One of the ways I try to save the bees is by collecting wild honeybee swarms. A swarm is the honeybee colonies’ way of reproducing. It is a new colony looking for a place to call home. When a honeybee colony makes enough honey that the hive starts to become overcrowded they will start to raise a new queen. Right before the new queen emerges from her queen cell the old queen and about half of the bees will fly away together in a large cloud of bees. They will find a tree branch or a protected overhang and cluster in a football shaped ball. An average swarm is about the size of a basketball and will contain around 10,000 bees. Once the swarm has found a safe place to rest in a group then individual bees will begin scouting for a place to make a new hive. Hollow trees are their most common choice, but any hollow cavity around 10 gallons in size will be appealing to them. This includes hollow walls in buildings and the soffits of houses.
A swarm is usually very gentle and not a danger. The bees have no food, no young and no home to protect so they rarely get defensive. Sometimes it takes up to three days for swarm to find their new home. And sometimes it only takes an hour or two. So if you see a swarm don’t wait to call a beekeeper, they may be gone by the time the beekeeper can get there.
I am particularly interested in swarms because there is a chance the bees came from a colony that has been surviving in the wild for years without the help of any beekeeper. Our bees have become so dependent on antibiotics and chemicals supplied by beekeepers to help them fight diseases and pest that it is now rare to find bees that can survive without this human intervention. I do not treat my bees with anything and a swarm is an opportunity to increase the number of honeybee colonies that can survive without chemicals and broaden the survivor bee gene pool. If the swarm builds up enough honey and survives the coming winter I can raise new queens the next year and these queens can help me and other beekeepers keep bees without treatments.
The photo below is helpful when trying to tell if what you have is really a swarm of honeybees. In the lower left is a honeybee.
Photo: Alex Surcica