Feral Bee Rescue

The following is a reprint of my article detailing the rescue of a feral bee colony. The article appeared in the September 2013 edition of Bitidningen, published by the Swedish Beekeepers Association, translation and layout by Erik Österlund.

An abridged English text is provided below the scrolling display window.

Lat: N 38° 39' Elevation: 675 ft (206 m)
Temperate Continental Climate
Midwest, USA

11 May 2013
Cloudy, 16°C

Last fall I was introduced to a farmer with plans to raze a small well house which contained a bee nest. He farmed several thousand acres and wanted to remove the building so he didn't have to maneuver around it any longer. He was looking for a beekeeper to rescue the bees. After I explained my reservations of taking the colony so late in the season he agreed to delay the demolition until spring.

The locals tell me bees have been in the wall cavities undisturbed for at least seven or eight years. I am not an advocate of taking feral bees. I would rather leave them undisturbed and collect the natural swarms. I made an exception as the bees were in harm’s way and in need of rescue.

I did the cutout and hived the bees, brood and queen with minimal disruption. I collected the bees from the combs as I removed the siding working upward to minimize the disturbance. I was also able to harvest about 40 pounds of honey and many buckets of wax. I placed the brood comb in Hoffman style frames. I used rubber bands to hold the comb in place. Within a week the bees built comb to attach the brood comb to the frames and I was able to remove the rubber bands. The queen returned to laying.

The nest size was 40 cm x 15 cm x 244 cm. It occupied 146 L of the 255 L hollow wall cavity.

The entrance was near the bottom of the wall cavity and below the nest. The brood comb cell diameter (wall to wall) ranged from 5.1 mm to 5.3 mm for worker cells. Some worker cells were a bit smaller than 5.1 mm. The size of the drone cells were 6.5 mm to 6.6 mm.

It is difficult to say for certain what the comb spacing was as the combs were not perpendicular to the back wall. They were attached at varying angles which could skew the measurements. The lower 1/3 of the nest was seven combs with a small eighth comb tucked into the corner behind the seventh comb. The upper 1/2 of the nest contained several combs on the right side perpendicular to the combs visible on the left side. Some of the combs were attached to the back wall on both sides ("U" shaped) with small strips of comb filling the hidden gaps, some combs split to multiple combs as they progressed downward and some combs converged as they progressed downward.

There was a second smaller abandoned nest on the opposite side of the building. There were no dead bees, honey or pollen in the second nest.

The small building was the only landmark surrounded by large fields of corn (maize), wheat and soy.

feral bee rescue progress photos

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Updated 4 February 2014 | natural bees