Bee expert Alan Riach from Bathgate is president of the Scottish Beekeepers’ Association. Here is some outstanding advice from him about how to handle the bizarre behavior known as a honeybee swarm.
If you find a swarm on your property or home structure, you are urged to contact your local beekeepers’ association which has experts who will help remove the swarm and relocate the bees to a new home. Beekeepers will always solve the situation for the greater good of all concerned.
Here's a useful 8:29-minute long video by the Scottish Beekeepers' Association about creating a bait hive for Urban Swarms:
There is no need to fear bees or swarming. If you’re outdoors more than usual in the warm weather, you may discover a large cluster of bees somewhere in your garden. Swarms particularly like settling on tree trunks and limbs but they can be anywhere. Resist any urge to kill these flying insects because all they are doing is moving to a new home of their own.
Alan Riach encourages all Scots to use the new app available in Scotland called Beedentify. It was created by a member of the Edinburgh and Midlothian Beekeepers Association to help you identify the swarm or nest as belonging to honeybees, wasps or bumblebees.
We wrote about bee swarming in detail a year ago and you can read that post here. Honeybees swarm when their colony reaches a point of abundant well being and is healthy enough that they can split away to form a new colony. First, scout bees are sent out to search for a suitable location. They know how to assess the space and measure the volume of it by walking across the surfaces and then flying from a lower corner to an upper corner. Then they intuitively calculate the space.
The scout bee flies back to the hive and launches into a "figure eight" dance, the waggle dance, to describe the new location. This is the way bees communicate about distances and places to hive mates. Her sister bees follow the message with their antennae. They then fly off to inspect the site, and if it is as good as scout bee said, they fly home to do the dance again.
Once they decide on their new home location, the queen bee leaves with a retinue of about two-thirds of the adult bees in the colony. They fly 5-10 meters and rest on a tree or bush. They usually settle in that spot until they decisively know which way to go. Over the next 1-2 hours, the scouts return, and dance on the surface of the swarm.
It is at this stage that somebody normally calls the beekeepers’ association to say they have found a swarm. If people use the Beedentify app, they will know which flying insects they have spotted. You will be able to compare labeled photos of hives and insects to help with identification.
Alan Riach said many reports about bee swarms in peoples’ gardens turn out to not be honeybees. Instead, it is often a bumblebee nest. If the nest is in the ground, it is almost certainly bumblebees. They are often found in birdhouses and boxes, but this year they are being found in lofts and nesting in insulation.
There are honeybee swarms around, but they are usually hanging from a bush or tree and are the size of a football. Beekeepers will come for honeybees in a location that is easy to access. They will bring an empty box or straw skep, collect the bees for safe removal and take them to an apiary. A full list of local beekeepers’ associations in Scotland can be found on the group’s website.
While the app mentioned above is specific to Scotland, most of this information and advice is useful anywhere in the world.