It is swarming season for bees in our area, basically through May/June. Swarming is a scary sight to most folks – thousands of bees in the air or clustered on a branch, mailbox, or house. The sight seems menacing, but during a swarm honeybees are very docile.
Swarming is the goal for any colony. It is the reproductive act of a strong colony where half of the workers, along with the old queen, leave the hive to start a new colony elsewhere (like your house). Scout bees are out searching for the new location while everyone else clusters on a nearby object (car, lamppost, tree). Because these bees have no honey or babies to defend, they are pretty harmless. I know, easy for me to say in my bee suit. But they really are.
This swarm conveniently landed on a knee-high branch. I was able to easily clip the branch and place the cluster into a new hive. It was a pretty small group but I wasn’t sure if I had caught the queen. If you have her, everyone else will follow. You know she is in the box when the workers start fanning. They hike their backsides in the air and use their wings to fan the queen pheromone into the air. This signals to other bees still flying “We are here!” And it works. Any wayward bees quickly follow the scent and dutifully march into the hive. Presto! It’s not always this neat & clean. But today was.
Swarms only stay in one spot for as little as a few hours or up to 2 days. So you have to move fast before they setup permanent camp. I got a call recently from a friend who had a swarm move into her 3rd story suburban attic. Within a week, the colony had built up a bunch of comb and was already storing nectar – in her house. Beekeepers love to get swarm calls. If we can reach the cluster, we gladly remove a nuisance and collect some free bees! Who knows? You might even get some thank-you-honey in return. So keep an eye out for swarms this Spring. If you find one, feel free to call me or any local beekeeper. We love the sight of a ball of bees!