4.2.5. Locating the honey bee nest

Honey bee nests can be located in cavities (~40l by volume) at any height, in the ground, or high in a building, tree, or cliff, depending on the environment (Vaudo et al., 2012a) (Fig. 22). Many African subspecies of honey bees also nest in the open, hanging on branches, or overhangs of cliffs and buildings. Generally, wild bees will be located in a wooded or at least covered area. Consequently, their nests can be difficult to find. Locating the exact position of the nest requires both your sense of hearing and sight. One must constantly listen and look for the honey bee nest and look at every potential nest site along one’s path. This is why it is good to place the feeding station in an open area. It will allow you to determine a definitive direction to head (use landmarks visible from the defined path) prior to entering a wooded or otherwise congested area.

It is advisable to bring personal protective equipment (a bee suit or veil, gloves, and long clothing) when locating a nest in case the honey bee colony is defensive or if one plans on investigating the nest closely. One should keep an epinephrine autoinjector (e.g. EpiPen, Twinject, etc.) at all times in case an allergic reaction is experienced if/when stung. 

  1. Look for the activity of insects flying in, out, and around a specific location.
    One can see almost a ‘funnel’ or cloud of bees in an open area close to their colony as they fly in and out of the nest (similar to the activity of bees taking off and landing from your feeding station). This activity can be seen against the sky where their black bodies and glistening wings will be apparent. Nest entrances can be quite small, so follow this activity as it narrows to where the nest entrance is located. Active colonies tend to be obvious with many workers flying in and out and a number hanging outside the entrance. Consequently, nests can be easy to find in late or mid-to-late spring when colonies typically are large and actively foraging on available pollen and nectar. Additionally, using a highly attractive bait at your feeding station as suggested can assist in making a colony more active.
  2. Use the sound of the bees.
    If the beeline is strong and the colony is active, you should be able to hear a distinct hum of honey bees (similar to the sound of a swarm) once close to the nest.
  3. Approach the location and confirm that you have located the entrance to the colony.
    Having binoculars could be useful to confirm the colony’s location if it is high.
  4. Make sure you have located a nest hosting a live colony.
    The occurrence of pollen foragers shows that there is no ongoing robbing of the nest of a dead colony and that the activity witnessed is not that of scouts looking for a new nest site.
  5. Mark the exact location of the colony with a GPS or on a map once it is found.
  6. Mark the nest to make it easier to locate in the future (Fig. 23).
  7. Take a photograph of the area so you can easily find it again.

Fig. 22. Examples of honey bee nest site locations. The white arrows indicate the entrances of the colonies. Photos: A Vaudo.



Fig. 23. Marking a honey bee nest. The nest entrance (not shown) is in the ground nearby. Photo: A Vaudo.