the yard, in a location with unavoidable foot traffic and curious dogs. Please help me chase them off rather than harm them!

One method I've heard of included dribbling a garden hose into the nest overnight, has anyone had experience with this or another non-lethal method?
posted by bunji to Home & Garden (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
While I think your intentions are admirable, I am unaware of any non-lethal methods that successfully displace bees, wasps, or hornets.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:59 PM on May 14, 2010

Do they even sting? Couldn't you use some flexible plastic fencing to secure the hole, so they can get on with the business of pollinating flowers and fruit?
posted by KokuRyu at 3:01 PM on May 14, 2010

Do they sting? Ground dwelling bees sent my spouse to the emergency room. Be very careful around them.
posted by leafwoman at 3:03 PM on May 14, 2010

bumblebees are very gentle, in my experience; I have stroked them with a fingertip while they were busy bumbling around and even caught them in my hands and never been stung. Unless you have someone who's fatal-grade allergic, I'd just leave them alone.
posted by The otter lady at 3:04 PM on May 14, 2010

From what I understand, bumblebees nest only once a year, so displacing the colony means you will kill them.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:04 PM on May 14, 2010

Are they bees, or wasps? If they're bees, you could try to find a local beekeeper to relocate them.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 3:06 PM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: They're definitely bumblebees. We actually had a nest in a corner of the yard a couple of years ago and enjoyed watching them come and go. Bumblebees can sting, but I've never seen them aggressive.

The problem is that they've burrowed into the narrow strip of yard that leads from the front to the back of the house, and I worry that one of the dogs might disturb them and get stung.
posted by bunji at 3:11 PM on May 14, 2010

The only way I've ever heard of to move bees (and it's been a long time since I've looked in to it) is to daze the bees (usually with smoke) and then move the queen to another hive. You need to find an apiculturist to do this, and they may not be too happy about the digging part. You can drive the bees away (at least the ones you see) but if the queen is there they will return. If you kill the queen they will live out their (short) lives away from the hive, but won't be happy.
posted by Some1 at 3:11 PM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

You will likely have to choose what you are most comfortable with: the potential for one of your dogs to get stung, or harming the bees.
posted by OmieWise at 3:19 PM on May 14, 2010

You would need a good bee suit, for starters. . .and even if you located the queen and moved her, lots would die in the process.

It's unfortunate. . .I would just go with the Bee Bopper and be done with it. Or, you could try to use carbon dioxide (from a fire extinguisher) and see if you can freeze down to the nest.

No happy choices here that I can see.
posted by Danf at 3:28 PM on May 14, 2010

Personally, I suggest leaving them if you don't want to hurt them. Any attempt to move them is going to have a large impact on the hive, and bumblebees are remarkably unaggressive as far as yellow-striped insects go. Cordoning off the area to prevent their entrance from getting stepped on would be a good idea, but simply ignoring the bumblebees will leave them happy and healthy, satisfy your desire to leave them unharmed, plus it will be good for the flowers in your neighborhood.

(Against most people's suggestions, last year we left a yellowjacket nest alone that was near our back door someplace; there were always yellowjackets flying around, but we weren't sure where they lived. Scared flailing == angry yellowjackets. Completely ignoring them == stupid yellowjackets flying around aimlessly or carelessly running into your arm and buzzing away; they didn't come back this spring. The bugs will protect their hive if threatened, but most don't have a deathwish: they won't start a fight with a huge creature that is just walking by, for the most part)
posted by AzraelBrown at 3:44 PM on May 14, 2010

First, bumblebees are very docile. They don't go looking for trouble, and likely won't bother you, even if you go near their nest, even within a few feet.

I think you have two options. Leave it be, or destroy it. That's about it. An inground nest isn't really worth relocating, because it involves a metric shitload of labor, and a lot of luck to find the queen. I'm also assuming this place of "unavoidable traffic" will have to be mowed at some time? While bumblebees are very docile, running a lawnmower over them will likely result in an angry response.

