Don’t Panic! It’s Just the Bees Swarming

Don’t Panic! It’s Just the Bees Swarming

Every year, near the beginning of spring bees renew their yearly process of repopulating their colony.

During this process, individuals may sight a large group of bees flying in a cloud-like sphere suspended in the air, possibly low to the ground. For some this can be alarming.

“Swarms can be intimidating, but it is rare for swarming bees to sting,” says Cam Lay of the Montana State Department of Agriculture.

So far for 2015, swarms have been reported across the country in states like Colorado, California and Oregon.

The most important thing to know, officials urge, is that the bees do not intend to cause anyone any harm during a swarm.

“Swarming is how bees make new (colonies). About half of the colony leaves with the old queen and as much honey as they can eat. They’ll hang up somewhere and send out scouts to find a new location, someplace dry and defensible where they can store honey and raise more bees,” Lay says.

The need for the colony to move is initiated by the queen. As spring ends, and summertime approaches, the old queen has laid her eggs and is ready to move on. With a proportionately smaller abdomen than what she began the year with, the queen is now able to gain mobility and fly from the hive.
As a reigning queen honey bee ages, she loses the capacity to breed. Sometimes one queen is born and reared with royal jelly while another is still in the hive. However, there can be only one queen per hive. One of the queens will need to move. Otherwise there will be a fight over the domain until one is dead.
A swarm can signify that this is happening. Basically, the old queen gathers the hive on a branch or nearby post where she selects approximately 20 to 30 ‘scout’ bees to search for a new home. Meanwhile, the new queen prepares to take over.
“We still don’t know how they decide which group of scout bees to follow,” says Lay.
“But somehow they make a decision and off they go.”
While the scout bees are searching for a new home, the other bees of the colony rest in a temporary location such as a vacant tree cavity or any other safe place.
The logistics of a swarm
A swarm can also be a sign that the bees in a colony are not receiving enough of the chemical pheromones they need.
The queen bee’s role is to provide worker bees and drones with the signals they need to live and thrive.
If the crowd of bees begins to become too much, they will leave behind an old nest to reestablish the queen.
The bees swarm in a swirling mass because they are circled around the queen. Only the scouts momentarily leave her side to explore the surrounding prospects.
While bees are non-aggressive and are not inclined to attack, it is advised to keep a safe distance from swarming bees, because if danger arises, it is likely they will be prompted sting. A bees’ main prerogative is to maintain the safety of their colony. Whether they are in the hive, or not.
What to do if a swarm happens to you?
The best way to remove a swarm is by contacting your local beekeeper. Bees on the Net offers a comprehensive list of beekeepers with removal services and their contact information.
While some offer gratis services, others professionals do charge for providing bee removals.
Below are additional tips as listed by the Ohio State Beekeeper’s Association:
  • Check and make sure they are honey bees. Yellow jackets and wasps are often mistaken for honey bees. Consult an identification guide for more info.
  • Once a swarm moves into a wall or hollow tree it is no longer a swarm and may need cut out. Many beekeepers do not provide this service due to the difficulty and expertise needed. Look for hive removal or cutout in the search results for beekeepers that will.
  • Don’t expect a beekeeper to remove a swarm for free. A few will depend on location, but free bees often costs more time and gas than purchasing bees. Hive removal and cutouts are rarely free due to the time, expense and liability involved.

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