University of Illinois Extension


John Church
Extension Educator, Natural Resources
Rockford Extension Center

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Honey Bees, Wasps and More

As people become more active out in the yard and garden later this spring and summer, bees and hornets can become a nuisance. However, remember that many of these insects are beneficial and care should be used before destroying them. “Especially in the spring and early summer”, says John Church, University of Illinois Extension Educator, Natural Resources, Rockford, “honey bees tend to swarm in large groups and can look threatening to homeowners, but in reality, the beneficial bees are just searching for a new home.

Honeybees are amber or brown and black banded, hairy and about 1/2 inch long. They nest in hollow tree trunks and build colonies that may contain tens of thousands of individuals, according to U. of I. entomologists. When nests get congested, some of the bees will leave in swarms of several hundred looking for new nesting sites, usually in the spring. The bees often form a mass on a tree branch or other support for a few days until a permanent site is found. Control is usually not recommended or necessary, since most of these swarms leave on their own within a few days. Honeybees in swarms are usually docile and those with colonies in trees rarely attack unless provoked.

Swarms that remain after a week may need to be removed by a beekeeper or professional pest control operator or sprayed with an insecticide as a last resort. Also, swarms that start to invade structures may need to be controlled or removed, since the honey and wax can become a serious problem within walls or other void areas. Local University of Illinois Extension and USDA Farm Service Agency offices often have lists of local beekeepers for public information. However, many beekeepers no longer want to harvest such wild swarms due to recent pest problems invading hives. Some may be willing to simply move the swarm, but there may be a charge for the service.

Other types of bees and hornets also become more prevalent throughout the summer, such as the bald-faced hornets, which build football-sized and shaped paper nests in trees and shrubs. Again, unless the nest is in a “high-traffic” area for humans, it is best to just leave it alone.

Yellowjackets are 1/2-inch-long, black-and-yellow-banded wasps that many people call "bees.” They live in underground nests, woodpiles, pile of brush, hollow tree or a hole in the wall of a house. Late in the summer, nests may contain several thousand wasps. Of the Illinois bees and wasps, this is probably the most likely to sting. They build up in population throughout the summer and are attracted to food and drinks, which brings them into more contact with people.

Bumblebees are 1/2-to one-inch-long, yellow and black, hairy, stout-bodied insects that nest underground. There are usually fewer than 60 individuals per nest, which is usually built in an old rodent burrow or similar opening. Unless they present a problem, the nest should be left undisturbed.

June-July 2003: Herbs | "Pretty" Purple Plants Can be Pesky Plants | Long Term Planning Leads to Successful Gardening | Honey Bees, Wasps and More | Rust Diseases on Home Lawns

Past Issues

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