Bee Sure to Include Your Bees in Your Evacuation Plans

Eric Mussen, Emeritus Extension Apiculturist University of California, Davis
Reprinted with permission.

It is best to move a hive of honey bees at night, after all the foragers have returned around sunset. On hot nights, they will form a “beard” around the entrance and not all go back in until it is cool in the early morning.

You must make sure that the hive will not pop open during the trip, so beekeepers can use ratchet bands or hive staples to keep things together. If they have experimental design hives, then they’ll have to figure it out.

The bees need to breathe during the trip, so there usually are some screens involved – one a creased piece that is wedged into the entrance, the other a “screen top” that replaces the solid top cover. Be sure the vehicle doesn’t close airtight.

The hives should be placed in the vehicle or trailer such that the internal frames (combs) are aligned front-to-back with the vehicle. If they are sitting perpendicular to the travel of the vehicle, they will rock and smash the bees when starting and stopping vehicular movement.

If they are going to be confined for long, they will need some water to help keep them cool and to provide water for diluting the stored foods.

If they are going to be placed in a new location and allowed to fly, they must be moved five miles or more from the original location. Honey bees learn landmarks in their four-mile foraging radius (50 square miles) around the hive, they and will return to where the hive was, if they see familiar landmarks. They quickly will learn new landmarks for the new location, but they remember the original landmarks when they are brought back home.

How much personal protective equipment (PPE) must be worn depends upon the experience of the beekeeper and others who will be around the bees. Done properly, there should be no problems.  Done in haste, bees are likely to be flying around all over the place.
You probably can keep the bees confined for 3-5 days, but bees must poop, so some will start doing so in the hive. It is best to keep this to a minimum.

It is usually best for the bees to be free-flying. They can go for a few days without nectar and pollen and be OK, but they must have access to water. If they cannot find a natural source of water nearby, then the beekeeper must put out a watering device that they can use.

Yes, you repeat the moving process to bring them back to the original location. However, if all the plants are burned down, the bees will starve to death. It takes soil moisture, plant growth and blossoming to be appropriate for bees (honey bees or native bees). So, the colonies probably will have to stay somewhere else for quite a while (have the beekeepers plan right now for where that substitute, good apiary location might be).

Closely monitor the progress of any fire in your area. If you think it might come your way, then move the bees out early.
Plan your secondary apiary location in advance: where it is, who controls the property, is there a locked gate or chain (that is good), is the road accessible in questionable weather, etc. Make the trip there carefree and enjoyable, ahead of the fire.

A fast-moving fire may make it necessary to bottle up the bees during the day. When honey bees get wind of smoke from an approaching fire, they do head back home.  But, they will be flying all around the hive and no one will be able to get them all corralled and into the hive.  You can take away quite a few bees, but someone is going to get stung, numerous times.

Please call 530 598-3408for more information about Juniper Flat Fire Safe Council and evacuation planning for people who have animals.

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