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Sting Operation

If your home has the hives, it might be best to step aside and let a removal expert turn bee-ing into nothingness.


Sherri Miller returned to her Fullerton home after a tough day at work and heard a low-pitched hum outside her front door. She looked at the light fixture and the doorbell and could see nothing wrong. Then she turned to the mailbox.

"My white mailbox was black, pulsing and buzzing. Just coated with bees. I got back inside the house and slammed the door so fast I caught my hair in it," she says.

Miller called a bee remover--yep, they exist--who got rid of the feral swarm of honeybees and allowed her to get to her mailbox once again.

"It was pretty scary for a minute there; I still check inside the mailbox before sticking my hand in."

As soon as the weather warms up, flower buds open and barbecues light, the buzzing usually begins in earnest. Honeybees, bumblebees, wasps, hornets and yellow jackets swarm and nest in and around homes.

And when a swarm or large nest is too close for comfort, it's usually the bee remover who gets the call.

"People often treat me like a hero at the end of a job," says Jeff Cullen of Bee Alert in Costa Mesa. "It's like you've saved them from a monster."

Cullen has had his share of hero opportunities. He's moved small air forces of winged, stinging insects and has the welts to prove it.

"I've been stung many times. Usually it's after I think they're all gone and I take off my protective suit. On one job in Irvine, I was chased three blocks by a swarm of bumblebees I had tried to get rid of."

His work ranges from swatting down pesky yellow jacket nests to breaking into walls to get to massive beehives.

"In Costa Mesa once, I worked with a Realtor who bought a house that was built on a former honey farm. She regularly noticed bees in and around the house, and I finally tracked the hive to the inside of one of the walls."

Cullen found hives built upon hives that he estimated went back as far as 20 years. The walls had to be cleared up, re-drywalled, and any entries for bees had to be sealed.

"They'll keep coming back to the same place unless you keep them from getting there."

When confronted with a bee problem within walls or in an attic, removers will use a pesticide to eradicate them. When the bees are in a backyard tree or structure, some removers with a beekeeping operation may opt to use smoke to calm them.


Smoke makes the bees docile, and it allows the keeper to move the queen to a box, into which the other bees will follow, allowing the bees to be moved without killing them.

Wasps, hornets and yellow jackets are always killed with insecticide.

The cost of having a remover solve a bee or wasp problem can vary greatly, depending on the severity of the infestation, but expect to pay around $50 and up.

Almost one-third of the calls Cullen and other bee removers receive involve bees, yellow jackets or wasps that have invaded an attic. This is an ideal living space for them: It's shaded, quiet and shielded from predators. Nests and hives in attics can grow to alarming proportions.

"There was one job I did where the owner could hear a buzzing noise for months and then noticed that bees were occasionally found in the house," Cullen says. "There was also a terrible odor coming from one of the closets."

Hives can drip moisture, and they can also generate a lot of heat, which causes a stench. In this case, the hive kept getting bigger and bigger, eventually pushing through the ceiling in the closet.

In another instance, Cullen made an emergency call to a home in Huntington Beach where a hornet nest the size of a small TV had broken through the ceiling during a dinner party.

"A couple people got stung, and it turned out to be a wild evening. I'm sure the homeowners felt like, 'Why did this have to happen tonight?' "

Once in the walls, some insects such as yellow jackets can actually break it down.

"They will chew the inside of the wall and regurgitate it to make their nests," says Marsha Bryant of the Bee Man in Mission Viejo. "Eventually, they chew away all the drywall leaving nothing but a thin coat of paint or acoustic spray separating them from the interior of the house. If this thin layer is broken through, the insects see the light and perceive it as another access."

One key to preventing bee and wasp problems is to make sure attic vents are covered by a fine, one-eighths-inch-thick mesh screen that prevents insects from getting inside.

"If you notice insects flying in and out under your eaves or into vents, you should consider bringing in a professional," she says.

The sight of a bee generally doesn't scare most people, unless they're thinking of killer bees, the Africanized honeybee, which has yet to appear in the county.

This bee looks like the common European bee but has a more aggressive nature. When one disturbs a European hive, you may be attacked by 20 or 30 bees. After disturbing an Africanized hive though, you could be chased by hundreds of bees that may pursue you twice as far as the European variety.

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