The word swarm evokes a plethora of fictitiously horrific images with bees attacking innocent bystanders and taking down farm animals by the herd. Swarms by definition are not, in any way, shape or form, an experience that should bring fear or harm to those involved, including humans, farm animals or the like.
For beekeepers they bring a sense of loss as the apiarist opens a hive to find it half empty or has the opportunity to watch the cloud of bees literally exiting without a fond farewell. The void the bees leave also adds up to the loss of a significant chunk of money, too. Bees are an investment and their inherent natural desire to reproduce and swarm is counterproductive to the beekeeper’s goal of taming them.
Swarms are the natural way for honeybees to reproduce. When they have outgrown their enclosure, lack room to expand or have an itch that needs to be scratched, figuratively speaking, they make ready to split and expand. The worker bees begin raising a select few larvae as queens by feeding them a rich substance called royal jelly and readying the hive for a departure. When the queens are almost grown, the bees prepare for flight. About one half of the colony of bees exit the hive as a single mass, with the flightless queen at the center, and make for a new home. The mass is also surrounded by bees that are flying in close proximity and making way for the swarm. Swarms vary in size, but generally resemble a volleyball or basketball.
As a beekeeper, you can keep a close eye on your hive and do your best to avoid swarming by making sure the hive has adequate room for honey, pollen, egg-laying and bee rearing. You can also quell (kill off) any queen cells that you find in the hive before they reach maturity and make it possible for a swarm to take off. But, even perfect planning and best circumstances don’t make it possible to completely offset the bees’ natural desire to reproduce and expand.
What do you do if you come across a swarm?
Honeybees are at their most docile state when they are in a swarm. Their bellies are full to the brim with honey for the trip and their primary focus is to find a new home. They will often park themselves in a tree and send out scouts to look for a suitable new home. If you aren’t interested in capturing the swarm, call your local beekeeper association. Swarms are “free” hives to a beekeeper and you should have no problem getting help removing the swarm. Or, sit back and watch the process unfold before your very eyes…
My second-cousin was visiting her kids in Yakima, Washington this June and had the pleasure and very unique opportunity to watch a swarm descend on their yard. With the camera clicking away, they also got to see the neighbor and an avid beekeeper that was called in for help, contain the swarm and adopt it. How freakin’ cool is that!?!
Here’s her story and the pictures from that day!
I was thinking of you a couple of weeks ago when we were in Yakima. We were at Mick and Jenny’s..out in the yard. All of a sudden someone said, “Look at all those bugs flying around in the alley”. On closer look it was bees. We decided to go in the house and in a matter of minutes the whole yard was alive with bees!! We watched for a few minutes and then decided we should let the neighbor know. They were very excited. They are master gardeners. They said it was a hive looking for a home. They started attaching themselves to a tree in their yard. She [the neighbor] made several calls and decided to call someone that knows about bees. Within an hour they were there to take the bees. I took several pictures. It was very interesting. The guy came so quick that he didn’t have his suit. The bees were attaching themselves to him! I was thinking how you were hoping bees would come to your empty hives. The neighbor said the bees were doing a waggle..looking for a new home. [The waggle is an intricate dance that bees do to communicate with each other. Their movements explain location, direction and source and are used to tell the other members of the hive what they’ve found.]