Have you ever seen the wondrous sight of bees, tightly grouped around each other in a giant pile wrapped around a tree branch or other mechanism that exists outside of the hive? Do not fret and do not call an exterminator! These insects are able to sting, but will only do so when disturbed. The swarm you see might look scary, but these bees are not interested in you or stinging you. In fact, they are far more busy trying to find a new home. That’s right- you just stumbled upon a colony of bees in the middle of a move!
In order to find a new place, they have to get out of the old one, right? So, the bees will temporarily relocate to a tree branch, light pole, bush, abandoned building, and sometimes underneath your porch while they work to find new digs. But what circumstances causes bees to want to move?
Bees will group in these swarms outside the hive for a couple of reasons. The first is that the population of bees has overgrown the size of the hive. As the hive becomes more and more crowded, the queen’s hormone signals get weaker and weaker. As a result, her pheromones can no longer control the entire work force so the workers signal it’s time for the bees to swarm. In preparation for leaving the hive, the worker bees will deprive the queen of food so that she can slim down and be able to fly. The workers will start to build new queen cells to allow the queen to lay eggs for a new queen who can lead the new swarm. The workers will also agitate the queen, making her run around in order to prevent her from laying more eggs. Once the queen bee has laid new queen eggs, the queen will exit the hive followed by half of her colony.
As we know, honey bees need a queen to survive because her hormones are dictating a large portion of the bees actions. The new colony will return to the old hive and await the new queen to hatch. When a queen hatches, typically after 16 days, she will sting the other unhatched queen bee eggs in order to assume her role. She will soon then take flight to find drones to mate with and begin rebuilding their hive population.
The second reason the bees leave their hive is if there is an external issues that make survival difficult such as lack of resources (food and water), dangers to the hive (human disturbances and predators), parasite or disease, or weather changes. In these cases, the entire swarm will leave the unsuitable habitat in search for another one. In both cases, the swarm will only stay for a few hours. During that time, the colony send scouts to go out and find an acceptable new home.
If you see a swarm, it’s best to keep your distance. Swarms are common, natural occurrences and you are safe as long as you do not disturb the colony. The bees will be less defensive than if they were protecting an actual hive with food and eggs, but it’s best to be safe. Do not attempt to spray or eliminate the hive. You will most likely just end up aggravating the bees and putting yourself in danger. Bees are so important to the local ecosystem and in recent years, bee populations have been on the decline so marvel at the sight before your eyes and try to keep the bees reasonably safe from harm (pets, children, neighbors) if you can.
If a swarm of honeybees ever inhabits a spot in your yard, remember they won’t stay long. Rarely will they stay longer than a few hours, let alone a few days. If you spot a swarm, feel free to give us a call for advice, tips, tricks, and even help relocating them.