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Bee Swarms

Now that it has warmed up, the nectar is flowing. And due to the relatively cool Spring we have had so far, it should be a great year for the flowers – and also for Honeybees!

Strong nectar flows mean bee colonies grow fast in the Spring. And fast growing bee colonies means swarms.

Swarms are a way for Honeybees to split up overcrowded nests. They need to take advantage of resources when they are available and they will make a bunch of new bees when the weather is warm and the nectar is flowing. Once the nest gets too crowded, the Honeybees prepare the colony for the big break up.

When a colony swarms, the old queen leaves the nest. She takes the older and younger workers with her, leaving many of their foraging and caretaker sisters behind. This old queen, with young and old workers, make up the swarm.

What YOU Can Do


Swarms aren’t very dangerous. You can watch them without having to worry much about getting stung. That’s right, that huge bundle of buzzing bees isn’t very dangerous.

So many people freak out when they see a Honeybee swarm. But it is very difficult to get stung by a bee in a swarm. You practically have to put your hand right in there and start grabbing at them for the Honeybees to get defensive (don’t do that!)

Before the swarming bees leave the old, overcrowded nest, they fill their crops (stomachs) full of honey and nectar, so they are not hungry. Hungry Honeybees out foraging for food can sometimes be a little defensive – think how you feel if lunch is a little late!

More importantly, a swarm of Honeybees doesn’t have a home to protect. Protecting their home is one of the major causes of Honeybee defensiveness.  If you could peel away the outer layers of bees upon bees, you would find the old queen buried in the middle of the big swarm. She is all they are protecting – and she is well protected!

Basically, the bees are hanging out while scout bees go out to find a new nest site. For a day or two, they will fly off and explore the surrounding areas for a suitable place to start a new home. Honeybees are cavity-dwellers. That means they live in holes. You may remember that fun, funny scene from (P.R. Mantis’ favorite) Winnie the Pooh when he gets stuck in the hole of the tree with the Honeybees in it.

That is actually a pretty good depiction of what a Honeybee nest looks like, though the Pooh bees are a little more ‘interactive’ than in the real world. They usually find a hollowed out place in an old stump or tree and build their nest there protected from predators (mostly) and the weather.

So, if you see a Honeybee swarm, here are a few tips for a great What YOU Can Do experience:

- Don’t panic!
- They are not particularly dangerous and won’t come and attack you.
- They won’t be there long - They are only hanging out until the scouts find a new nesting site
- Take lots of pictures! - Your friends may miss this incredible natural event and you will want to show them how cool it is
- Take some time to watch what is happening in the swarm. If you watch long enough, you will start to notice that it isn’t just chaotic bees all over each other. In particular, watch the bees who arrive at the swarm. These are likely to be scouts returning from one of their explorations. They need to tell the other bees what they have found and so you may get an amazing opportunity to observe the famous Honeybee Waggle Dance!  They run around in little figure eight shapes and wiggle their abdomens on the cross-overs. Researchers have done some very clever experiments that seem to show Honeybees communicate the distance and quality of potential nest site and nectar sources this way.

Here is a video (from YouTube) that shows the Waggle Dance

This video (from YouTube) shows the type of experiments researchers did to figure this stuff out – however, it wasn’t quite as straightforward as they make it sound here. It doesn’t give you a sense of how it was done, though!

- Try to see where they go
Since Honeybees are cavity-dwellers (they live in holes), they sometimes get in your roof eaves or wall voids. This can be a big problem. Honeybee nests in structures can get huge and have thousands of bees. While they aren’t likely to cause you or anyone real harm (as long as you don’t mess with the nest), they can cause significant damage to the building. Even if you kill them with a foam or fogger or something, the honey will leech out of the degrading honeycomb and can rot out the wood in the structure. Bad news. This is a good time to seek professional help. Be sure you find someone who has experience removing Honeybee nests.

What NOT To Do!

- Mess with them
- Throw things at them
- Touch them
- Spray them with bug spray
- Call someone to get rid of the swarm – if you absolutely must have them removed, don’t pay them – ask them for a small finder’s fee. Beekeepers (Apiculturists) love getting a new colony of wild Honeybees!


And have fun looking at the BUGS!

(see our Programs pages about how you can have us come and take you out to show you the BUGS! with BUGMANIA!, our outdoor walks!)

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