June 24, 2021

Euthanizing Honey Bees (027)

It’s rare, very rare, but sometimes beekeepers have to kill all the bees in a colony. It can be a tragic, emotional and usually it’s an expensive experience. Or it can be a life saving act to save the lives of friends, neighbors and family. At the...

Wet, Dead BeesIt’s rare, very rare, but sometimes beekeepers have to kill all the bees in a colony. It can be a tragic, emotional and usually it’s an expensive experience. Or it can be a life saving act to save the lives of friends, neighbors and family. At the very least, it will render a box of dangerous or sick bees no longer dangerous or reduce the chance of spreading disease across the county. At any rate, it is painful to have to do this.

There are usually only 2 reasons this has to be done. The presence of American Foulbrood in a colony that has been identified by a governing body, with state laws in place that essentially force this is probably the most common reason, but still, this isn’t very common anymore. The second reason is that the genetics of the bees in the colony are such that aggression is extreme, and the presence of the colony causes danger for the beekeeper and/or nearby people.

The why is often clear. The how can sometimes be less clear. If possible, late night so all the foragers are home and no stragglers are left in the bee yard to harass people, or to spread disease. Closing the colony so no bees can escape, rendering it essentially leak proof, and dumping in a 2 or 3-gallon pail of hot, very soapy water is usually the method of dispatching the bees. Leaving it closed for a day is a good idea before checking.

If aggression is the issue, occasionally moving the bees to a less dangerous place is an option, though not always the best option. Vehicle, time of day and the like can be issues to work through.

When dealing with overly defensive bees, safety for the beekeeper and the beekeeper’s neighbors should always be the top concern.

In this episode, Kim & Jim discuss this extraordinary, but necessary, course of action a beekeeper may face.


We welcome Betterbee as sponsor of today's episode. BetterBee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, BetterBee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at www.betterbee.com


Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Copyright © 2021 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura


Episode 27 – Euthanizing Honey Bees


[background music]

Kim Flottum: Hey Jim, a friend of mine had to kill a colony the other day. It really got to him and I can understand why. Have you ever had to kill colonies?

Jim Tew: I have killed a colony. Can I say, is there a softer word than killed, Kim? Euthanized? I need to look up that word to be sure. I'm Jim Tew and I'm here with Kim Flottum and we're at Honey Bee Obscura where today we're talking about the distasteful task of euthanizing a diseased bee colony.

Intro: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura, brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura hosts Kim Flottum and Jom Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honey bees in today's world and engaging in informative discussion meant for all beekeepers, longtimers, and those just starting their journey with bees. So sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honeybees.

Jim: Primarily due to Ohio's regulation and Alabama-- I've never grown one in Alabama but I think they have a similar law. If you're found with America Foulbrood and diagnosed as such, the early law was really take no survivors, the things had to be killed. As the years passed they softened it some but when all is said and done, for the sake of your own operation and for the sake of your neighbor's bees, you need to clean that mess up, and those bees need to be killed.

Kim: Yes, that's the experience I've had is with AFB, but I've also worked Africanized bees down in Arizona a number of years ago, and when I was there then, if it was diagnosed as African that was the end of them. They just did them in. I don't know if it's that way anymore or not.

Jim: I don't know either Kim, and for all the people who are brand new to beekeeping, you needed to be alive then, trying to keep bees. A lot has changed, Kim. At that time when people thought that they were going to die from bee stings and that these bees were coming out of Central America through Mexico, the society was just panicked. It was not a great time to be asking your neighbor if they minded if you got bees.

Kim: Yes, and the thing is, occasionally one of those colonies will show up again, just with the same personality, and if you put those bees in a package and send them to Wisconsin, or Ohio, or Pennsylvania, that person who gets the package is going to have a tough decision to make right now.

Jim: You know, to be clear Kim, if somebody says, "Oh, I think a bee stung me. I think a bee stung me," no. That wasn't a bee sting. When a bee stings you, you will know it. There will be no doubt about it. When you say, "I think I've got a really aggressive colony here," no, you won't have to think about it. If you have an aggressive colony that's coming for you, it'll be crystal clear that these bees are hostile and are coming for you. There won't be any confusion about whether or not this is a hot colony. You will know.

Kim: When they go for your face and they cover your veil to the point where you can't see through it, which is what happened with this friend of mine, they just covered his veil and he said, "Okay, I've got these bees in town. I'm not going to be able to find the queen in this mess. I've got to do something else," and that was his decision.

Jim: Well Kim, there is a group that I'd like to talk about, of bees. As you were talking about the friend, I had this thought. There have been some colonies that I wanted to kill, but I didn't. I picked up a swarm several years ago, several being about four years ago, and within a month I noticed that my bees, when I went to go back to my apiary, just a few yards from me here, you just open the gate, still got a coffee cup in your hand for the morning walk and there'd be bees meeting me at the gate, buzzing around with that obnoxious singy, singy sound right in your face and threatening. To make this a little bit shorter so I can finish my story, my neighbor came over, said he was stung by yellow jackets and he was innocent, and I realized that my bees had stung that man, so I moved out the colony that I suspected, but how you choose the suspect colony that's causing all the confusion is a segment for another day.

