Do Not Harm Swarming Bees Please
In spring it is not an uncommon sight to see a swarm of bees clinging to a fence, on a tree or on any surface where they can cluster together. In some areas of the country, swarming takes place around 2-3 weeks after the last hard winter storm or freeze, but if the temperature drops below zero a beekeeper can lose entire hives.
It is usually the queen bee who decides she is going to leave the hive, and once she makes up her mind to do that it is almost impossible to stop the bees from swarming.
Many people don’t understand why bees swarm and they are afraid of the huge cluster of honeybees. The point of this blog post is to help you know how to best respond when you see a swarm for the good of the bees and the safety of everyone.
When you see a swarm, you may feel scared or overwhelmed at the sight of so many bees hanging together. These bees are almost always docile, they will not harm anyone. All they are interested in doing is protecting their queen and finding a new home as quickly as possible. Don’t try to take the bees on, spray them, poison them, or harm them in any way. Please do not call pest exterminators.
The best thing to do is contact a local beekeeper or your Beekeepers Association because most of them keep the names of qualified beekeepers on a swarm list. These professionals will bring sugar water for the bees and probably have a ladder and beekeeper’s suit in their vehicles in case these are needed. If you have a cell phone and can take a picture to send them, this can help them know what to plan for but is not necessary.
This 2:14-minute video by Good Morning America was made just a week ago when a firefighter who also happens to be a beekeeper, rescued 15,000 swarming honeybees from a man's car in New Mexico:
Most beekeepers will be glad to come to the location with an empty hive box. First the queen is found and put into the new hive box, and then it is easy to move the swarm into the bee box because they follow their queen. The beekeeper will then remove the swarm to a safe place, and the bees will receive a new hive home.
These bees are a blessing to the beekeeper, or perhaps they will be gifted to other beekeepers or residents in the community who wish to start beekeeping but don’t have the money to buy bees. One box of rescued bees like that can be turned into 3 or 4 dozen hives in the course of a few short years.
Before a hive swarms there are many telltale signs that it is going to happen. The worker bees stop feeding the queen, who stops laying eggs. They eat all the honey reserves in the hive. When they are ready to go, they gather around the queen and all leave the hive at once, finding a rest stop where they feel safe. Scout bees will be sent out from the swarm to find an idyllic new home, and this can happen in under an hour or it may take days. It all depends on the location.
Many beekeepers that rescue bee swarms can say they have saved millions of bees. Consider that an average hive contains 60,000 bees, and it’s not uncommon in swarming season to rescue 6-10 hives weekly. The numbers add up fast.
Things are particularly rough for honeybees in the past decade, and they are collectively fighting for their lives. There are many environmental pressures that have come together that work against them, like loss of their foraging habitat, mites and parasites, viruses, pesticides, and insecticides that kill them, monocultures, and climate extremes.
Fresh fruits and vegetables pollinated by bees will become scarce and expensive if bee populations plummet. The more bees that beekeepers lose, the more expensive honey gets and the more unsustainable their businesses are.
So please, if you see a swarm of bees, call a beekeeper in your area. Bees are too precious to lose. They pollinate more than 75% of our food. Things like oranges, tomatoes, almonds, cocoa, and coffee. The most important thing is to give swarming bees a safe new home so they can get back to what they do best: making honey and pollinating flowers.
Save the bees, please. This includes all swarming bees. Thank you!
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