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European Honey Bee

European Honey Bee of North and South America. In 1956, a geneticist brought African queens to Brazil with the idea of developing a superior honey bee, one more suited to tropical conditions.

European honey bee

European Honey Bee

European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) However, they are slightly smaller, but only microscopic measurements in a laboratory would be able to distinguish between the two. They are robust, 3/4 of an inch in length, and are covered in fuzz. They are brownish in color with black stripes that aren’t as distinct as those on wasps or hornets.

They have four clear wings that are attached to the thorax, which is the middle section of the body. The six legs are also attached to the bottom of the thorax. The abdomen is larger than the thorax and ends in the stinger, and the head is smaller than both of the sections.

European queens are responsible for reproduction in their colonies. Their drones mate with the queens, while the workers, which are sterile females, collect nectar and pollen and defend the colony.European workers have barbed stingers. When either type of bee stings a human, it leaves both the stinger and tiny, attached venom sac. This causes the bee to die soon after.

In other cells (“honeycombs”), nectar is converted into honey when the bee regurgitates the nectar, adding an enzyme (invertase) that facilitates the conversion. Nectar must also be concentrated by evaporation. Worker bees feed the larvae, drones, and queen. Wax is produced between the segments of the worker bees’ body wall in small flakes.

Life Cycle:There are three castes of bees: queens, which produce eggs; drones or males, which mate with the queen; and, workers, which are all non reproducing females. The queen lays eggs singly in hexagonal cells of the comb. Larvae hatch from eggs in 3 to 4 days and are fed by worker bees and develop through several stages in the cells. Cells are capped by worker bees when the larvae pupates. Queen and drones are larger than workers and require enlarged cells to develop.

European honey bee

European honey bee

Queens complete development in 15 ½ days, drones in 24 days and workers in 21 days for larvae and pupae stages. Only one queen is usually present in a hive. New queens develop in enlarged cells by differential feeding by workers when the existing queen ages or dies or the colony becomes very large. Virgin queens fly on a nuptial flight and are mated by drones from their own colony or other colonies.

Queens mate with several drones during the nuptial flight. New colonies are formed when newly mated queens leave the colony with worker bees, a process called “swarming.” Swarms of bees are often noticed and sometimes cause concern until they find a suitable nesting location. A queen may live three to five years.

Africanized honey bees produce more drones and their colonies grow faster than European honey bees. Adults tend to swarm more frequently and are more apt to completely abandon the hive if disturbed. For example, European honey bees swarm 1 to 3 times per year, while Africanized honey bees may produce 10 or more smaller swarms per year. It is important to note swarms from both subspecies are typically docile until they build a nest. Africanized honey bees are more likely to nest in small locations, like water meter boxes, cement blocks, old tires and grills. Colonies are more likely to nest underground and migrate for food. The colony dedicates more members to “guard” the nest and deploys greater numbers for defense when threatened. For example, a European honey bee colony may send out 10 soldiers to defend against a potential intruder, while Africanized honey bees may send out more than 1,000 soldiers. Africanized honey bees cannot survive long periods of forage deprivation because they do not store honey like European honey bees. Therefore they are not predicted to spread to areas with harsh winter conditions.

European honey bee

European honey bee

Control: Even though the ecological range limits and economic consequences of the African Honey Bee migration into the United States are not precisely known, specialists agree that honey bees are economically important, and that sufficient biological information exists to develop adequate inventory and monitoring programs. Added benefits to honey bee monitoring programs are also important because bee colonies can also serve as excellent indicators of flowering plant productivity, ecosystem stability, and relative ecological health.

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