Honey Bee Swarm...
Swarming is a fascinating process in which honey bee colonies reproduce and form new colonies. It occurs when a colony outgrows its space, becomes too congested, or too populated for the queen's pheromones to control the entire workforce. At this point, the workers signal that it's time to swarm and begin building swarm cells for new queens. Once the swarm cells are constructed, and the queen lays eggs in them, the colony's behavior changes.
The foraging rate slows down, and the workers begin erratic movements within the hive. Meanwhile, the queen reduces her weight to be able to fly and prepares to leave the hive. When the queen is ready, she leaves the hive and is followed by about half of the workers in a massive cloud of flying bees. The queen will find a nearby tree, land, and emit pheromones that signal the workers to cluster around her.
The cluster will remain there for several hours while scout bees explore the area for a new home. Often, the cluster will leave, travel a mile or more, and reform on another branch far away from the original hive. The cluster will remain until scout bees locate a suitable home, such as a new hive or cavity to occupy. Once a suitable location is found, the entire cluster will take flight and move to the new site where it will begin building comb, developing new brood, and gathering pollen and nectar.
Swarming is an essential process in the life cycle of a honey bee colony. It allows for the reproduction and formation of new colonies. By understanding the process, beekeepers can manage their hives more effectively and help ensure the health and survival of their bees.
From the beginning of May until mid-July in our region, honey bee colonies are focused on building up their colony size and workforce. They work tirelessly to ensure they have enough resources such as pollen, honey, and population to survive the winter and continue their species. As beekeepers, we manage the natural instinct of honey bee colonies to outgrow their beehives and swarm in two primary ways.
First, we gradually increase the size of their beehive by adding additional boxes (supers) and frames with foundation, preferably with drawn comb. Second, we harness their reproductive energy by removing surplus strength, which involves taking out frames of brood from the hive and creating a new honey bee colony, a nucleus or nuc. When these management practices are not employed, or timed poorly, the beehive will complete its swarm impulse and relocate a portion of the hive.
When honey bee colonies swarm, they can be observed flying in large clusters and landing high in tree tops or low on bushes, shrubs, or in tall grass. Although swarms may be in inconvenient locations for property owners, they are accessible to beekeepers. During this time, honey bees are generally docile and not aggressive, as they do not have a beehive and resources to protect. This makes safely relocating a swarm a relatively straightforward process.
A beekeeper will suit up, decide on the best method for safely accessing the hive, and work to contain them in a box for transport relative to the size of the swarm cluster. Swarms can be small, like the size of a grapefruit, or quite large, enough to fill multiple boxes. Often, the beekeeper will take the time to find the Queen, if possible, and cage her to simplify the swarm-catching process. Using frames of drawn comb and honey, the beekeeper will work towards shaking or capturing the bulk of the swarm in the transport box.
Once caught, the beekeeper can establish the swarm as a new bee colony in their own beehive or merge/join them with an existing honey bee colony that could use a boost in population. Proper swarm management is crucial to ensure the health and survival of honey bee colonies and to maintain a thriving beekeeping operation.
During swarm season, we receive calls from locals who have observed accessible swarms on their property and would like them removed. We are grateful for the opportunity to relocate honey bees that are considering moving into the wild. We understand that not everyone can differentiate between wasps, hornets, bumble bees, and honey bees, which is why we commonly receive calls about honey bee swarms, only to find out they are not actually honey bees. If the insects are coming in and out of a paper nest, they are usually not honey bees.
If you observe an accessible swarm of honey bees that you would like relocated, please do not hesitate to Contact Us. To help us respond accordingly, please provide us with specific information, such as photos and/or video of the swarm (from a safe distance), the exact location (civic address, geographic markers, etc.), and an estimated size of the swarm.
We will do our best to assess your situation and respond promptly while the swarm is still accessible. If we determine that your 'swarm' is not honey bees and continues to be a nuisance or threat, we may recommend that you contact an exterminator or suggest other alternatives for removal, depending on your situation.
Honey Bee 'Cut Outs' (Wild Beehive Removal)
At times, honey bees can make their home inside a structure such as a house, barn, shed, garage, or even a wall, and can remain undetected for a long period of time. However, in May and June, you may notice an increase in their activity as they instinctively try to multiply (swarm). If you have a honey bee hive in your structure that you wish to have removed, please get in touch with us, and we will assess your situation to provide you with a safe removal solution that causes minimal damage to your property. It's worth noting that a honey bee Cut Out/ Wild Beehive Removal might require minor construction work to access the honey bee home, and any repair work will be the responsibility of the home/ property owner. Depending on the complexity of the relocation, a relocation fee of $25/hr may be charged to cover the beekeeper's time.
Swarm Catching Questions
Honey Bee Swarms
Usually, swarming activity coincides with the nectar flow in the spring. This is when a wide variety of plants are in bloom, making nectar and pollen resources bountiful.
The primary swarm season is between March and May, but occasionally secondary swarms occur later in the season.
These secondary swarms often are not as successful in establishing new colonies because they are unable to build new combs and collect sufficient resources in time to survive the coming winter.
When honey bees are swarming, they are not nearly as defensive as they are around their hive because they are not protecting brood (developing young bees) or honey stores. They are more concerned with scouting for a new home and staying in protective clusters around the queen. If disturbed or agitated, they will defend the cluster; therefore, it is advisable for people to keep their distance from a swarm of bees to avoid being stung.
This is difficult to answer because it depends on weather conditions and when the scout bees find a suitable cavity to colonize. Typically, swarms only stay in one place for a few hours or maybe a day, but some swarms may remain for several days.
No. We appreciate the opportunity to rehome honey bees, and often find it mutually beneficial to provide this service without charge.
Although the swarm may be alarming, especially to people who are allergic to bee stings, please do not spray the swarm with an insecticide or attempt to destroy it. This actually may agitate the bees and increase the likelihood of being stung. More importantly, honey bees face many perils and have suffered significant declines in recent years. An array of pests, diseases, and environmental stresses have caused significant losses for beekeepers; therefore, bee swarms should be protected rather than destroyed
If bees have moved into a chimney, column, or wall space in a building, then they are no longer swarming and will remain to build a new colony. They will build wax combs, lay eggs, and store honey and pollen. Sealing the entrance or killing the colony will leave the bees and their hive materials inside the cavity to die and rot, which will attract rodents and pests. The colony and its provisions must be removed before the entrance is sealed. This may require some deconstruction, which may be beyond the abilities of the beekeeper. A few beekeepers around the state are capable of this type of work. Some beekeepers can deconstruct and remove the colony, but repairs will require the skills of a licensed contractor that can clean and restore the damaged structure.
Possibly. Each situation is unique. If the removal is expected to last longer than an hour, involves rental of construction tools, or other expenses to the beekeeper, these costs will be discussed as part of the removal plan, and passed on to the home/ property owner.
No, not at this time. Depending on the complexity of a removal, liability insurance may be considered and required. For now this will be on a case by case basis.