Sunday, January 31, 2010

The great bee incident. In my bathroom.

I’ve had bees in my bathroom ceiling for many years. There’s a vent on the outside at the peak of the roof; they ventured in and made a nest in the crawl space over my bathtub. Every now and then you'd see a bee, but at one point, a few years ago, at any one point there could be five or more bees in my bathroom. There is a vent over my bathtub and they would come in there.

The bees don’t really bother me, every now and then I’d step on one or pick up a towel that had a bee in it, and I’d get stung. But for the most part we got along. My friend Stephen was not quite as enamored with the little 'circle of life' we had in the bathroom, and when he was visiting one time, he covered the vent with gaffer tape; after that I’d only see an occasional bee, sometimes two, usually buzzing around a warm, bright light bulb.

At the same time, my bathroom ceiling has been leaking for several years. In the recent couple weeks' torrential rainstorms, the polite but incessant dripping that would occur during a casual rainstorm, became a small stream running through my bathroom. After years of my begging, my landlord finally acquiesced to repair the roof.

On Friday, a contractor came and punched a hole in my bathroom ceiling to assess the situation. He cut a hole just big enough for a person to fit into, and stuck his head up into the crawl space with a flashlight. The first thing he said was, “uh, there’s some kind of nest here.”

Well, yes, I know there are critters in my attic. I can hear them scratching and chewing and running around in the middle of the night, my cat Sebastian sits on the bed and stares up at the corner of the bedroom ceiling. But she can’t see anything move. I do see the squirrels climbing up the palm trees and hopping over onto my house, and I know there are rats.

But he said, “I think I got all the nest out.

“But you have bees.”

A LOT of bees.

So I stuck my head up there and sure ebough, on the roof just above the bathtub, was a huge bees nest. I measured it, and it’s about 24” wide, 18” deep and 16” high, four layers of honeycomb, and innumberable bees crawling and buzzing around.

We quickly realized that the roof repair could not take place in the presence of all these bees, just a few feet from the leak repair site. In fact, if the contractor had punched the hole just a couple feet to the left, he would have come up right in the middle of this gigantic bee hive.

A few years ago I had called some exterminators about the bees, and they wanted several hundred dollars to take care of the situation, so, aside from not wanting to spend the money, I decided I could live with the bees. But now they had to go.

My first call was to my friend with the silverlake chamber of commerce, who referred me to a local bee keeper. He said he could relocate the bees but he would charge around $300. Hmm. I called the city, who said that if the bees were on public property they would remove them, but on private property I'm on my own. Hmm.

So I emailed all of my friends, and made posts on facebook and craigslist, in attempts to find a bee oriented person who could adopt the hive and take care of the bees. I got about three dozen responses, and several referrals, all of whom had differing opinions, procedures and rates. In the process, I learned quite a bit about bees. Not the least of which they are an endangered species and it is illegal to kill them. Several people told me it was bad luck to kill them. Killing them was never my intention, but I got lots of encouragement to protect and relocate the hive.

I spent the next 24 hours online and on the phone and trying to find the right person for the job. I talked to a couple dozen people, some of whom were helpful, although none could commit to actually showing up to remedy the situation. Finally, as it is, the last person I called, at Brian's Bee Removal, said, with no hesitation, "sure, I can take care of it, I will be there at 8am Saturday morning."

So in the morning a young man named Jose showed up, assessed the situation, and, after discussing parameters and fees, the bee relocation process began.

He put on his white suit and netted hat, and set up his special bee vacuum cleaner. He said normal vacuum cleaners will kill bees. (which is what one of the bee people had told me to do, as a last resort, simply vacuum them up.) His vacuum has two compartments, one I guess to suck the bees in and the second compartment to hold them safely.

He cut a larger hole in my bathroom ceiling, closer to the nest. It was a good thing he had his suit on because from the first cut into the cieling there was instantly a huge swarm of bees all around him. (I was also quite glad I hadn’t decided to “simply vacuum up the bees".)

You can't see the bees in the small picture, but if you click on the picture it will get bigger and you can see all the bees swarming on him and in the air.

I was standing in the doorway of the bathroom, watching and taking pictures, about 6 feet away. Only a couple bees even came over to me. Out of the hundreds of bees that were flying around in my bathroom, only a couple ventured more than a few feet away. A couple landed on me and one stung me as I brushed her off. Otherwise, the swarm mentality was quite remarkable.

So Jose methodically cut sections of my ceiling apart and started vacuuming the bees.

Every now and then he would remove a huge chunk of honeycomb from the attic, vacuum the bees off, and drop it onto the counter.

Meanwhile, there were bees crawling all over him and around the light and the entire bathroom was a flurry of buzzing wings.

After about an hour of cutting and vacuuming, the bees were, miraculously, for the most part contained.

The honeycomb went into a big clear trash bag. There were only a few stray bees buzzing around, most of which got vacuumed up.

The bag of honeycomb weighed twenty pounds (yes, I weighed it). Everything was sticky, I guess with honey or nectar. I wondered if the squirrels would be attracted to the sweetness; Jason said “squirrels, no, dogs and cats, no, because they realize that the smell is associated with the bees. Rats, however will love the honey. He also noted that he had seen a rat in the attic.


Well, next time we’ll take care of the rats. The contractor is going to seal up the vents, so the bees, rats and squirrels will hopefully stay out.

Jose said the bees wouldn’t come back. The worker bees that are right now out in the field gathering honey will come home and be very confused, many of them will die, some of them will find a new home. They would not rebuild the hive without a queen. He said because he (hopefully) captured the queen, the hive will stay together and be relocated. He said that since it’s the middle of winter, the bee count is fairly low right now, he estimated 2-300 bees. He said in the summer there would be several thousand., and a hive that size, could have as many as ten thousand bees.

But for me, the story of the bees is ended. The bees are on their way "to an orchard", according to Jose. (I hope that isn't a euphemism).

Next week they will hopefully repair the leak in my bathroom ceiling, and screen over the vents in my attic, and all will be quiet, at least on the upper level.

I still have raccoons and possums that sneak in the downstairs back door to eat the cat food in the kitchen. And rats and squirrels in the attic. But what can you do. It's a "circle of life" thing.

Los Angeles
©2010 RocketManLA.Com


  1. Wow, what a truly amazing story! Thanks for sharing it in such an interesting, compelling way! BTW - I found you via the C&T newsgroup! I'm a huge fan too!


  2. Today, I realized that there was a bee colony somewhere in between my bathroom vent and outer wall of the building. A bee guy came over (twice) and supposedly cleaned it up. He sprayed it with chemical and told me to put tape over the vent and wait a couple of days for the bees to die off. I tried not killing them when they're buzzing around, but the only way to get rid of them is to get them in the toilet and flush them. Sorry

  3. Very entertaining story! Im very glad you didn't decide to kill them! :)

  4. That was quite a job, but it's good to hear that you never had any intention of exterminating them. Most people would just go ahead with that without thinking of other possible options to control the bee problem. At least now you have that away to fix your roofing problem.