What You Should Know About Beehives

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on January 13, 2023
5 min read

Beehives in cartoons are bright yellow, cute, and dripping honey. But they aren’t as cute in real life and may be dangerous.

A beehive isn’t only a big hairstyle. A beehive, or bee nest, is a structure that houses a colony of bees.

Bees build small wax cells in the beehive where they raise larvae, convert pollen into honey, and maintain the hive. The beehive is their home, workplace, and fortress all in one!

What builds beehives? Bees build beehives, of course, but other insects build hives that resemble beehives. Along with bees like honey bees and bumblebees, these other insects build similar nests:

  • Yellow jackets
  • Baldfaced hornets
  • Paper wasps
  • European hornets 

How to identify bees. If you’ve got a hive outside, there are features to check from a safe distance to figure out what insects built it. 

In the wild, beehives have a yellowish-tan color with exposed cells and swarms of bees. The bees’ abdomen (rear-end) is fuzzy, while wasps and hornets have a smooth abdomen.

Hornets, wasps, and yellow jackets build paper nests. These look like hives made of gray paper-mache without exposed cells.

Bees will have different life cycles depending on their species, local seasons, and available plant life. 

Honey bees. Honey bees are perennial bees that can survive wintry conditions. The queen and the worker bees huddle together, eating honey and generating heat to withstand cold temperatures.

Honey bees can stay in their hive until conditions are poor. Honey bees may abandon their hive if there’s:

  • No food or water
  • Parasite infestation
  • Disease
  • Frequent disturbances
  • Severe weather
  • Poor ventilation

If all the conditions are right, honey bees may stick around for a long time. Beehives can house up to 100,000 bees during the peak of spring and summer.

Bumblebees. Bumblebees are annual insects that only live in their nests through the spring in summer. By winter, the fertilized females hibernate underground.

The males and workers stay in the beehive and die when the temperatures drop during the winter. Bumblebee colonies house a tiny amount compared to honey bees, around 50 to 500 bees.

Bees don’t need much space to build their hive. They prefer spaces around 10 gallons (about 1.5 cubic feet) but can settle in spaces about 4 gallons (about 0.5 cubic feet).

Honey bees, in particular, prefer spaces that are higher up off the ground and dark. They often settle in hollow trees but can nest in all sorts of places around your house:

  • Inside the walls
  • Chimneys
  • Outbuildings (like sheds or garages)
  • Fences
  • Bushes
  • Water meters or utility boxes
  • Grills
  • Under porches

If you’re an avid gardener, have clean water nearby, and live in a quiet area, you may attract more bees. 

Where in the world are bees common? Bees live on every continent except Antarctica. If an environment has cavities for them to build their nests, bees will try to live there.

Besides places to build nests, bees need areas with plenty of pollen and nectar sources. A bee habitat must also have clean water and flora within a half mile.

The first sign of a beehive is that the bee scouts gather around their future nesting spot and fan their wings. They release a pheromone to guide the rest of their colony to the spot.

The rest of the colony waits elsewhere for the signal and flies as a group to the new location. If you’re outside at the right time, you may notice the colony swarm flying to the new location.

Once the bees have chosen to nest in or around your home, you may not spot them for a while. The nests are likely in a secluded area or inside a structure like a wall.

The telltale sign that a colony has settled is a low buzzing or humming sound. If you see more bees around your area but aren’t sure if there’s a colony, call a professional to investigate further.

Bee stings can be dangerous if you’re allergic. Even if you aren’t allergic, they can still be painful. 

Honey bee and bumblebee stings inject venom that causes a burning sensation, redness, and swelling. Less venom enters your body when you remove the stinger quickly.

Symptoms can clear up after a few hours if you remove the stinger quickly. Clean the site with soap and water and use a cold compress to reduce swelling.

For more severe stings, symptoms may not clear up for a few days. Along with the treatments above, you can take over-the-counter pain relievers and use hydrocortisone cream.

For severe allergic reactions, you may need CPR, epinephrine, antihistamines, albuterol, and oxygen.

Avoid beehives if you aren’t fully protected. Avoid removing or interacting with a beehive unless you’re a professional.

Damage from beehives. It’s unlikely for beehives to damage the structure they build in, but it’s not impossible. Damage can happen depending on the colony, removal methods, and restoration after removal.

If you have a sheetrock structure, bees may soften the sheetrock with water to expand their beehive. This can weaken and cause water damage to the structure.

If you remove the bees but not the beehive, the honey may ferment. Fermenting honey can leak and damage the surrounding structure.

Pesticides contaminate the dead bees, honey, and wax. You need to dispose of them as hazardous waste or risk further contamination.

Bees are vital to the environment. They encourage plant growth and support the growth of fruits and vegetables.

The ideal method of beehive removal is neutralization. If the bees are a danger to you or a loved one, professional removal with a pesticide may be necessary.

Unless you are a beekeeper, you need a professional to help you remove the beehive. Beekeepers and pest control specialists can help.

You may need to remove segments of walls to neutralize the beehive. You'll need the help of a contractor to remove and repair the wall.

Neutralization. Neutralizing a beehive conserves as many of the bees as possible. A beekeeper will remove the entire beehive and all the bees to move them.

Once the beehive is removed, clean and fully dry the cavity. If possible, you should fill the cavity with insulation to prevent more bees from recolonizing.

Trapping. Besides insecticides and neutralization, you can also trap the bees using a one-way cone-shaped net. They’ll be able to fly out of the net but won’t be able to return to their beehive.

The trapping method can be slow, taking two to three months. The helping beekeeper may place a man-made hive nearby to encourage the bees to relocate once they’re trapped.

If bees have taken up residence in your home, don’t worry. Contact a local beekeeper to develop a plan to move the hive. The bees will thank you!