What to do when honeybees swarm
By Thea Vierling
We're heading into spring which means healthy colonies of honeybees will “swarm,” sending roiling clusters of bees into the open to look for new homes.
Honeybees are pollinating insects essential to human livelihood and are non-threatening, non-aggressive vegetarians who aren't interested in stinging you unless you step on them barefooted, invade their hive, or get in the way of their search for pollen and nectar. Unlike other bees, honeybees die when they sting and will often think twice before stinging.
Beekeeper Thea Vierling at work on a swarm bush.
Swarming is part of the natural process of honeybee reproduction, where about half of the colony leaves with the old queen to find a new home. A roaring cloud of bees exits the hive and settles close by in a ball of bees. Swarms are a transitional state of worker bees and a few male bees called drones protecting the queen by creating a tight cluster around her to keep her safe and warm. They can stay there for a very short time or up to a few days. Meanwhile, scout bees are sent out to explore cavities from trees to buildings to re-establish a new hive. When a quorum is established through their fascinating dance language, the swarm departs and starts inhabiting the new cavity. Eventually the old queen is superseded and replaced with a new young queen. Back at the departed hive, queen cells have been left behind with the other half of the work force. The first queen to emerge there will dispose of the others and become the new queen. Ideally if all works well, you then will have two hives with new queens which encourages survival through division and the regeneration of youth.
Swarms are truly awe-inspiring, and can be scary to some people, but they are harmless unless they are disturbed! Swarming bees have just gorged themselves with honey from the mother hive and need to build a new home as quickly as possible, so they are not interested in stinging you because they will die if they sting you. They want to protect the queen and go to a new home.
If you see a swarm or know of a swarm, call a local beekeeper as soon as possible. Do not wait, because the bees are in their most vulnerable state and in a hurry to find a home and more than likely if we do not find a home for them, they will not survive, or worse, they will find a place in your home and it will cost you lots of money to get them out. More than 80 percent of swarms are not successful because people destroy them out of fear, or the swarm cannot find a good home in time. Please remember, bees are not pests. Honeybees are not yellow-jackets, wasps, hornets, mosquitoes, fire ants, rats, mice or termites. Don't exterminate them. Keep your eyes peeled for swarms!
You can go to the Sonoma County Beekeepers website: Sonomabees.org and go to the swarm list to find beekeepers in your area who will help you. If you have trouble or questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 707-483-0426.
There are so many misconceptions about the honeybee and their confusion with yellow jackets that the Sonoma County Beekeepers Association has formed a new Education Committee. We have a large group of beekeepers, all of whom are trained to make presentations to schools and adult organizations - yes, even pre-schools. It is so important that we educate our community about the importance of the honeybee. If you would like to schedule this presentation for your class, contact our education coordinator Jen Espinoza at Education@sonomabees.org.
Remember we want our kids to “Bee-Literate.”