apiary creatures

Squatters in the attic


Just when I thought I’ve heard it all, Aram Frangulyan of Auburn, Washington reported that bumble bees set up housekeeping in the moisture quilts of two of his honey bee hives. He first discovered the bumble bees in late March.

Aram’s hives are either double deeps or single deeps with a medium. On top of his brood boxes he adds a medium-sized quilt box and on top of that a gabled roof with ventilation holes at both ends. Each of his quilt boxes is filled with five inches of  pine shavings, and the gabled roofs are painted brown or green to soak up as much warmth as possible. For the winter, the hives were put on stands with maximum southern exposure. According to my way of thinking, this is a perfect set-up for a long and damp northwest winter. But the thing he didn’t do was screen the ventilation ports in the gabled roofs.

Toward the end of March, Aram discovered a colony of bumble bees snuggling into the pine shavings in one of the quilt boxes. Having read one of my posts on relocating bumble bees, he moved the colony to an area near his shed. Unfortunately, they didn’t like the new location and left after a few days.

Later, he found a second colony just beginning to establish in another of the quilt boxes. Since they were just getting started, he shooed them away. Aram reports that  wasps, too, have tried to colonize his gabled roofs. “It seems shavings, warmth, and open space are very attractive to different varieties of insects,” he said.

Aram described the bumbles as yellow and orange, which makes sense. The species of northwest bumble bee most prone to nesting in above-ground enclosures is Bombus melanopygus, the orange-rumped bumble bee (also called the black-tailed bumble bee). These are the ones you may find in hollowed-out trees, mailboxes, birdhouses, or utility enclosures.

Originally from Armenia—the home of the Caucasian honey bee—Aram said he relented and keeps only Carniolan honey bees. So that’s what was in those hives: Apis mellifera carnica and Bombus melanopygus. What a combo.

Since there were no photos taken at the time, I winged it a little and provided a photo of an orange-rumped bumble bee and a Langstroth hive with a quilt box and gabled roof for those of you who haven’t seen that kind of set up.

Hmm, I’m thinking I might remove the screens from my gabled roofs next winter and see what I catch!


Langstroth hive with quilt box and ventilated gabled roof.

This is one of my hives showing a moisture quilt and a ventilated gabled roof. The “entrance” is really the unscreened ventilation port. The honey bees use the lower entrance for coming and going.


The orange-rumped or black-tailed bumble bee. © Rusty Burlew.



  • You know, I think the local bumbles and my bees have worked a deal. I have seen bumbles enter the hive several times, and always thought, “Hmmm…the girls should be escorting her out any minute.” But nope, they never do. And once when I was checking my hive I found a bumble on the comb! Never thought I would see that. No one seemed upset or inclined to shoo her out.

  • I have several carpenter bees who live in the underside of my hive platforms. In the spring, I regularly find one or two who have decided to spend the night on top of the screened covers, under the gabled roof. I think they like to keep warm.

  • Hi,

    I have a question if anyone can shed some light on the subject. I am trying to get honey bees out of a tree. I screened the tree and set up a box. The thing I noticed is a lot of drones coming out. Is this normal? Is it normal to see a lot of drone when you trap out a wild hive? The bees have been going into the new box and I noticed some seemed to be fanning at the front of the box. I also have had a cluster of bees on the screen and act like they are moving and watching a bee under the screen which I can not see. I also saw bee with pollen going into the new box which excites me. This just the first day. I am a new beekeeper so I have many questions. I am joining a local club next meeting. One question I have is if the queen will not leave the tree should I use something like bee gone to try and get her out? Is there something I can use to move her out, some oil or something I can make myself? And question two, what do I do if I can’t get a queen? Would I have to buy a queen ? I do appreciate your comments.

    • Jerry,

      I would expect to see lots of drones, especially this time of year and especially from comb that was drawn without artificial foundation. Bees collect pollen whether or not a queen is present, so it doesn’t really mean anything. It is hard (nearly impossible) to get the queen with a trap-out. Unless you can reach in and get her, you probably won’t. Try buying a queen.

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