What to do if you come across a swarm of bees
Why do bees swarm?
Swarming is the natural method of colony reproduction.
What causes a colony of bees to swarm?
Once the weather starts to warm up in late winter and early spring the queen bee will start laying anything up to 2000 eggs per day every day. 21 days after an egg is laid a new bee will hatch.
What happens in a strong colony is that they outgrow the space available whether that be a hollow tree, wall cavity in a house or a hive. Instead of the whole colony up and moving into a bigger home, they will raise themselves a new queen, and approximately half the bees and usually the old queen will leave the colony in one mass (called swarming) and settle in a tree, a letter box, on a fence or anywhere the queen decides to land. The bees will then cluster around the queen producing the classic football shaped swarm of bees.
Are swarms dangerous?
If left alone bees are actually quite docile when in swarm mode. There are two main reasons for this:
- They do not have a hive to protect and are more focused on finding a new one.
- Before they left the hive they will have gorge themselves with honey which makes it more difficult for them to sting.
What to do if you come across a swarm?
If there are large numbers of bees still flying around in the air, walk away from the general area as quickly as possible. There is the possibility of getting stung because of a bee getting stuck in your hair for instance. Within 30 min or so the queen would normally have landed and all the bees will have clustered around her.
If the bees have already settled in a clump and are hanging off a branch or a fence then simply leave them alone:
- Do not Hose them.
- Do not throw things at them.
- Do not try and smoke them or burn something nearby to make them move.
- Do not spray them with insecticide in an attempt to kill them.
- Just leave them alone and they will not worry you, however a good idea is to take a couple of photos with your phone from a safe distance as the swarm collector will appreciate these.
Bees flying in and out of a small opening in a wall etc are not a swarm, there is most likely a colony of bees in the wall and this is an entirely different situation.
Refer to the FAQ’s below. When you ring someone they will most likely ask the following questions:
- Where is the swarm located (fence, tree, etc)?
- Is the swarm accessible from the ground?
- Is the swarm on your property, a neighbour’s property or public land?
- Approximately how big is the swarm (use a tennis ball, football or 10 litre bucket as a guide) ?
- How long has it been there?
- Can you send them a photo or two of the swarm?
- Is anyone in your household or in the area allergic to bee stings?
This will give the swarm collector and idea of what gear to bring and whether they will need an assistant.
Go to the NSW Amateur Beekeepers “Swarm Problems“ page, enter the postcode of the swarm location and hit the search button to find a beekeeper in that area. Ring the beekeeper that is the closest to your location, if they do not answer then ring the next closest person and so on.
What happens next?
Providing the swarm is accessible the Beekeeper will visit, capture the complete swarm into a portable hive, and probably leave it there until dark to try to catch any bees returning to the swarm.
The beekeeper may ask a small fee for this service depending on the size of the swarm and its accessibility. This cost can be negotiated between you and the beekeeper, however it will be far less than the $200 or more a pest controller will charge. A pest controller would also more likely kill the complete swarm, which would be unfortunate as swarming is a natural survival instinct for the bees.
Thank you from the bees for taking the time to read this, they need all the help they can get.