Q: For the past couple of weeks, we have had bees landing in and around our pool. We tried spraying the pool with mint oil, which worked for awhile but they came back. I found a formula online for using soapy water to kill them, but we hate to kill honeybees, because they are beneficial. However, we have someone who is allergic and cannot take the chance of a sting. There are a couple of people who keep hives a mile or two down the road. If beekeepers put water out by the hives, would that help?
Answer: Mike Waldvogel, an entomologist with N.C. Cooperative Extension, said they often have this question pop up during the summer.
“This behavior is not unusual when the weather turns very hot and very dry,” he said in an email response to SAM. “Worker bees are still busy searching for nectar, which can become somewhat scarce in dry times if sources dry up (literally). They also constantly look for water sources and may stretch out that search if their local sources have dried up.
“So, the pool is a sizable attraction even with the chlorine in it. One thing I’d mention — it certainly makes sense that the bees could be coming from those hives about a mile away, but it’s also possible that the bees are from a feral (wild) colony. However, a trip to the neighboring bee yard might be helpful and educational for everyone. Hopefully, the beekeepers are keeping their hives well-supplied with water.. Many of the beekeepers use something like a chicken feeder with pebbles at the bottom which allows the bees to land and drink up water without drowning in the process.
“Unfortunately, bees ‘being’ who they are, once they find and hone into on a new water source, it’s tough to deter them,” he added.
Waldvogel said that while soapy water sprayed directly on the bees can kill them, “killing a few foraging workers will not stem the flow of bees to the site unless it’s made inaccessible and they can find an alternate site.” One strategy might be covering the pool for four or five days, which he said “is inconvenient for the human users but could help persuade the bees to go elsewhere.”
David R. Tarpy, a bee expert with Cooperative Extension, added that there are a few other things to consider. Verify that these are indeed bees and not yellow jackets or other species of wasp. Beekeepers often get blamed when it’s actually not honey bees at all, he said, “and there’s very little that can be done if it’s a wild nest of wasps.”
He felt that it was “very unlikely” that the bees you are encountering come from a hive that is a mile or more away, saying that colonies always choose water sources closest to their hives, so it’s possible there is either a feral colony or managed colony closer by that you’re not aware of.
If they are from a managed colony, he said your idea of asking the beekeeper to provide a closer water source than the pool is a good one. “The problem should abate soon, though,” he said, “as honey bees use water for cooling and wasps die out at the end of the summer, so once the seasons change the issue should be moot.”