The weather is nice and local honey bee hive populations are growing in large proportions. This makes swarming a very popular activity this time of year. If you see a large cloud of bees moving through the sky don’t be alarmed. This just means the hive has outgrown their home and a portion of them have decided to try to find a new home to inhabit. A cat has kittens, a dog has puppies, and bees have swarms.
A roar of buzzing can be heard as thousands of bees pour from their hive, form a cloud and fly in sync to an unknown destination. Swarming bees tend to find unusual temporarily homes such as tree trunks, branches, sides of buildings or bushes for a short period of time. This might be quite the surprise if you are not expecting your decorative shrub or lawn gnome to house bees.
With most spring days the swarms will settle within 50 yards of the beehive, on warmer days, however, they can travel as far as a quarter of a mile before settling and there is no telling which direction they came from! You’d be surprised if you knew how many feral beehives there are around!
The most common cause of swarming is the bees determining their home is no longer big enough and they begin to take the appropriate measures to begin swarming. Step one for them is to raise more queens; they can take any young larva and make it a queen just by changing what they feed it.
The worker bees will gorge themselves with honey before departing the hive to prepare for possibility of days with no food while also giving their new home a head start. With full bellies, this actually makes them far less willing or able to sting. The focus of the bees during swarming is survival; they form a tight cluster around the queen to keep her warm and safe.
Sometimes the old queen leaves with the swarm, taking willing workers with her as she departs in a cloud in search of a new home. This often happens in the spring if the queen is older, the weather has been rainy and the bees have not been able to get out and fly. This requires the attending bees to actually reduce or eliminate the queen’s food intake to ”lighten” her in order to allow her to be able to fly. Yes, this means the queen (once in laying mode) is too heavy to fly.
A little bit of cabin fever sets in and the first sight of a sunny day makes the bees ready to leave. The warmer the day, the higher the chances of swarming.
The best thing to do when you see a swarm is to do nothing to disturb them and let them settle. Once settled they will send out scouts to look for an appropriate new home. A dark, dry cavity with no drafts and a small entrance is preferred. The scouts return and report their results to the rest of the workers in the form of a dance; they then have a ”dance off” to determine who found the best home, and depart suddenly in the same cloud of chaos that they arrived in.
The swarm may linger for a day or two, but their goal is to move on and find a suitable new home. And that they will, because their lives depend on it.