Kim: Yes, yes.

Jim: I had to get it out, so when that guy said that that colony he had to kill off was attacking people, I feel his pain because you can't have your bees going over across the lane, stinging my neighbor on his John Deere riding lawn mower, and me explaining to him the value of pollination.

Kim: That doesn't work very well.

Jim: That's not going to work out, so those bees had to go.

Kim: Yes.

Jim: I wanted to kill them but I did move those, because my neighbor was tolerant and I got them out. You see, what happens, Kim, is those bees that are left there still have a feisty attitude, the ones that are abandoned, so it takes about three or four days for that situation to really calm down and get back to normal. That colony did survive it, but it was really close to me taking it out too, just because of the neighborhood confusion it was causing.

Sponsor: Better Bee is pleased to sponsor today's episode of Honey Bee Obscura podcast. For over 40 years Better Bee has supplied beekeepers across the country with the tools, equipment, and knowledge needed to succeed, and because many Better Bee employees are beekeepers themselves, they understand your needs and challenges, and are better prepared to answer your beekeeping questions. From their colorful catalogs and their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast, Better Bee truly lives up to their tagline of Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at betterbee.com.

Kim: If you get to a point where you've made the decision that this colony has to be moved, if you have a way to move it, or a place to move it to that might be safe, or safer, or you can't move it and you're going to have to kill it where it sits, picking the right time of day is going to make a difference too, I guess. Midnight is probably the best time.

Jim: Yes, that would be the best. Right.

Kim: So that you get all those stragglers. There's nobody out foraging.

Jim: Right.

Kim: If you make the choice, you pick the time of day so you get all the bees, so you don't have stragglers, what's the best way to do this?

Jim: Well, the only way that I know of now is soapy water, just common dishwashing detergent. In the early days I think the old product that was recommended was Lux. Do they even still make that product? You make a good soapy water, a good dishwater solution and it does something to the bee's cuticular outer lining that lets water permeate through their lining and they basically drown.

Kim: Yes, I use-- There's a product out there called Dawn, it has a degreaser in it, and I have had good luck with that. Lots of soapy water. What do you got, a five gallon pail of this stuff?

Jim: I do have about a two and a half gallon pail.

Kim: Two and a half gallon pail.

Jim: You know that is-- If we're talking here Kim, this is a pretty gruesome conversation. I can see people turning over to 70s music on their listening device right now instead of going through this thing. Let me just stop you for a second and say, this is a rare event, now, when we do this. This is rare, and it's a very distasteful event, but it is an event that unfortunately does come up. Now, back to the degreaser that you were using, please pick up there.

Kim: All right, so you flip the cover and you put 10 puffs of smoke in the inner cover hole to keep them inside for a minute, flip the inner cover and then just dump the pail. Now, do you have the entrance reducer in so it fills up? You got them in there at night, put the entrance reducer in so that all the liquid that you pour in stays in rather than just flushes out the front door. Right?

Jim: Right.

Kim: Okay.

Jim: You're killing bees Kim, this is ugly. There's bees coming out, there's bees on the ground, there's drowning, dying bees. The next day, the bees that didn't quite succumb the night before, they're dying the next day too.

Kim: Yes.

Jim: They're neglected, they're damaged themselves, but you want it to be as quick and as easy as you can for them because it's an ugly job. You know, bees die all the time Kim.

They die when they sting, drones die when they mate, they only live three to five weeks, dying in the bee's life seems to be a fairly common thing. Every day of their life they drag out dead comrades and clean their nest, so I'm not trying to make light of it, but that's just one more reason that bees die is that we try to control, in this case, American Foulbrood.

Kim: Well, it comes down to safety for the beekeeper and anybody who's around those bees, I mean that is what is going to make this decision and if you get a chance that a neighbor or one of your kids is going to have a really bad day because of your bees, move them if you can but if you can't, it's time to make this decision.

Jim: I really have to support you in that, you got to be a good neighbor and Kim, you got to be a good beekeeper. Your beekeeper friends will be suspicious of you as long as time lasts if you don't get American foulbrood under control and that they know you go it.

Kim: Well, there's that too.

Jim: You have to be hygienically aware and keep your operation clean for the sake of others who keep bees.

Kim: Well, I just hope I don't get American foulbrood and I hope my bees don't get nasty, so I don't have to do this.

Jim: I hope that too and I hope we don't get a lot of nasty calls about us talking about this because I'm going to do this again Kim, this is a rare thing. We are usually right there in the bees' corner but there is no better person to do this job than a beekeeper on those rare occasions when it needs to be done.

Kim: Yes. Keep your fingers crossed and hope you don't have to do it again.

Jim: I hope so.

Kim: All right.

Jim: All right.

Kim: I'll catch you next time.

Jim: I'll be here buddy. I'll be here.

[00:11:34] [END OF AUDIO]