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⬢⬡ Inside the Hive: What to Do When You Encounter Bee Swarms ⬢⬡

Updated: Nov 20, 2023


Honey bees swarming to a tree
Honey bees swarming to a tree

Encountering a bee swarm can be a daunting experience for many. However, it's important to know that bees in swarms are typically not aggressive unless they feel threatened. Understanding what to do when you encounter a bee swarm can help you stay safe a


nd avoid any harm to the bees. In this blog, we will provide you with all the information you need about bee swarms - from understanding their nature and recognising signs of a swarm to highlighting safety measures that must be taken if you encounter one. We'll also discuss how beekeepers can prevent swarming and control it if necessary. As experienced beekeepers, we are here to share our knowledge and insights on this topic. So, let's get started!


Understanding Bee Swarms: Why Do Bees Swarm?

Bee swarms are a natural reproductive process for honey bee colonies in New Zealand. They are triggered by factors such as overcrowding or the presence of a healthy queen. During swarming, bees leave their original hive in search of a new home. The swarm consists of worker bees, drones, and an old queen bee. Understanding the dynamics of bee swarms, including the movement and behaviour of the workforce and the swarms that are cast by feral honey bees or from the hives of domestic beekeepers; is essential for beekeepers. It helps them manage their apiary effectively. By recognising the signs and triggers of swarming, beekeepers can prevent the loss of valuable bees and ensure the health, productivity, and availability of flowers and pollen for their colonies.


Reproduction and The Nature of Swarming in Bees

Swarming plays a crucial role in the survival and expansion of honey bee colonies. This complex behaviour involves meticulous planning and organisation. Swarming allows for the reproduction and distribution of bees across different locations, ensuring the continuation of the species. During the process, new queen cells are created, and a new queen, known as the "virgin queen," emerges to lead the colony. Scout bees are then dispatched to find a suitable location where the new hive can thrive. By exploring the surroundings, the scout bees ensure a successful transition to a temporary location before settling into a permanent habitation. This process enables the colony to establish a larger population and maintain its crucial role in pollination. The queen can still not fly long distances, but the rest of the swarm travels together to find a new home. New queens are raised, and the hive may swarm as soon as the queen cells are capped and before the new virgin queens emerge from their queen cells. A laying queen is too heavy to fly long distances. During the swarm preparation, scout bees will simply find a nearby location for the group to cluster. Swarming creates an interruption in the brood cycle of the original colony.


Bees Swarming under a fence
Bees Swarming under a fence

Misconceptions About Bees Swarming

Contrary to popular belief, bee swarms are not always dangerous and should not be automatically feared. In fact, most bee swarms are peaceful and unlikely to sting unless provoked. These bees are solely focused on finding a new home and are not actively looking to attack. It's important to note that a bee swarm does not indicate the presence of an established beehive nearby. So, if you encounter a bee swarm, it's important to keep a good distance from the swarm unless collecting it (to minimise provocation). Instead, calling a beekeeper or a professional bee removal company is often the best course of action. They have the necessary expertise to safely handle and relocate the swarm, ensuring the well-being of both the bees and humans involved. Most beekeepers will remove a honeybee swarm for a small fee, and certainly, Parakore Honey will do so for free if they are nearby simply CONTACT US. Generally, a weak bee colony will not swarm until the colony has produced a larger population of bees. Additionally, bees seldom swarm except when the position of the sun is direct and impressive.


Recognising Signs of a Bee Swarm

Recognising signs of a bee swarm is crucial for understanding and dealing with these natural phenomena. One key indicator is the sight of a large cluster of bees, often found gathered on a tree branch or other structures. Additionally, the presence of queen cups or swarm cells in the original hive is a clear sign of swarm preparation. Decreased brood activity and a smaller population of worker bees in the hive may suggest an impending swarm. Observing the level of excitement and duration of dances performed by worker bees can also provide valuable insights into their readiness to swarm. Another clue is when bees fly in a specific direction, forming a buzzing cloud. These signs, when identified, can help individuals better handle encounters with bee swarms. It is important to note that the workers will stop feeding the queen before the anticipated swarm date, and the queen will stop laying eggs. When the queen is ready to leave the hive, she emits pheromones that signal the workers to cluster around her.


What Triggers Bees to Swarm?

Several factors can trigger bees to swarm, including overcrowding and limited space in the original hive, a healthy queen reaching her peak egg-laying capacity, favourable environmental conditions like warm weather and abundant nectar, weakened or stressed colonies, the presence of pests like varroa mites, and diseases such as foulbrood disease. Weak bee colonies can also contribute to swarming tendencies caused by low quantities of eggs.


What Should You Do If You Encounter a Bee Swarm?

Bees are attracted to warmth and often they will swarm to a vehicle.
Bees Swarming on a car near Geymouth

If you encounter a bee swarm, it's important to stay calm and avoid any sudden movements or loud noises that could agitate the bees. Keep a safe distance and don't try to disturb or interact with the swarm. Notify local authorities or a beekeeper to safely remove the swarm, especially if it's in a public area. Don't use insecticides on the swarm as it can harm the bees. Seek medical attention if stung, especially if you have allergies.


Safety Measures to Take When Encountering a Swarm

When encountering a swarm of bees, it's crucial to prioritise safety measures. To minimise the risk of bee stings, seek shelter indoors or move away from the immediate vicinity of the swarm. Additionally, protecting your head and face by wearing a scarf or hat can help shield you from potential stings. It's important to avoid swatting or waving your arms at the bees, as this may provoke defensive behaviour. Unless you possess the necessary expertise, it is not advisable to attempt removing the swarm yourself; leave it to competent beekeepers or professionals who have received proper training. Educating others, particularly children, about the significance of avoiding bee swarms and seeking professional assistance is essential for maintaining safety.


How Can Beekeepers Prevent Swarming?

To prevent swarming, beekeepers should regularly inspect and maintain their beehives. Creating enough space with frames for brood and honey storage can discourage swarming. Queen bee management techniques, like requeening or removing queen cells, help control swarming tendencies. Maintaining healthy colonies through proper nutrition and pest control minimises stress and swarming risks. Some beekeepers also use swarm traps or bait hives to capture and prevent swarms from leaving the original hive. A poor-performing queen might contribute to the urge to swarm, but the most pressing reasons are space issues and overcrowding, leading to congestion and poor ventilation. To avoid congestion and provide the right ventilation, beekeepers should ensure that their hives have enough room for the bees to move around comfortably and that there is proper airflow within the hive (source: http://www.dummies.com/home-garden/hobby-farming/beekeeping/how-to-prevent-swarming-when-beekeeping/).


Are There Beekeeping Methods to Control Swarming?

Methods to control bee swarming include splitting colonies, creating nucleus hives, and artificial swarming. Queen clipping or wing clipping can temporarily prevent the queen from leaving with a swarm. Providing sufficient hive space and timely interventions can help manage swarming tendencies effectively.

Bees will often swarm towards bees because they are attracted to warmth
Bee Swarm on a vehicle

Conclusion

In conclusion, encountering a bee swarm can be a daunting experience, but it's important to stay calm and take the necessary safety measures. Remember, a bee swarm is not typically aggressive and is just looking for a new place to establish a colony. If you come across a swarm, keep your distance, avoid sudden movements, and seek professional help if needed. Beekeepers play a crucial role in preventing swarming by managing hive conditions and providing proper care to their colonies. By understanding the nature of swarming and taking proactive steps, we can ensure a harmonious coexistence with these amazing insects.

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