Honey bees are easily one of the most important and beneficial insects in the world. It is estimated that honey bees contribute more than $14 million annually to United States food production.
Much of honey bee contribution can be tied to their ability to assist pollination of crops such as almonds, apples, blackberries, blueberries, cantaloupes, cranberries, cucumbers, forage crops, kiwifruits, squash and watermelons for example. While attending a Bartow Beekeepers Club meeting years ago, I learned about the almond growers in California being willing at that time to rent bee hives from even Georgia to help pollinate their almond crop. Beekeeping is a popular hobby for many. You can buy locally produced honey and products at many area venues. I will add that our UGA literature states that honey is humanity’s oldest sweet and beeswax was the first plastic. Because of Colony Collapse Disorder resulting in decline of bee numbers, there is more concern of conserving our honey bees. Today, I will be sharing information on honey bee swarms from a UGA publication by Dr. Keith Delaplane, UGA Extension Entomologist.
For starters, this time of year is when you will see bee swarms. Honey bee colonies reproduce by the process of swarming. I will age myself a bit, but I bet many of our readers can remember those made for television movies in the 1970s on Africanized bees. The movies would be on “killer bees” terrorizing a town. There was one movie where they lured the bees into the New Orleans Superdome and froze them to end the movie. Those movies I think traumatized many kids growing up in that era. I can remember playing outside and seeing my first natural group of bees flying as a swarm and thinking I was done for because of those movies. I want to remind readers that swarming is a natural process for honey bees.
During mid-winter, the queen bee will begin laying eggs and the colony population will grow. By spring, the colony is high in population with a large number of new bees. The colony will raise a new queen and the old queen will leave and many times will take half the bees with her. This will be the bees you see in a swarm.
This will be the time of year you may see a swarm flying or you may see the bees temporarily cluster on an object on the property. Again, the swarming activity is normal for honey bees. Keep in mind that most hanging swarms will be round or oval, about the size of a basketball and dark brown. I believe one time at my home, we had a swarm of honey bees temporarily clustering on the side of our daughter’s trampoline. You may even see the swarm temporarily cluster on a tree branch. When a swarm is clustering on an object, there are scout bees out searching for a permanent nest site.
Note that swarms in the clustered stage are relatively gentle and the risk of sting is low according to our information.
Nevertheless, you should treat swarms with CAUTION. Keep in mind that a swarm will normally move to a permanent nest within 24 hours. This is why you may see a clustered swarm on a tree limb one day and the next day they are gone. These new nesting sites can be a hollow place in a tree, an abandoned beekeeping hive or even inside a hollow wall of a home for example. Recently, I was inspecting a tree on a site visit and about 30 feet up the trunk, you could see honey bees coming in and out of a hollow area in the trunk. This could have been a swarm of bees making a new colony in the void area. I will share information on what you can do when a bee colony nest inside a hollow wall of a structure such as a house in a future article.
Here are some tips on what to do if a honey bee swarm lands on your property. First, do not disturb the clustered swarm. You should keep pedestrians, children and pets away from the swarm. If the bee swarm is safely located away from people and animals, you should wait for the swarm to fly away on their own. Remember that a swarm normally will move to a permanent nesting site within 24 hours.
I do realize that there are many people allergic to bee stings so a person may not want swarms on a property for any length of time. If the swarm poses a risk to people or animals, you can consider finding a local beekeeper who will remove the swarm. Most communities will have beekeepers that will do this service. Some may do it for free while other beekeepers may charge. Finally, honey bees are a beneficial insect and are not aggressive. HOWEVER, honey bees will defend their nest if they are threatened. If you encounter flying honey bees, calmly walk away from them and never swat the bees.
Swatting will only threaten the bees and will increase your chances of being stung.