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Bee swarms

Bee swarms

What to do if a bee swarms near you?

If a bee swarm comes near you or your home, I know your instinct tell you to panic. However, here are some key things to do if this happens to any of you Beeble readers.

It is important to note that, If a honeybee swarm is left and not collected quickly (within the same day), it could colonise your property chimney, roof or wall. It is recommended that you get the swarm removed as soon as possible in order to prevent this. 

Why do bees swarm?

A bee swarm is a term used for when the bees are not living on honeycomb in a colony but are on the move. Swarms usually choose to form a mass of bunched up bees on top of each other, often hanging from a branch of a tree, but this can also be on the side of a building too. The reason why this occurs is because the bees are looking for a new area for their colony to locate. It  can be a massive risk leaving the bees to settle without intervention. Reasons for relocation of hives can be because the current hive is too small.

When bees swarm, it means that one colony just became two colonies. We call it the “reproduction at the colony level”.

The process of swarming

It is a natural process. Did you know that most swarms occur on warm sunny days from May to the end of July usually between 11am – 4pm. Usually, the “collective wisdom” of the colony decides to swarm (for space and reproduction reasons).

The colony prepares several future queens in so-called “queen cups”. Queen cups are regularly created by worker bees, but the existing (old) queen lays only eggs in it when swarming is imminent. When she does it, she clearly plans to leave and let another queen bee take over the existing hive.

During this time, the old queen is heavy. Her latest task was to produce a lot of eggs. Therefore, at this point, she isn’t able to fly well and needs to lose weight. Worker bees reduce her feedings and she stops laying eggs, becoming lighter. Immediately before swarming, the rest of the bees that intend to leave the colony make sure they stock up on honey before their long journey.

Before any new queens emerge, the existing queen and about half of the bees of the colony leave the hive, in search of their new home. 

A real honey bee swarm can be extremely dramatic involving many thousands of bees in a large noisy cloud. However, they normally settle into a cluster within 15 minutes.

Tips and Processes with dealing with swarms

  • Collecting a swarm is normally a 2 part process:
    • Part one – to get the bees into a box.
    • Part two - to return in the evening to remove bees and box.
  • Some beekeepers may ask for expenses.
  • If on arrival the beekeeper finds that it is not honey bees then they are unlikely to be able to help.
  • Most honey bee swarms are not aggressive but please do keep away and leave them alone.
  • Honey bee swarming is natural and the bees are just looking for a new home.
  • Bumblebees are best left alone. They are valuable pollinators, some are endangered. Don’t try to block entrance holes as they will try to find another way out possibly into the property.  They will die out naturally in late summer/autumn, therefore the cost of a pest controller is easily avoided.
  • Please don’t use chemicals or other products on them.
  • Wasps may require a pest controller if in a dangerous position. Wasps are also good pollinators and eat pests in your garden.  Beekeepers don’t remove wasps.
  • Swarm collection is carried out by volunteer beekeepers at their own discretion.
  • Swarming bees usually don’t sting but it is wise to stay away from the swarm and keep children & pets indoors.
  • Beekeepers collect swarms on a voluntary basis; they are NOT paid to provide this service.
  • The beekeeper may not be able to come immediately; they may have jobs and commitments of their own.
  • Beekeepers have to consider their own safety; it may not be possible to remove a swarm from difficult-to-reach places.

How beekeepers can help reduce likelihood of swarming

How to avoid congestion?

  • Anticipate the needs of the colony and provide them with more room before the need it.
  • Add honey supers before the first nectar flow in early spring.

How to help bees to have a good ventilation?

  • Keep the ventilation hole in the front of the inner cover open
  • Drill some holes in the upper deep and in the honey supers
  • In case of hot weather:
    • Make sure to have a nearby water source, where bees can easily access water. Bees need water to monitor the temperature in the hive.
    • If the hive is completely exposed to sunlight, help bees to get some shadow on hot days by providing a shield.
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