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Bees of Arizona – When Good Pests Go Bad

Believe it or not but bees, hornets, and wasps are, for the most part, a very beneficial group of insects.  However, when people come in contact with these stinging insects, many would disagree about their benefits, at least for short time.  Especially when the contact with a swarm of attacking bees comes with the intense pain of a wasp or hornet sting,  the cost to control or remove Arizona bee swarms and bee nests, massive amounts of honey and honeycomb from a large hive.  This last issue can be extremely problematic here in the Phoenix, Scottsdale, Glendale, Peoria and other Arizona areas due to our excessive desert heat in the summer time because if the honeycomb and honey is not removed it is very likely that it will melt and cause additional problems.

The following information is taken directly from the industry authority on structural pests – the NPMA Field Guide.


Honey bees get their common name from the sweet yellowish to brownish fluid they make from the nectar of flowers and use as food.  Honey bees not only provide honey and wax, but, as pollinators, are of far greater importance.  They are also responsible for a large share of insects stings, although many stings blamed on “bees” are actually done by yellow jackets.  Honey bees are world wide in distribution.  The two most commonly encountered kinds/strains of honey bees in the United States are the common and rather docile European honey bee (EHB) and the much more aggressive Africanized honey be (AHB).


Honey bees are not aggressive, and do not search for something to attack.  Instead, they are defensive and will attack only whatever seems to threaten the colony.  Worker bees have barbed stingers and when used, the stinger, poison sac, and associated tissue are torn from the body.


Honey bees are social insects and live as colonies in hives, with mature colonies of 20,000 – 80,000 individuals. Adults are represented by workers which are infertile females, a queen or inseminated female, and drones (males) which come from unfertilized eggs.  The entire population over-winters.  There is only one egg-laying queen in the hive and she mates only once.  She can lay as many as 1,500 to 2,000 eggs per day, and may live as long as 5 years.  Our common European honey bee colony usually swarms only once each 12 months.  Africanized honey bees swarm as often as once every six weeks and can produce two swarms each time.


It is not advisable to approach a colony, hive, or swarm of honey bees without first putting on a complete bee suit.  Live removal of EHB’s is desirable and the preferred method in the case of brick wall construction (more difficult to open up), but is often impossible to locate anyone willing to do this.  Especially in the Arizona metropolitan areas, as most of our bee populations are AHB’s, and not wanted by bee keepers who prefer EHB’s.  If honey bees must be killed in a wall or attic, pesticide application should be made at night using only background light; a bee veil should be worn.  The next day the dead bees, comb, and honey must be removed.  If not, as the wax deteriorates, there will be a strong honey and dead bee odor, the honey will often seep through the plaster walls, and/or this debris will attract other insects and mice.  In the case of a wall, the wall must be opened up.  It is suggested that the potential customer be notified in writing of their responsibility in this matter before any contract is signed.


Paper wasps get their common name from the paper like  material of which they construct their nests.  In the urban situation, these usually unaggressive wasps are a nuisance pest.


Paper wasps are semi-social, existing in small colonies but without a worker caste.  The founding queens are often joined by other inseminated queens tht assist in nest building and maintenance.  Such secondary queens become functional workers and relegate egg laying to the founding queen.  However, should the founding/dominate queen die, one of the secondaries can assume egg laying and assure that the nest will survive.


Paper wasps hang their comb nests from twigs and branches of trees and shrubs which can cause concern when ornamental shrubs and hedges are trimmed or fruit is being picked from trees.  If a nest is contacted, there is high probability that the person doing the trimming or fruit picking will get stung.  Paper wasps also like to hang their comb nests from porch ceilings, the top of window and door frames, soffits, eaves, attic rafters, deck floor joints and railings, etc., almost any protected place imaginable including under roof shakes.  A common habit in Phoenix, Scottdale,  Awatukee, Peoria, Mesa or any other area especially close to our mountain preserves is that the paper wasps tend to forage for water out of swimming pools and it is rather disturbing for people to share their swimming pools with stinging insects.


Paper wasps are beneficial insects, helping to control many inspect pests.  If their nest is located near human activity, control is warranted.  Use an appropriately labeled pesticide in the early morning or at night when most of the wasps will be on the nest, then remove the nest.  Be careful that the pesticide used will not harm the plant involved or stain the surface where nest is attached.


This group of wasps gets its common name from the fact that they construct their nest of mud.  They are typically nuisance pests.


Mud daubers are solitary wasps; they are not social and do not live in colonies.  The Sphecinae mud daubers overwinter as full-grown larvae, pupate in the spring, and emerge shortly thereafter.  Females construct nests of mud.  Each cell is provisioned with several spiders which have been paralyzed with venom, with the first spider in having an egg deposited on it.  Many mud tubes are constructed side by side and eventually this mass of tubes is about 3 – 4” in diameter and is entirely plastered over with mud.  The female then selects another site and starts over.


Mud daubers typically select a sheltered site to build their mud tubes.  Favorite sites include under eaves, porch ceilings, in garages and sheds left open, in barns, protected building walls, in attics, etc.  In Phoenix, Glendale, Scottsdale, Gilbert, Mesa, Tempe and all surrounding valley cities we tend to find these mud nests on exterior stucco walls under the canopy of our front entries and patios near the outdoor lighting.  Lots of spiders there!   


Mud daubers are beneficial insects and help control spiders.  Since mud daubers are reluctant to sting and do not aggressively defend their nests, their mud nests can simply be removed with a putty knife or scraper.  Sweep up the dislodged mud nest.   Any mud tube nests should be removed because they may be parasitized by cuckoo wasps (family Chrysididae) during construction, or abandoned nests may be adopted and rehabbed by leafcutting bees (family Megachilidae).  Activity can be discouraged in a given area by the application of an approved residual pesticide.

{ 3 comments… add one }

  • Loretta Marreo March 5, 2011, 5:04 am

    You have noted very interesting details on bees! PS – nice site.

  • Elma Talbott March 5, 2011, 3:35 am

    Some genuinely interesting points on Bees in Arizona that you have written.

  • autorijlessen February 1, 2011, 8:05 pm

    Really enjoyed checking out your post simply because of its great tips on bees issues in Arizona.

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