It's Swarm Season, But Don't Be Alarmed
Before I got into beekeeping, I didn't know that there was a swarm season, let along what a swarm was. Bees flying all around chaotically sounds downright terrifying, but it isn't, and I'll tell you why.
What Is A Swarm?
In short, a swarm is a product of how a colony of bees reproduce. Not individuals reproducing, but one entire colony becoming two. Think about that. An entire group finds a benefit in splitting and then colonizing a new area. You might say that humans have done the same thing during mass migrations throughout history.
When a colony swarms, they split into two groups. One leaves the hive with the queen in search for a new home. The other group stays behind and raises a new queen. Bees in the wild do this regularly. It's a natural process, not a sign of the apocalypse.
Swarming Is Actually Healthy For Bees
Colonies that survive the winter and disease build up quickly in the spring to swarm. If they are strong enough to do this, they likely have good genetics and a swarm is a good way to spread those genetics around. This ends up being a great benefit to the entire local population of honey bees.
Another benefit of swarming pertains to the parasitic mite called Varroa Destructor. This mite reproduces in capped cells of pupating bees, feeding on them and transmitting viruses. When the colony goes into swarm mode, it starts about 2 weeks before the bees leave the hive. They begin to put the queen on a diet to thin her out enough that she can fly under her own power (typically she's too large to fly). As she leans out, her egg production falls and eventually stops. From this point until the new queen is raised and mated, there is a break in the brood production. No brood, no opportunity for the mite to reproduce, which keeps their numbers down and indirectly keeps virus levels down.
Why Are Swarms So Terrifying?
This is an easy one. From a young age, we are taught about stinging insects. 'STAY AWAY!' Sometimes we are even stung by something at a young age and have a negative association with anything that can sting. Multiply this times thousands of these insects flying at one time and the fear is REAL.
I'm here to tell you that honey bees are not out to get you. In fact, a swarm is one of the times that the bees are extremely docile. They have no home. There's nothing to protect. No babies, no food. They are just looking for a home and do not want to start trouble.
If you come across a flying swarm, take a moment and stop so you can watch the amazing organized chaos that is a honey bee swarm.
What Do You Do If You Find A Swarm?
This is where you'll be ahead of others. Now that you know that the bees are not out to get you, you can calmly pick up your phone and call a beekeeper. If you're reading this then you know a beekeeper already. :)
I love to go collect swarms. Send us a message and we'll be on our way to collect the bees and relocate them. Most times we can come out and collect them for free. Save the bees and get in touch.
How Do Urban Beekeepers Deal With Swarms?
This is where a beekeeper has to hone their skills. In an urban setting, we do our best to manipulate the hive to avoid natural swarming, mainly to avoid panicking the general public. On the face of it, this goes against what I mentioned earlier about swarming being healthy. Well, a good beekeeper is able to monitor their hives and split them at the right time. Splitting them is essentially creating an artificial swarm and replicating the natural process. We can also cage the queen or provide the new split colony with no brood to give them that brood break. We can also pull splits from hives that display good genetics and cull out hives that display bad traits.
Now you know what a swarm is and why it's going to be ok. If you see a swarm this year, 'bee' cool and contact your favorite beekeeper.