Why do bees swarm?
For those who are allergic to bees, one bee on its own can be a terrifying situation. But to just about anyone, a giant swarm of bees is their worst nightmare.
You might have witnessed a bee swarm in person, or seen stories about bees swarming on cars or sheds. There was even a case of a swarm of bees over an entire construction site. But why exactly do honey bees swarm?
Believe it or not, it’s not an unusual phenomenon, and it serves multiple purposes for the bees. Let’s look at a couple of reasons why bees swarm, and what to do about it if you encounter a swarm yourself.
The main reason that bees swarm is in order to reproduce.
While this typically happens in the spring to early summer months, if a hive becomes overpopulated, a portion will leave as a swarm. They will make a new queen and journey forth from their hive to find new territory…
Think of your own household as your kids get older and bigger. Eventually, the time comes when they need to leave and find their own space to grow into, sometimes with a gentle nudge from their own queen!
When the bees leave their hive behind, they will find a place to settle temporarily with their old queen, and will “swarm” all around her to make sure she stays safe. In the meantime, a number of scout bees will leave and look for a suitable location for their new hive.
The scout bees will hunt for a new area until nightfall, leaving their bee family behind. Back at the old hive, about 40% of the original colony will remain with the “future” queens and wait for them to emerge from their cups (think of incubation pods).
Bee Swarm Facts
Bees swarm when a colony gets too big for their space, but they also do this in order to reproduce and keep the bee population going. For this reason, it’s vital that they are treated not like a threat, but rather as an important part of our environment.
If you come across a swarm of bees on a wall, mailbox, or tree branch, this is probably what you’re witnessing. And while the initial sighting can be scary, rest assured, because bees are typically more friendly when they are swarming like this.
The reason swarming bees are less aggressive, and reasonably docile, is because the worker bees have bellies full of honey, making it hard for them to curl and sting. Plus, stinging requires energy that they just don’t have in times like this!
Why Do Bees Swarm Cars?
If you come across a bee swarm on a car, it could be because the swarm has settled there with their queen to await their scouting bees’ return.
In some cases, a queen be can become trapped in a part of the car when flying around looking for a waiting area, and the colony will swarm around her location. If this is the case, the car owner will have an unpleasant surprise when they get to their vehicle!
If they are swarming and the queen is trapped, the bees may be more aggressive and get defensive when people or animals get near. Since it is hard to tell, the best thing to do in this case is to keep your distance and get hold of a professional bee swarm catcher.
See how to remove a bee swarm from a car in the following video. I’m sure you’ll agree – it’s not a job for someone with no experience!
What Should You Do With A Swarm?
If you come across a swarm of bees, it probably goes without saying: the first thing you should do is avoid getting closer than you have to! If the bee swarm is up a tree, don’t grab your favorite pole saw from the garage and start cutting down your tree branches (would anyone be that bold?).
If you are allergic to bees or don’t know whether you are allergic, you want to put as much distance between yourself and the bees as possible. You may have an urge to take a picture or video to show your friends and family, but I would advise against this until an expert is on the scene.
You can find the contact details for a bee swarm catcher in the national beekeepers’ directory. This directory is state-by-state for the US, but if you are elsewhere, there is likely to be something similar in your country as well. Just Google for a bee swarm catcher.
Getting an expert swarm handler is the best option for you, the bees, and the environment! A professional bee-handler will know exactly how to extract the bees in a gentle manner and transfer them to a hive where they will be safe.
Here is what they are taught to do in the following video.
Bee Swarm Catchers
Beekeepers will usually jump at opportunities like this because they are essentially chances at scoring “free-bees” for their hives. Most of the time they don’t charge for their removal services, and you can rest assured knowing that the bees will end up in a safe place.
If you can’t get hold of a professional beekeeper or bee-handler, the next people to call would be fire/rescue services. Avoid calling the emergency number, and go with the non-emergency line. Look up the number for your local fire department, and give them a call.
They get calls about bee swarms often (especially in the summer months), and will likely know a beekeeper or two that they can call to show up at the scene. Alternatively, find a good bee suit (the Ultra Breeze Bee Suit, for example) and do what you gotta do!