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Do You Have Bees in Your House?

The first step is to work out what kind of bees you have!

Australia has 1,500 species of native bees.

However, the most common type of bee found in houses is the introduced commercial honeybee.

Introduced
Commercial
Honeybees
Social
Native
Bees
Solitary
Native
Bees
Size of bees
About 12 mm
4 mm
Usually 8 - 12 mm
Colour of bees
Yellow brown
or dark brown to black
Black
Various
See below
Able to sting
Hundreds of bees cling to one another in a dense swarm hanging down from a branch
Builds exposed nest of white wax combs
Builds nest inside a wall cavity or tree hollow
Digs many individual nest burrows in the ground
Dozens of bees fly in and out of a single entrance hole
Just one or a few bees live in each nest burrow
More information
and photographs

Introduced Commercial Honeybees

Swarms of the introduced commercial honeybee (Apis mellifera) sometimes escape from the white hive boxes used by beekeepers. These bees may fly off and build feral nests in the bushland or in urban areas.

honeybee
The introduced honeybee, Apis mellifera, is about 12 mm long and yellow-brown, or dark brown to black in colour.

honey bee
The introduced commercial honeybee has broad plates on its hind leg for carrying balls of pollen.

honey bee
The introduced commercial honey bee also has hairy eyes but you will need a good hand lens to see this feature.

honey bee swarm
You may find a swarm of commercial honeybees clinging together in a large ball underneath a tree branch or other support.

Some swarms of commercial honey bees build nests in exposed locations such as under a branch or the eaves of a house.

honey bee feral nest
This swarm of commercial honeybees has built an exposed feral nest with large wax combs under a branch high in this tree.
Photograph kindly contributed by David Ritchie of Bellevue Hill.

honey bee combs
This is what this feral commercial honeybee nest looked like when the bees were removed.
Photograph kindly contributed by David Ritchie of Bellevue Hill.

Other swarms of commercial honeybees build nests in enclosed cavities, such as inside a wall, a chimney, a compost bin or a tree hollow. In this case you will see dozens of honeybees flying in and out of a single entrance hole leading to the cavity.

What To Do If You Have a Swarm or Nest of Feral Honeybees

Feral honey bees compete with native bees and native birds for food and nest sites.

Feral honeybees may also carry bee diseases that could threaten Australia's managed honeybee hives kept for crop pollination and honey production.

We recommend that you call a pest controller to have the nest removed. Look up the Yellow Pages telephone directory under 'Bee & Wasp Removals'.

Don't forget that honeybees can sting. It is best to stay away from them and seek professional assistance.

Social Native Bees

Australia also has some native species of social bees (Tetragonula - previously calledTrigona - and Austroplebeia). However, our Australian social native bees are black and only 4 mm long.

honeybee and stingless bee
The social native bee (on the left) is much smaller than the commercial honeybee (on the right).

stingless bee
A Tetragonula carbonaria social native bee
More stingless bee photos

They are found in warm areas in Queensland, the Northern Territory, northern parts of Western Australia, and in northern and eastern parts of New South Wales.

Our social native bees sometimes build nests inside walls or in cavities under footpaths.

stingless bee nest
Two stingless bees peek out of their elaborate resinous entrance tunnel in North Queensland. Their nest is inside the wall cavity of the house.

What To Do If You Have
a Nest of Social Native Bees

These bees are stingless and many home owners enjoy these miniature house guests. They make a great conversation piece and a safe natural history lesson for the children.

Nests of these bees can be boxed. Our booklet, Boxing and Splitting Hives presents a complete do-it-yourself guide.

The bees can sometimes also be coaxed to build a new nest in a box mounted in front of their nest entrance. Read our free Aussie Bee Online article: Natural Hive Duplication.

Solitary Native Bees

There are hundreds of species of solitary native bees in Australia in a wide range of colours and sizes. Many nest in burrows in the ground. Others nest in pre-exisiting crevices or holes in timber.

In solitary native bee species, the adult bees generally only fly during the warm months and die before the winter. Immature bees remain sealed in their cells inside the nests during the winter. They develop into adults and emerge when the warm weather returns.

Common types of solitary native bees seen around houses include:

Blue Banded Bees
These beautiful bees have red brown fur on their thorax and a black abdomen with blue to whitish stripes. They are about 11 mm long.

bluebanded bee
More blue banded bee photos

Blue banded bees nest in shallow burrows in the soil underneath houses, or in mudbricks or soft mortar.

Click here for more information on blue banded bees nesting in mudbricks or mortar.

bluebanded bee nest
Three blue banded bees search for their nest entances in this bank of clay soil underneath a house. There are many blue banded bee nest burrows in this bank, some freshly dug but most disused.

Teddy Bear Bees
These fat bees are covered with golden brown fur except for one or two dark stripes across their abdomen. They are about 12 mm long.

teddy bear bee
More teddy bear bee photos

Teddy bear bees may nest in shallow burrows in clay soils underneath houses.

teddy bear bee nest
A row of teddy bear bee nest entrances in the soil, along the edge of an old roll of lino lying under a house.

Although teddy bear bees fly with a loud buzz and may fly around you in a curious manner, they are not aggressive and just want to get on with their nest building. They can sting but in our experience only do this if you grab one or step on it.

Burrowing Bees
Some other varieties of solitary native bees may build nests in deeper burrows in the ground in urban areas. Loose earth escavated from the burrow may surround the entrance hole in a small mound.

Each nest burrow may be occupied by just one bee or in other species, a number of bees may share a burrow. Sometimes quite a few nest burrows may be found close together in the one area.

Examples include: Leioproctus, Homalictus, Lasioglossum.

native bee nest
A Lasioglossum bee exits from her nest burrow.

burrowing bee nest
A Leioproctus bee heads down her nest burrow carrying bright yellow pollen on her hind legs

Resin Bees and Leafcutters
Other varieties of Australian native bees may build their nests inside pre-existing crevices or narrow cavities. Resin bees and leafcutters are examples of bees that may do this.

Resin bees build tiny resinous cells for their eggs inside the cavity then seal the entrance with a resin plug.

Leafcutter bees cut regular circular or oval shaped pieces of leaf and use them to build tiny cradles for their eggs inside the cavity.

leafcutter bee nest
A leafcutter bee putting the final leafy layers on her nest seal in a narrow hole in a mudbrick building.
More leafcutter bee photos

What To Do If You Have
Some Solitary Native Bee Nests

Urban development has destroyed countless solitary native bee nests. Our Australian native bees are a precious resource for the future pollination of our bushland and crops.

Adult solitary bees generally only fly for a few months in the warm weather and solitary bees can be great garden pollinators.

If at all possible, please protect your solitary native bee nests.

Find out what native bees live in your area.

To learn more about our solitary native bees, read our native bee field guide.

Disclaimer

The Australian Native Bee Research Centre accepts no liability for any loss or damage arising from the use of the information on this webpage.


Author: Anne Dollin
(See Anne Dollin's Google+ profile)

© 1997-2013 Australian Native Bee Research Centre
PO Box 74, North Richmond NSW 2754, Australia