The Bee – Coping with One of Perth’s Most Common Pests

Bees have been an important part of the human story since mankind first appeared on the scene. For many thousands of years, people have viewed these insects as both companion commodities and pests – an important part of many economies when properly managed, and a menace when found in their most feral state. Like many areas in Western Australia, the city of Perth has a complicated relationship with these amazing creatures.

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Native Species

Throughout Australia, some 1,500 species are native to the land. Of those, roughly 800 species can be found throughout Western Australia. Most of these species are solitary, non-aggressive, and harmless to humans. In fact, the vast majority of them are so harmless that they cannot even use their stingers on humans due to their small size. Even those that can sting only pose a serious danger to people suffering from allergies to bee stings. Worse yet, many native bee species are in a constant state of peril from various threats – like wasps and flies.

Continental Newcomers

More than a century and a half ago, non-native bees were introduced into Australia’s ecosystem. One of those species, the European honeybee, was brought into the country and used by settlers as a way to pollinate the plants they relied on to survive. As necessary as that may have seemed at the time, there were long-lasting consequences that those early settlers simply failed to anticipate. Those honeybee populations expanded beyond their hives and swarmed out throughout the continent. Today, they represent one of Western Australia’s most irksome pests.

That feral population of bees now lacks the commercial usefulness of their ancestors. They are aggressive, swarm in large numbers, and offer neither pollination nor honey production benefits for the local population. Instead, they infest much of the country and are a particular nuisance in and around the Perth area of Western Australia.

How much of a nuisance? Well, unlike many other insect pests, these creatures don’t generally invade homes or businesses. Nor do they do actual structural damage to buildings or landscapes. They also tend to provide some benefits to the larger ecosystem of the area, especially in smaller numbers. The problem is that they tend to swarm in larger groups, and they can inflict serious harm and discomfort to human beings and animals.

Bees are not all pests, of course. Beekeeping is a fairly large industry in Western Australia, with roughly 50,000 continually maintained commercial hives in existence today. Those bees are essential for producing honey, and provide much-needed revenue for the region. At the same time, however, there are many thousands of colonies scattered across the region, comprised of feral bees that serve no appreciable commercial purpose.

Unlike most native bee species, this European import regularly stings humans. For many people, such stings can be simple annoyances and serve as a reminder of just how inhospitable the great outdoors can be at certain times. For others, however, that annoyance can escalate to an allergic reaction that can even be life-threatening for people with severe allergies.

These honeybees primarily swarm during the spring and the early days of the summer months. Their swarming behavior leads them to congregate in nests that are often strategically located in sheltered areas: a space in your roof, a wall cavity, around your garage, or in tree hollows. Hundreds of the creatures amass in these areas, and pose a potential risk to humans and pets. In addition, they often claim areas that other animals and birds would ordinarily use for habitat, thus depriving those species of their natural lodgings.

One example of that latter issue involves the displacement of cockatoos and owls from many of their natural habitats. Feral bees congregate in hives that can easily take over hollows, leaving less space for the birds and small mammals that would otherwise make those places their home. Worse, these bees can and do aggressively defend their territory, which means that animals and birds that wander into those areas can find themselves the object of swarming attacks. Researchers often find owls and other birds stung and left for dead in bee-infested hollows.

The Worst Health Impacts

The honeybee sting can not only harm at the moment of impact, but it can produce an allergic reaction that can send vulnerable members of the population to the hospital. Even in persons who do not suffer from an allergy, these stings can cause swelling that can last for a week to ten days. Allergies can result in even more severe conditions such as anaphylaxis, where breathing becomes restricted and the tongue and throat swell. Left untreated, patients can die from these complications.

The Positive Impact of Bees

According to official estimates from the Australian government, the presence of both domesticated and feral bees contributes to some $89 million in revenue throughout Western Australia. While this might not seem significant in an economy measured in terms of billions of dollars, the real impact goes well beyond direct currency yields. Feral bees may be pests at times, but they also continue to serve that role that first brought them to the country: they pollinate crops that might otherwise go untended. That makes them an invaluable part of the ecosystem, and bars any consideration of wholesale removal of their populations.

Government Attempts to Control Species

Naturally, the government of Australia has undertaken steps to counter invasive bees. There are programs in place to eliminate various species of invasive bees, and others designed to help local populations better manage the presence of these pests.

The Western Australian Museum has its own initiative devoted to cataloging feral bee hives, and developing more comprehensive strategies for controlling them – with the broader goal of better protecting animal and bird species that suddenly find that they are in direct competition with bees for vital habitat.

The process is a delicate one, given that eradication may be impractical. Without feral bees, many agricultural areas would lack the pollination system needed to ensure sustained crop growth and maturation. There is also resistance from some quarters to the idea of eradicating any species, and particularly one that provides benefits as well as nuisance effects. Many bee experts throughout Australia are concerned that some of the proposed countermeasures could do more harm to the ecosystem than eradication advocates realize.

Managing Honeybees

Obviously, the most important part of dealing with bees is to avoid them in their natural habitat. Since they tend to wander into places where they shouldn’t, however, it is also important to know how to react when you see them. First and foremost, try to keep your distance from them whenever possible. When that proves impractical, then additional steps need to be taken to deal with their presence.

The question most people should ask themselves in these cases is obvious: what do I do when I see bees in my area? The first thing to do is to contact a professional pest control expert to determine the extent of the problem. When you see one or two bees in your yard or workplace, you may be tempted to just assume that there are no more of the creatures in the area. That can be a mistake, and can leave you vulnerable to stumbling upon a swarm without warning.

Professionals can come to the site, properly inspect the property to ascertain exactly how large the population actually is, and take measures to manage it if the bees pose any real danger. That management could entail everything from the use of insecticide to remove a colony from its hiding place to physical extraction of nests.

If the nest is left intact, there is always a chance that a future group of – or stragglers who were not eliminated during the eradication process – will simply take up residence there and create the problem all over again. The only sure way to minimize the risk of the population taking up residence again is to remove the habitat that might draw them to that spot.

Safe Removal is a Must

For homeowners and others who might contemplate personal attempts to remove bee colonies, a word of caution: reconsider. The process involved in safely removing a swarm of bees from your area is not only delicate, but time-consuming as well. When bees are lodged inside wall cavities and roof hangings, even pesticides may not be a suitable answer, since they leave dead bees to rot and decay – producing foul odors that can permeate your home or garage.

Moreover, many of the measures most homeowners might attempt can result in an angry bee nest that lashes out at its perceived tormentor. If that tormentor is you, then you can expect to be savagely attacked by a group of bees whose self-preservation instincts have kicked into overdrive. That can result in serious injury or – in the worst case – death.

The best option for dealing with a possible bee infestation is to call for help. The good news is that there are plenty of experts in the Perth area to help you cope with your bee problem, or any other pests that you may encounter at your home and business.