During springtime, a phenomenon of nature occurs in the bee’s world. These events are honeybee swarms and, unless you’re fully aware of what exactly is going on, they can be frightening, particularly if you suffer from apiphobia, the fear of bees.
Generally, however, a honeybee swarm is nothing to be afraid of. Moreover, it’s actually a fascinating spectacle. Let me provide you with all the information you need to know about a honeybee swarm.
Why Do Honeybees Swarm?
It’s quite common for people to assume that the honeybees are angry, scared, or in search of food when they begin to swarm. It can be intimidating, seeing a large group of bees buzzing and gathering as if something has disturbed their slumber.
A swarm of honeybees is not a sign of anger, aggression, fear, or hunger. Rather, it’s a good sign. It essentially means that the colony is now strong enough to split up and spread their roots to fly to other locations.
It all comes down to the head of the family, namely the queen. She’s the one who decides and initiates the swarm. There are, however, two different reasons why a honeybee queen decides to do this.
To Create Space
Swarming generally occurs during summer or spring, when flowers bloom and there are plenty of food sources nearby. This, in turn, gives reproduction a boost as the warmer weather and plentiful supplies cause the queen to lay more eggs.
More honeybees, of course, means less space inside the hive. Honeybees, in particular, don’t do well in confined spaces.
This is mainly because they need space to function. Honeybees require room to store pollen and nectar as well as to produce and store the honey. Overcrowding can cause worker bees to halt their work.
Once the population increases beyond capacity, the queen’s motivation to lay eggs decreases, and finally, the bee community can’t function. Swarming is the natural solution to avoid this issue.
To Create More Colonies
Honeybees are considered social insects, their colony is an organism in and of itself and its number one priority is survival. Bees are smart, and one way they choose to survive is to continue to reproduce. Their purpose is to create a new colony, and then another one, and so on.
During the early stages of a swarm, the queen produces a new queen that will take over the old hive. Once the new queen takes over and the old queen is established in a new location, she will begin to reproduce again.
Once the cycle repeats and the hives are well established, one or both queens initiate another swarm. This creates yet another colony—continuously expanding the family tree.
What Happens During a Swarm?
There are typically three stages of a swarm. Let’s look at them in further detail.
Stage One: Deciding to Swarm
This has to do with the points we explained above. Most of the time, it’s simply because the hive is exhausting the space available and it’s starting to feel a bit cramped. The queen and workers, witnessing new brood, nectar, and honey filling up their hive, decide it’s time to split.
Stage Two: Preparation
Once they’ve decided to swarm, it’s time to prepare. Before the old queen can leave, she must create a successor who can take care of the remaining colony.
Worker bees continuously create what is known as “queen cups.” The queen rarely lays her eggs in them, except, of course, when it’s time for a new queen to take over. By laying the eggs in the queen cups, it illustrates just how much planning is truly involved in the process.
There’s yet another issue the colony needs to solve before they can swarm. The queen, at the current time, is far too heavy to fly. She’s been feeding and laying eggs for some time now.
What the workers will do is quite amazing. They will simply reduce her meals until she stops laying eggs and is thus ready to leave. This will, in turn, cause a slight gap in the production and egg-to-adult schedule.
Stage Three: The Swarm
Now that the queen is ready to fly, she takes with her about 50 to 60 percent of the bees. They will fill their stomachs with honey to build up the energy for the mission at hand and then set out.
Swarming generally takes place over three phases. Let’s take a closer look.
This is probably the most dramatic phase. It’s simply because thousands of honey bees will fly out of the hive surrounding the queen. It’s like a mass migration for bees.
Once they fly out of the hive, they will find a temporary resting spot — this could be a tree or a hole. The queen and workers will sit here while scouts fly out to find the perfect location. This spot is generally not far away from the first hive, seeing that the queen is not the best flyer.
During the second phase, the scouts scan the surrounding area for suitable locations. The remaining group of workers closely guard the queen. They cluster all around her, sort of forming their own makeshift beehive made from, well, honeybees.
Finding a new home can take some time. The usual timeframe can be anything between a few hours to a couple of days. Once several options are on the table, the scout bees debate and vote for which one to choose.
They do this by performing an enthusiastic dance about the place and its location, enticing the others to vote. The others cast their vote by dancing simultaneously and the one with the most followers wins. Pretty amazing, isn’t it?
The last phase is where the whole swarm moves to the new location. The queen and worker bees quickly settle in and begin their new life.
Sometimes, the new queen of the old hive will initiate what’s called an “after swarm.” This means that soon after she becomes queen she decides to relocate to a new location as well. She’ll migrate, but with fewer followers than the original queen had.
Are Honeybee Swarms Dangerous?
A honeybee swarm looks massive. A swarm can consist of anywhere from 5,000 to 20,000 bees, so it’s no surprise that they cause some shivers down the spine.
What may surprise you is that they’re actually not dangerous. The bees in the swarm are homeless at the moment so they really don’t have anything to defend or get aggressive about. This means they likely won’t sting unless you really provoke them.
Additionally, before leaving, they all filled up on honey, and you can imagine how you feel after a large meal. Yes, they’re quite lazy now and would rather rest than fly after your soda. With that said, it’s best to leave them alone and keep out of their way if you spot them flying about.
What to Do if You’re Concerned About a Swarm
During a swarm, the workers and queen will settle down in an interim spot. Sometimes, unfortunately, this happens to be someone’s home or perhaps their car. Under these circumstances, you can do one of two things: either leave them be or call for help.
The honey bee swarm rarely stays longer than a day in these temporary places, so you could leave them. This is, however, not always ideal, especially if you have kids. In this case, it’s better to call a local beekeeper or someone who knows how to handle such a situation.
These can remove the honey bee swarm and place it in a safer location without causing any harm to the bees. What you shouldn’t do is spray them with water or insecticide, or call pest control. The honeybee is an important part of our environment, and we should work to preserve the species, not destroy it.
Honeybee swarms are natural phenomena and, in fact, essential solutions to certain issues the colony is facing. Sometimes they swarm to fix overcrowding and other times it’s to spread their roots. No matter the case, they’re not dangerous and you should leave them be, or call a professional for advice.