Danelle Cutting: Don’t be afraid of a swarm

Published 12:02 am Friday, May 15, 2015

It is the time of year when bees are most active and sometimes people other than beekeepers get hands-on experience with a swarm.

There is a lot of misperception and confusion about bees, where the public is concerned. Many people are scared to see a large mass of bees in a tree, on the side of a building, on an overhang, or anywhere near their homes. I am going to tell you today that you should not fear a swarm and if you see one, you should let Cooperative Extension or your local beekeeper know if you have one.

Swarms, in a most simplistic definition, are when a new queen bee takes a portion of the colony to find a new hive location. Sometimes, a swarm happens when conditions are so good that the hive population gets too big and needs more room.

In other situations, a queen may not be producing well and needs replacing. Or, perhaps the queen has died and the hive needs a new queen. Any of these situations can cause a swarm and put bees directly in front of some fearful homeowners. But, this fear is unfounded because there is not a hive to protect yet, so the swarms are very docile.

If you have ever seen a T-shirt of bees, beard of bees, or people covered with bees, it is usually an individual messing with a swarm. The bees are attracted to the queen’s pheromones and stay where she is located. The swarm will stay with her until the scout bees have found the perfect location to build a hive. Swarms can last for a short time or stay around for a day or so, but the swarm needs to find a new home quickly to get ready for the winter.

I am a new beekeeper who just had the luxury of handling my first swarm this week. I received my bees a little later than usual, but I did not think I had a cause of concern since I was starting with a small hive.

I checked my hive three times during the past two weeks to see how things were fairing but did not check every frame. And, most of the time, I did not get to check on things until pretty late in the day. That was a mistake. I believe sometime during the transportation of my bees, I accidentally killed my queen or wounded her.

So, Tuesday evening when we were checking my bees, we backed the truck into a swarm. The swarm had taken up in a nearby cedar tree. Thankfully, we decided to park the truck close to the tree to help keep the truck warm or I may have never seen the swarm. Luckily, the swarm was not up high, so I was able to retrieve and place it into a hive box.

The purpose of me telling you this story is that you need not be afraid of swarms. You should reach out, and contact your local Cooperative Extension or friendly beekeeper. Many beekeepers would love to take the swarm away, since in essence, they are free bees. So, if by chance you are outdoors this time of year, which most people are, and you see a swarm of bees, do not spray or kill them; be kind and try to find them a new home. We need our pollinators more than ever and do not want to run the risk of losing any of our precious bees.

For more information on swarms, to report a swarm, or if you are a local beekeeper and would like to be placed on our swarm calling list, please contact your local Cooperative Extension agent, Danelle Cutting, at 704-216-8970.