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I discuss this alternative because many non-beekeepers visit this site looking for ways to kill bees without using pesticides. This is good news and bad.
It’s good news because it shows people are increasingly aware of pesticide poisoning and the damage it can inflict on our environment, children, and pets. It’s bad news because it shows that many people still don’t recognize the importance of pollinators. Killing bugs is often a knee-jerk reaction. Why? Because many of us believe the only good bug is a dead bug.
Before you kill bees
Often, the “bees” people report are actually wasps because most people can’t tell the difference. But no matter the species, killing a nest of stinging insects with soapy water is not a walk in the park.
If you have stinging insects you must remove, I strongly recommend calling a local beekeeper or a company that gathers wasps for medical purposes. A beekeeper can try to save honey bees by moving the colony to another location. Or, if you have wasps, a specialist may harvest them for their venom. Most often, these people will come to your home for free if they can keep the bees or wasps they remove.
Once at the site, they can identify the type of insects you have and either collect them or suggest alternatives for getting rid of them. However, removing a nest that is firmly established in a building is tough. Extraction may require expensive and time-consuming methods that require more carpentry than beekeeping. Still, a good specialist can estimate the scope of work, and you will know a lot more than you did before.
The do-it-yourself method
If the insect nest is small and outside your home, you can try to destroy it using a solution of soapy water (one part liquid dish soap to four parts water) in a plastic spray bottle or garden sprayer. For best results, choose a powerful sprayer that shoots a fine mist.
Before you begin, you need to sequester your family and pets in a safe place and cover yourself from head to toe with protective clothing. Also, be sure no neighbors or pedestrians are nearby.
Soap allows water to drown the insect
Soap can kill bees and other insects because it is a surfactant—a substance that essentially makes water wetter. If you take a leaf and spray it with plain water, the water forms little round droplets. If you spray the same leaf with soapy water, the water flattens out into a thin layer.
The wax of the leaf is a fatty substance, much like the waxy coating on the outside of an insect or the grease on your dishes. Normally, water cannot penetrate it. But add soap to the water and suddenly the water and the wax (or grease) form an attraction for each other.
In effect, molecules of water—aided by soap—surround the fatty molecules, making them “helpless.” At the kitchen sink, soapy water surrounds molecules of fat, releasing them from the dish. On a leaf or insect, the soapy water surrounds the molecules of waxy coating. Now, instead of repelling water, the coating allows water to freely enter the insect’s body. Essentially, the insect drowns.
Before you kill bees, protect yourself
The homeowner who tries this method must consider several things:
- Death to the insect is not instant. It is going to get mad before it gets dead—so staying covered and keeping family members away is important.
- If you are spraying a cluster of insects, only the outer layer will be hit by the spray. The inner layers of bees are going to become agitated, and they are likely to sting. With protective clothing, you can keep spraying as the cluster breaks apart. Just remember that you won’t get them all the first time.
- Soaps are different and sprayers are different. You may have trouble if the solution isn’t soapy enough or if the drops are too big or poorly aimed.
Remember that pollinators of many types are endangered, so it’s best to have someone look at a nest before you destroy it. If you know nothing of bees and wasps, stay clear of them until someone can identify them. If you live in areas with Africanized honey bees, you don’t want to go near a swarm—even to kill it—until someone in the know has assessed the danger.
Sackloads of hate mail
Of all the posts I’ve written, this one receives the most “hate mail.” The people who write are angry that I would even consider killing a pollinator, no matter where it is or what it’s doing.
But that is unrealistic. Sometimes a colony of bees or wasps can be unduly aggressive. Sometimes it is truly a hazard to humans and animals. Or sometimes, repeated attempts at relocation didn’t work. And destroying a diseased colony might even save other pollinators.
In those cases, I would rather see the insects killed without pesticides that might drift and destroy “innocent” insect bystanders. All I’m suggesting is an alternative.
Honey Bee Suite