Andy makes an unsettling discovery under his bay window.

Andy versus the killer death bees

When my wife and I moved into our house about a year and a half ago, some plywood underneath the front bay window was cracking and falling off. I meant to replace the wood right away, but, well, let’s just say it didn’t happen.

This summer, I finally got back to it. I had been painting the wood siding on the house, so that piece of plywood needed to be replaced before I could paint there.

Two sheets of plywood were once connected in the middle to cover the bottom of the bay window. Time and moisture tore them apart, creating a nice little home for random creatures.

I was pulling the plywood away so I could have a pattern for the new piece when I noticed some evidence of burrowing in the insulation underneath. “Ugh,” I thought, expecting to find a secret mouse house. I began yanking the insulation out, piece by piece. Suddenly, I heard a buzzing.

Friendly things usually don’t make buzzing sounds, my amygdala advised. I bolted for the yard.

A minute or two later, the buzzing had diminished. I hurriedly tore the rest of the insulation out, dragged it out into the grass and grabbed a stick. Minor prodding revealed a discovery. Yet the mystery only deepened:


It was a waxy insect nest. I had never seen anything like it. I first assumed it was a killer-death-bee hive of some sort. Any creature born from a hole that big surely must be formidable. Images of the Asian giant hornet flooded my mind.

The Asian giant hornet is an insect that really exists. Lucky for us, it’s not in North America … yet. Photo: Hornetboy1970/Wikimedia Commons

But after much research, I discovered the true residents: Bumblebees. That’s right, the nicest, fuzziest bee there is.

The humble bumblebee. Photo: Bernie/Wikimedia Commons

Note that the holes in the hive are round, not hexagonal. Also note that the hive was squishy, not papery, like you might expect from a hornet’s nest. Evidently, bumblebees will set up shop in tight spaces like this for a few months, then abandon the hive. That must be what happened here.

If you find an active bumble bee nest of your own, experts ask that you leave it alone. These creatures generally aren’t a threat, and they’re good for gardens. Plus, studies suggest that the bumblebee population is down, like other bees in the U.S. and Europe, so they could use our help. If you must move an active nest, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust offers some tips.

Whatever you do, don’t panic like I did. (Though no one could blame you.) Instead, count yourself lucky to have seen such a rare sight.

This archive post was originally published September 16, 2015.

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