I'm an insect and spider lover above all else, my flickr is loaded with pictures of them, but personally, I would get rid of the nest. I did the same thing with a yellow jacket nest in my yard last year. I live on a parkway and kids are always playing near where that nest was. I even got stung twice just mowing near (within 8 ft) of it.

If I were you I would creep up, dump a jar of gasoline in there, and light it up. Or choose the poison of your choice from the hardware store.
posted by sanka at 3:56 PM on May 14, 2010

If you don't want to hurt them, I wouldn't attempt to move them. Dogs and bees have been coexisting outdoors for eons just fine. I understand your worry for your dogs, and if it was wasps I'd be out there with a blowtorch myself in order to save my pets. But bumblebees are so typically not aggressive, are almost cute, and probably won't harm your dogs any more than they will you. If if one of the dogs does gets stung on the nose, he will learn real quick not to go poking around beehives in the future.
posted by cgg at 3:58 PM on May 14, 2010

In case it comes down to killing the bees (and I'm not exactly recommending you do this - calling a local pest control company would be a safer option): I had a pest control company take care of a bee problem recently - he put on a bee suit and then dumped a 5-gallon bucket of water mixed with dish soap to kill the bees. I'm not sure what the ratio was, but I was given the explanation that bees breathe through their skin (rather, little holes on the side of their bodies), and the soapy water effectively suffocates them. This seems far better than the gasoline option, so you might want to check with a pest control place for more information.
posted by belau at 4:14 PM on May 14, 2010

Can't you just non-permanently fence around the entrance of the hive somehow? Maybe use chicken wire so they can fly through but your dogs can't go near?
posted by Spacelegoman at 4:28 PM on May 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm no expert, but I suspect the nest is a pretty complicated and costly piece of infrastructure for them. You'd be undoing all the work they've been doing to survive next winter. It's early in the season, but still... even you could convince them to move along, you'll likely be doing them in.

Nothing against bees or nature or life in general, but this is something that people have been dealing with for thousands of years. It's part of the cycle of life. Own it. It's your land. They can't just take it over! Pretty soon you'll be covered in fleas and bowing down to the wolf bear cougar overlords that will step in to take our place at the top of the food chain.

Poison them.
posted by pjaust at 5:19 PM on May 14, 2010

One summer I had a bumblebee nest under the front stairs and I left it alone, because bumblebees are docile, right? So it was there for about 2-3 months, during which we left each other alone. Then one day my wife was leaving the house (with my infant son and a friend), and they decided to attack. She got stung twice.

So kill with extreme prejudice. You don't know when they're going to suddenly decide you're a threat.

What worked for me: I waited until the evening and used CIL Wasp and Hornet Spray to shoot into the hole, followed by CIL Jet Foam Wasp and Hornet Spray to temporarily block the hole to prevent them from getting out. I'm still amazed at the effectiveness of these sprays. Since some were still out of the nest when I went on my killing spree, they were coming back while I was still there. I used the spray to shoot them out of the air -- as soon as it touches them, they are incapacitated and die shortly after. I had to go back after a couple of hours, and a few more times over the next couple of days, but I finally eradicated the nest. And then I danced for joy.
posted by Simon Barclay at 5:30 PM on May 14, 2010

Put up a few "Bee Crossing" signs and keep the dog on a rope for a few weeks?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:30 PM on May 14, 2010

I had a pest control company take care of a bee problem recently - he put on a bee suit and then dumped a 5-gallon bucket of water mixed with dish soap to kill the bees.

Jesus Christ, that's bloody depressing. Bees of all types are declining at alarming rates all over the world. Bumblebees common in North America in the 1970's have disappeared from collection sites. Honeybees are experiencing colony collapse disorder, and no one really knows why.
If they are honeybees, next time call a beekeeper. They can remove bees without killing them.

OP, you may want to call your local agricultural extension office and see if they know of non-lethal methods of moving the bees.

These bee conservationists would love to have info about your bumble bee nest.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:30 PM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Our local feed store had something that might work for you. It was basically a Japanese lantern that was shaped and printed to look like a wasps nest. The idea was that you put the decoy up and no other swarms would move in to the area because it looks like there's already somebody using the local resources.

