Swarm!June 9, 2009
A friend called the other day – she had a swarm of bees in her yard and could I help her capture them? Now I have never actually seen a swarm before. I’ve seen pictures and youtube videos, I’ve read about them in bee books and online, but I’ve never actually seen one, let alone captured one. But everything I’d seen and read said that swarms are pretty docile. Bees usually swarm when their current hive is too small for all the bees – so they make a new queen and a goodly portion take off for a new hive with the old queen. They leave the hive and they gather together someplace, like a tree branch as scouts look for a new place to live.
Because the bees don’t have a hive they don’t have a hive to defend. Also they are full of honey, having gorged themselves before leaving the old hive. They don’t really want to fly or fight, they just want a new home.
My friend’s husband clipped the branch the swarm was settled on into a box I was holding underneath. I know the bees were docile because not all of the branch made it into the box and a goodly bunch fell on my head. I had the foresight to pull my hair into a ponytail because even a honey-mellowed bee is going to be upset if it’s stuck in my hair. Still, as the bees were getting their bearings and flying off from my head and neck I was thinking “if I get stung on the head and neck I’m probably going to have to go to the ER, and this will not convince them that bees are not dangerous.” But not a single sting.
If the queen is in the box the bees will want to be with her. How do we know if the queen is in the box? Well, see all the bees in this picture – they are flying too the box. Making a beeline to it, so to speak.
We cut a small hole in the box so the bees could come and go, but they found they could slip up under the lid just as easily.
It was pretty amazing. Hundreds of bees flying into this box in just a few minutes.
So, now that there is a box of bees what do you do? My friends actually wanted bees and hadn’t gotten around to it – so the bees came to them. They borrowed a hive from another area beekeeper who unceremoniously dumped the bees in. They were all clinging to each other and the top of the box where they had already started to make comb in just a couple of hours. The other beekeeper agreed with my estimate of about 3 lbs of bees – that would be about 10,000, give or take a few.
My take away lesson. I need some extra equipment so that if another swarm shows up in the area I’ll be ready to start another hive. Your take away lesson. Swarms are cool and generally not dangerous. If you see a swarm, call a local beekeepers association. The local fire or police department might also know who to call. There is a beekeeper close by who will happily capture the swarm and will get those bees to a good home.