From The Rangel Honey Bee Lab at Texas A&M with Adrian Fisher II, Elizabeth Walsh, and Lauren Ward,, and the AAPA
This year, as in years past, the public has shown interest in honey bees and has reached out to our lab to understand and deal with honey bees in their daily lives. Honey bees in Central Texas, as well as many other parts of the U.S., are experiencing an unusual spring. The wet, cloudy weather here means that bee plants in bloom may be visible, but foragers are often unable to collect what they need from them. Because of this, some local restaurants are finding their outdoor eating spaces filled with honey bees as nectar foragers cash in on this convenient alternate food source. This sort of behavior comes as no surprise to most beekeepers; after all, we have seen how quickly bees go for sugar syrup when we have to give hives supplementary feed. To restaurant owners who serve sugary drinks outdoors, however, it is still quite the buzzkill.
While our lab does conduct honey bee research, we do not focus on repelling bees, so we reached out to members of the American Association of Professional Apiculturists (AAPA) to ask “do you have recommendations for repelling honey bees from outdoor eating areas?” We were impressed at the immediate response from prominent researchers around the globe and we want to share the answers to this question with other beekeepers.
Respondents pointed out that honey bees cannot detect sugar per se from a distance. Instead, bees can quickly learn to associate odors, usually floral, with a source of sugar. Restaurants who are experiencing high honey bee traffic have accidentally trained foraging bees to come to them. Most of the responses to our local restaurant owner’s query involved less bee deterrents, and more tactics to retrain the bees away from those areas. Many the suggestions we received were repeated by different respondents, but here are the main suggestions:
- Double check that the insects attracted to the food source are actually honey bees rather than wasps or something else — J. Bromenshenk (Bee Alert, MT)
- Clean up all sugary spills as quickly as possible, and screen off the important places – Eric Mussen (University of California, Davis)
- Consider using the Non-Toxic Time Release Insect Repellent used by nurseries spray to keep bees out – Charles Nye (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
- Covered garbage cans in the dining area – David De Jong (University of São Paulo)
- Empty and wash out the trash cans frequently as well as clean up all exposed sugar after washing the tables with bleach water – Marla Spivak (University of Minnesota, Twin Cities)
- Put self-closing lids over trash cans and foragers will stop being trained to seek food there – Randy Oliver (ScientificBeekeeping.com)
- Don’t let trash cans get over-full so sweet trash is exposed. Any dumpster bins should have a cover – Ann Harman (beekeeper)
We hope that some of these suggestions may help you if you are asked about ways to stop bees from foraging where they are not welcome.
We hope you have a good bee season!