Thousands of honey bees have just invaded your property or adjacent area and have now settled in a large clump on a tree, a fence or on some other object. The mass of bees, called a swarm, may be as small as a softball or larger than a basket ball. You may feel terrified and think that your family is in great danger and you want them removed as soon as possible. The following questions and answers may help you understand the nature of swarming, how to remove the problem and also help a beekeeper save the honeybees.
Honey bees are extremely important, not only for honey production but also for the beneficial pollination they provide. We can thank the honeybee for helping to provide one-third of the food we consume. The honey bee population has declined dramatically recently due to a number of diseases, parasites and other factors.
A swarm in May is worth a load of hay
A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon
A swarm in July — let them fly
Question: Is the swarm dangerous?
No. Honey bees in a swarm are unlikely to be aggressive and sting anyone unless you attack the bees. At this stage they do not have a home to defend and they have filled up with honey in preparation for the flight to their permanent home. If the honey bees stay and construct a wax nest they will become aggressive if you disturb them.
Question: Where did the honey bees in my yard come from?
There is a good possibility that a permanent nest (feral hive) of bees is located close to the swarm that has just landed. This could be in a cavity in a tree, a building, abandoned barrel, etc. This nest (colony) had a large population of honey bees and has run out of room to store honey, pollen and raise new bees. When this occurs the bees will begin to raise new queens and shortly before the new queens hatch the old queen will leave the hive with about one-half of the bees. The queen and bees will usually fly only a short distance, the queen will land on some object and the bees will cluster around her forming the swarm. If the first swarm does not reduce the crowding enough a second swarm may emerge.
Question: What will the swarm of honey bees do next if I don't do anything?
Scout bees from the swarm will fly out to try to find a permanent home. If they find a suitable cavity they return to the swarm and perform a dance within the cluster communicating the location, size and other information about the possible new home. Bees receiving this information will fly to this location to investigate. When a sizable number of bees do the dance for a given location the entire swarm will leave and fly to the new nest site.
Question: How long does it take bees to find a new home?
It could take just a few hours, several days or it may not occur at all. If the scout bees do not find a suitable site they may begin building an exposed nest at the swarm location (in a tree, on the side of your house, etc.) This nest may become a problem to you. If you want a beekeeper to capture the swarm it is important to contact him or her as soon as possible. It is best to telephone the beekeeper.
Question: How do I locate a beekeeper?
Question: What information about the swarm will be of help to give to the beekeeper?
Directions to the swarm location including major cross roads. Give the beekeeper precise details such as how high in the tree, are they on the side of your house, how long have they been there?
Question: What will the beekeeper do to capture the swarm?
The beekeeper will bring a box containing frames with beeswax comb. If the bees are in a clump hanging from a tree branch the beekeeper may ask if the branch could be cut. If all of the bees go into the box without flying the beekeeper may be able to take them at that time. If a large number of bees are still flying, and many scouts are out searching for a new home, the beekeeper may leave the box and come back near dark when the bees are all settled in for the night.
Question: How valuable is the swarm?
In Michigan early swarms (late April – early May) are of the most value to the beekeeper. Large swarms (30,000 to 40,000 bees) are also more valuable. When these large early swarms are placed into a new hive they will have a greater chance to build up their population and store enough honey (60-70 lbs.) and pollen to survive the next winter. Hiving the swarm is also valuable since it may prevent a future problem if the bees find a location in your house or a neighbor's home or building. Later swarms are not as valuable and the beekeeper may combine these bees with another hive to produce a strong colony.