Have you ever seen honey bees swarm? It’s a pretty amazing phenomenon to watch. I was out in my yard yesterday when a large swarm of bees suddenly appeared over my head, and just like the cartoons, the swarm looked like a small tornado.
Swarming is a honey bee’s way of starting a new colony. When the old colony gets too crowded, the old queen leaves the nest along with half of the worker bees to find a new place to live. These honey bees decided to settle on my chain link fence, which is at present covered with the dormant vines of a Virginia Creeper.
While the experience was pretty frightening at first, I later learned honey bees that are swarming aren’t likely to sting since they are more focused on carrying their honey, protecting the queen and finding a new place to live. It isn’t until you act aggressive towards them (like throwing sticks or hosing them with water) that they become defensive and sting.
So, what do you do if a swarm of bees invades your yard?
Leave the yard
The first thing you do is to quietly move indoors and wait until the bees have settled down. The swarm is merely looking for a new place to hang out for a while until the “scouts” find a permanent location to set up their nest. The activity can be pretty frenzied for a while – I had to wait indoors for at least an hour before things calmed down enough for me to return outdoors.
Find the cluster swarm cluster
Once the bees settled down, I went outside to look for where they might have landed. Bees prefer hollowed out trees but will also cluster in cavities that measure between 4-9 gallons. According to University of Cal Davis, bees will cluster along soffits or eaves, in barbecue grills, along fences, shrubs, water meters, utility boxes, or under decks. It took me about 10 minutes to find that the honey bees had landed on the fence.
Call a bee keeper
Instead of grabbing the Raid, however, I called our local county extension office instead to see if they might know of a beekeeper who would want the swarm for himself. They referred me to a local beekeeping organization and within an hour, a beekeeper came to our house to collect the cluster swarm for his own hives at no charge to us. He said most local beekeepers prefer wild bees because they are more hardy and produce a better quality of honey then bees raised domestically.
I stayed outdoors to watch the beekeeper “sweep” the cluster swarm into a box and it’s didn’t take long for me to realize that this is not a DIY project. Beekeepers have special suits to protect them from insect stings and know how best to capture and transport bees to their new location. The beekeeper who collected the bees from our yard estimated that the swarm weighed about 10 pounds and contained over 10,000 bees. Wow!
These bees were lucky in that they swarmed in an area that could easily be reached by a beekeeper. If they had found their way into our house, the task would have been much more difficult and an exterminator would have had to be called instead. Either way, this is a job for the professionals and not something you should try yourself. Bee keepers can be found by calling the County Extension Services or by searching for “beekeepers” on the web.
University of California Davis Removing Honey Bee Swarms and Established Hives