Although a giant whirl of buzzing bees might be alarming to you, there’s no need to worry. Bees typically swarm during the spring and summer, but heavy rainfall can delay the process. Whether you’re an experienced beekeeper or just an observer, you should know why bees swarm and what it means when they do it.
What Is Swarming?
Swarming is a normal bee behavior that usually takes place between the months of April and September. You may have a negative connotation of the word “swarming.” However, bees swarming isn’t harmful. The basic definition of swarming is a group of insects moving together in the same direction.
With that in mind, you might wonder why bees swarm in the first place. Believe it or not, this massive whirlwind of chaos has a fundamental purpose.
Why Bees Swarm
Honey bees typically swarm for one of two reasons, and both are important for their livelihood and colony strength.
Colony Gets Too Large
The primary reason for a bee swarm is when the colony gets too large, resulting in overcrowding. In this case, the hive splits into at least two groups. One group stays in the existing beehive, while the other group exits and finds new homes.
This type of swarm is a positive change, and it even increases the bee population. Because the queen can lay a mass number of eggs every day, the hive’s population grows rapidly. Even with bees’ high mortality rate, the hive gets crowded fast. Swarming is essentially the reproduction of an entire colony, and it’s imperative to the bees’ survival.
If the hive becomes congested, the colony’s health will decline. Therefore, many bees will leave the hive and find a new place to live every so often.
Decreased Colony Health and Safety
The other form of bee swarming is when all the bees, including the queen, abandon the existing hive. While this may sound like a bad thing, they do this only when their current living conditions impact the colony’s health and safety.
Some factors that influence this type of swarm are:
- Lack of food and water
- Problems with the queen
- Frequent disturbance
- Poor ventilation
Although this may seem like a rash decision by the bees, getting out may be their only chance at survival, and it’s a positive change for the bee population as a whole.
How Bees Prepare To Swarm
First, worker bees choose about 10 cells with fertilized eggs to feed royal jelly in hopes that they’ll be potential future queens.
As these new queens develop, the rest of the worker bees gradually decrease the existing queen’s food intake to decrease her egg production. These two actions help the queen become lighter, making it easier to fly during the swarm.
The swarm can begin after the new queen cells are nearly ready to produce fully mature queens (only one will survive and become queen of this colony).
The worker bees wait for a day with perfect weather, and approximately half the existing group—including the current queen—leave the hive all at once. Often, they will gather on tree branches, light posts, mailboxes, or even your car mirrors because they feel exposed and vulnerable.
In the past, you probably saw bees swarming and didn’t know what they were doing. However, there’s no reason to be afraid. There are ways to calm aggressive bees, but swarming doesn’t mean the bees want to attack. Believe it or not, this is when they’re the most gentle. While it may look like chaos to you, they’re very vulnerable.
While the queen is an essential member of the swarm, it may be her first and last trip out of the hive besides mating. With that in mind, the queen is somewhat unfamiliar with flying. To accommodate their slower queen, the rest of the bees guide her along and take rests along the way to their new nesting spot.
While the majority of the bees keep buzzing around in one spot, the scout bees depart from the group and search for the best place to live. They look for the perfect spot that’s sheltered from the elements, near plenty of flowers, and has a reliable water source. Next, they go back to the group and try to convince them to choose the spot they found. Once the group agrees on a location, they continue there together.
Are Swarms Dangerous?
Swarms aren’t dangerous at all, and you have nothing to worry about. In fact, it’s the opposite. Because swarming bees don’t have a hive or a food supply to defend, they tend to be relatively calm and docile. Therefore, you can observe them closely and remain safe. However, if you’re allergic to bees, it’s best to steer clear of them at all costs.
Surprisingly, it’s reasonably easy for a skilled beekeeper to collect a group of swarming bees and safely move them to a new location. However, it’s crucial to gather the swarm before the bees choose a new home and start producing honey. Once they find a new place to live, they will defend their hive, and relocating them will be more challenging.
What It Means for You
Now that you understand why bees swarm and what it means when they do it, you should also know what to do when you see it. The most simple advice is at the top of the list: don’t freak out. While seeing a massive band of bees out and about together can be a bit unsettling, you must understand that you’re not in danger.
They’re minding their own business and not bothering anyone most of the time. Please don’t attempt to run the bees off or kill them. However, it isn’t always that simple. It’s possible for a swarm to end up in or around your car. When a swarm is genuinely in the way, you should call a beekeeper in your area to come and collect the swarm.
If you’re a beekeeper, swarming is probably most impactful to you because you could lose half of your bees in an instant. Fear not; there are some steps you can take to prevent your bees from swarming away.
First, you should always keep a close eye on your colony. If you notice that your hive is preparing to swarm, transfer the queen and about half of your worker bees into a separate beehive. By doing this, you expedite the swarming process without losing any bees.
While swarming is a process you don’t see every day, it’s necessary for the bee population to keep growing. If you want to help the bee population by becoming a beekeeper, The B Farm has a wide variety of VSH queen bees for sale online. Before you know it, you could be assisting your colony with swarming and have a lively bee population of your own.