If you put something like that up maybe you could persuade them that this isn't the place for them. It probably wouldn't work for this year, but maybe next?

I have to say that I'm with the crowd that says you are right not to want to hurt them. Bees are disappearing too fast, I wouldn't want to be a part of killing them off.
posted by TooFewShoes at 7:43 PM on May 14, 2010

Response by poster: Good to know, oneirodynia! I've told them about this nest, and two more I have seen. Hopefully that will help them out.
posted by bunji at 8:04 PM on May 14, 2010

Check around and see if you can get in touch with local beekeepers. In my experience, they are sometimes able to move entire colonies, but its a situation by situation thing.
posted by anastasiav at 8:25 PM on May 14, 2010

If they're nesting in the ground, they're almost certainly bumblebees and not honeybees.

Honeybees aren't native to the US anyway; although they are having a lot of problems, CCD almost exclusively affects the bees that are kept by people and shipped around the country. It's a problem, for sure, but CCD shouldn't affect your decision w/r/t this particular hive.

I did a lot of research on this about 2 weeks ago, when I found that bumblebees had nested in my compost heap. In my case, it's far enough away from traffic that I decided "Meh." I don't really need the compost that bad. I can wait for next year. (Apparently they will all fly away this fall.)

If this was off to the side, I'd recommend putting a bucket over it secured with a rock, with holes drilled in the side. That would keep errant dogs from trying to dig up the bee hive.

But if it's in a trafficked area, or one which will need mowing, then yeah, I'm afraid it's a safety issue. If it was me, I'd poison them. Sorry, little bee gals, but them's the breaks.

Your local hardware store will have a spray that's meant for wasp's nests. I've used it many times, and it's awesome. You go out right at dawn while they're still chilled from the night, and you can spray from a safe distance.
posted by ErikaB at 9:07 PM on May 14, 2010

My dog eats bees all the time, she seems to be immune to the stings. I like bumblebees so I'd probably keep them, they are pretty mellow.
posted by fshgrl at 9:46 PM on May 14, 2010

Do you like flowers? Fruit? Vegetables? Birds?

Don't kill bumble bees! They're natives. There are so few any more. I would love to have a bumblebee hive in my yard.

We live in an agricultural area and farmers do aerial spraying of insecticides. For years we had cherries, plums, and Service Berries. And I grew great zucchini, cukes and tomatoes in my garden. But something happened to the bees last year. The trees didn't have any fruit. The cukes and zucchini never set flower. And there were hardly any tomatoes. The seed-eating birds came back, but not the fruit eaters.

As for stings, it is unlikely with bumblebees. But in general, bees and wasps are more aggressive at the end of summer when they get desperate to bring in their crop to prepare for winter. It's a matter of survival for them at that time of year and they do what they have to do to protect their life and livelihood. Consider thinking from the standpoint of the bumblebee. Why not fence the area off? You can put up with a little inconvenience.
posted by the barbarita at 9:51 PM on May 14, 2010

I should have mentioned in my earlier comment that the bees that were killed by the pest control in my case were apparently africanized. Maybe that's the really depressing part. The pest control companies in Arizona seem to be saying that they can't tell if they're africanized bees or not until they start killing them, so are taking a kill 'em all strategy. The bees were at my office so it wasn't my decision, and if they were at my house I'd probably have left them alone. Hopefully you're not in the southwest and have a completely different kind of bee situation.
posted by belau at 12:42 PM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know a hobbyist beekeeper who was on the lookout for bees at one point. Evidently there are certain periods when the bees can be lured into a new home, such as the boxes that beekeepers use for hives.

If you can located a beekeeper in this situation, they might be excited enough about the chance to populate their hives that they will come dig them up. Craigslist, maybe? Your local bee hobby store??? I don't know where all the bee geeks hang out.
posted by yohko at 3:01 PM on May 15, 2010

I have been told that if you want to hire someone to get rid of bees, you have to find an expert who will move the nest rather than just destroy it. Is there someone in your area that you can contact about their services?
posted by radioamy at 10:58 AM on May 16, 2010

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