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I have a bee house which seems to be very popular...

Photo of a bee nesting house

I have noticed that a hole can become vacant and then filled again within half a day. Now, it's been up a few years and I don't necessarily pay that much attention to it. I suspect that some of the holes contain failed bees, so I would like to clean them out for new occupants, but I do not want to harm any that might be in there. The holes range in size from 2.5–6 mm in diameter.

How can I mark occupied holes without using anything that could be harmful? For example, I thought of using a marker pen on the material used to cap the holes, but might the solvent, even though it'd be a tiny amount, hurt the larvae?

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I suspect that your best bet will be something non-toxic.

I would make a mark that is removable and not directly on the hole. Possibly something like beeswax to mark a circle around the hole or maybe even a pencil mark might work. In the case of a pencil I would use graphite, not coloured unless specifically non-toxic. You might also be able to use a non-toxic water based paint-pen, such as is used by beekeepers to mark the queen.

I wouldn't put anything directly on the cap as you might put damaging pressure on the developing larva underneath or possibly occlude air-flow and cause death of the larva. Marking the cap could also transfer disease from one hole to another, which you obviously don't want to do.

Please take this advice with a grain of salt, I'm not an expert on this or even own a bee-house (though about to take up beekeeping as a family) and ask your local wildlife experts - seeing as you are in the UK, the Wildlife Trust might be a good place to start.

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    $\begingroup$ The idea with marking the cap itself was that when the bee emerges it will remove it, so if I see a mark still there after, say, three months, I would know to clean that particular hole. But a soft graphite pencil seems like a good idea—they appear to be using sand this year rather than the darker mud that's been used in previous years. $\endgroup$ Aug 24, 2023 at 8:35

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