“Free-standing colony” of Japanese Honey Bees

Yesterday I got a call about a colony of Japanese honey bees (Apis cerana japonica) that had been built under the eave of a house in Nishi Urube, Fukuoka, Kyushu, Japan. We did not know until we got there to look at them what the exact situation was, but after arriving we determined that, yes, they were definitely Japanese honey bees and not western honey bees, and that rather than a swarm of bees hanging under the eave of the house, they were an established colony of bees with wax comb full of brood and honey.

A swarm would have been easy to deal with, but instead we had to cut out the colony comb by comb and put them in the box. We did not see the queen so do not know whether we got her or not–hopefully she was among the bees on the comb that we put in the box, but if not, well…not much can be done about it at this point.

There was not very much honey in the colony because it had not been established very long, but the comb was full of capped brood. We gave what little honey there was to the homeowner, a Shimizu-san. She gave us each a bag of onions from her garden to take home.

Her home was situated right up close to the nearby mountains, so that was one hint that we would probably be dealing with Japanese honey bees. We expected to get stung, but the bees were very gentle and no one got stung. It did not take very long to remove the colony.

After returning to my friend’s house, I put the combs into a hive box side by side with a couple of sticks between each comb to keep them separated from one another. I tried this method and it was successful once before, so I thought I would try it again. If we are lucky, the queen is in there among the worker bees and they will quickly get organized and start building up the colony. If not, then there is a possibility that they might raise a new queen from a young larva. If unlucky, then the colony will abscond and leave the brood in the box to die. At least we did a good deed and removed the bees from this lady’s house for her, and we had a positive experience. “An education is what you get when you don’t get what you wanted.”

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