December 14, 2018
When Australian beekeeper Scott Whitaker cut into a bathroom ceiling in the Queensland town of Sunshine Coast, he encountered something he could describe only “as a monster" --- the biggest honey bee colony he ever had to remove from someone’s home. Over 50,000 honey bees were packed into the bathroom ceiling, along with so much honey and honeycomb that required a demanding 12 hours to remove completely, thus saving the hive and allowing Whitaker to relocate it. Even when he believed he was near the end of the job, Whitaker found honey that went another four feet back, dripping down into the shower where he was working.
Like many beekeepers, Whitaker offers a hive removal service, and he’s been working nonstop since June, gathering wild bee swarms and removing over 30 hives total in the Sunshine Coast area. This most recent monster of a hive was his third ceiling job of the week, and Whitaker said it was "starting to wear me out a bit. It's quite nice when they're down nice and low in the wall, and you can sit on a milk crate and cut them out that way. But when you're working in the ceiling, it is a bit of a contortion job."
Homeowner Vicki Arthur had lived with this hive for about three years since the initial swarm entered through a small hole in her Nambour home’s exterior wall. "A few people told us they'd go away. We've all been stung," Arthur said. Kyle Stiller, Arthur’s boarder, joked that the bees had “built an empire here. It's always 'fun' when you finish work and you turn your light on and the bees come flying into the room." Arthur's mother previously tried calling other beekeepers before Whitaker agreed to the removal job, arriving onsite with a ladder, angle grinder, and special vacuum.
For this job, Whitaker also used thermal imaging to pinpoint the brood nest’s location, which honey bees keep regulated at about 93 degrees Fahrenheit before he exposed the colony and used the industrial vacuum to safely suck the bees from the ceiling into a hive box. A way of speeding the process along involved tracking the queen down among the thousands of female worker bees before placing her in a small cage. "Once I find the queen, I can work a lot quicker. I put her in a little cage, and they won't abandon her," Whitaker said.
The brood nest, which is full of pupae, larvae, and eggs, was also removed and then attached to several hive frames using rubber bands. Whitaker said, "Once I've removed everything from inside, I set the hive up out near where the original entrance is, block off the original entrance, and then all the returning foraging bees will go into the hive box that I've set up there.” Whitaker’s new hive was then transported to his property in North Maleny, where it will be quarantined for about three months.
Photo By perutskyy