One of the very best parts about being a beekeeper is swarm season. You may have seen in photos or out in your neighborhood, a swarm of bees hanging from a branch around this time of year. Swarming is a natural means of reproduction where a strong honeybee colony sends its established queen and about half of the bees out to find a new home. It is a natural means of propagation that replaces colonies lost over the previous winter, and stabilizes honeybee populations in an area.
While the swarm intimidates many, in actuality a swarm is almost always an example of bees at their most docile. Swarmed bees have no brood or honey to protect, and are in a state of waiting, while their scouts are out looking for a new permanent home to move to. They will usually hang there from between two hours to two days, while the new home is decided upon through a democratic process.
As a scout arrives back to the swarm, she will dance the location of a possible new home she has found, and the other scouts will fly to check it out. When enough scouts come back and dance the same location in agreement, the swarm will take their cue and move en masse to the new locale.
As a beekeeper, I get many calls from homeowners or businesses that want to ensure the bees don’t get destroyed, but also don’t want them hanging around their property for hours or days. That is when I will go out and catch the swarm by standing beneath or alongside it, and shaking it into a box. So long as I get the queen into the box, all of the bees will quickly move to her and I can close the box and take the swarm away, and then populate one of my hives or a fellow beekeeper’s hive.
Swarming is one of the most beautiful and wondrous things bees do. If you see a swarm, admire it; you might not see another