Help My Bees Are Swarming
Has it ever happened to you before?
It’s early Spring and you’re particular pleased at the growth of your bee colonies so far. They are bringing in plenty of nectar and pollen and are building in size at a steady pace.
You’ve walked out the back on a nice warm spring afternoon and you notice some extra noise coming from down near your bee hives. As you get closer there are bees filling the air. Next you see that your strongest hive has bees covering the front around its entrance. Yes, your bees are swarming.
What is swarming?
Swarming is the natural response by your bees to reproduce themselves at a colony level. Without this ability they would not survive to reproduce in their natural environment.
In essence the queen is fed a reduced diet in the lead up to swarming. This then enables her to take flight easier without as much weight on board. As stated above the hive will usually pick a nice warm Spring day to increase survivability for the swarm to occur. It usually happens late morning or early afternoon and can last anywhere from an hour to several days. There are of course exceptions to this where swarms have not settled for over a week. This is particularly remarkable and suggests that they must carry a large store of honey to get themselves through. Having said that I’m sure plenty don’t survive.
On the day of the swarm the bees will fill themselves with honey which is all that they can take with them from their hive. As a result, they can be quite sluggish and find it hard to fly long distances. Therefore, they often settle quite close to the original hive location (within 100 metres).
When the time is right approximately half of the colonies workers will leave the hive with the queen bee. This impressive visual display usually lasts a short time before they settle on a fence post, plant or the side of a building. They are waiting here whilst scout bees are out identifying workable locations for the new colony to call home.
MYTH – Bee swarms are dangerous. This is not true. There is no biological gain for them to sting you as this will in turn kill themselves. Their aim is to survive and be available to work in the new hive. They can’t do this if they are dead.
Why don’t I want my bees to swarm?
When you lose your bees due to swarming it will dramatically reduce the quantity of worker bees in your original hive. This may require intervention by the beekeeper as they are somewhat more vulnerable now than before the swarm event. You might need to supplement their food, reduce their entrance and hive space or possibly requeen.
Something else to consider is that the new queen inside this hive will most likely still need to mate and mature to be able to lay fertilised eggs. This could mean there is a few days to a couple of weeks delay in brood development.
The swarm itself has a reduced capability to be productive as they must focus their effort on hive building rather than colony development. The queen may also lay in incomplete cells which mature at a rate quicker than the bees can keep up with. This may cause a reduced success rate of the developing brood.
How do I get my bees back?
Simply follow them and put them in a box.
If you can monitor them and track their whereabouts you can easily wait for them to settle where you can scoop them up or encourage them into a nuc box, full hive or temporary corflute hive box. Any bees not in the box will eventually work out that the queen is in the box and find their way to her.
Here are a few options for how to get them in a box:
- If they settle on a branch you can shake them off into a box.
- If they are in a compost bin or similar you can place a hive box without a bottom board over the swarm and they will probably choose your box in preference. This is especially true if you place a few frames of drawn out comb to entice them in.
- If they are on a hard surface you can carefully brush or scrape them off into a box. I sometimes use a scoop.
Check out our YouTube channel for some swarm catching videos.
Please be careful catching swarms where you have to work at heights or climb trees. If you’re not confident in these conditions maybe you need to get some help.
There are many other matters to discuss with regard to swarming but we will save that for next time.
If you have any comments or tips please comment below.