This weekend I was called out to a friend's house where a swarm of honey bees hung from a maple tree. The homeowners were hopeful that someone could safely move the bees to another location...preferably further away from their house! I was so excited to collect the swarm that I almost forgot to take pictures.
Honey bee swarms are common this time of year. They often go unnoticed because swarms do not stick around for very long, usually one to three days at most. A honey bee swarm is a natural process of one hive splitting into two. As a honey bee colony grows within a hive, it becomes crowded. The bees instinctively begin to nurture a new queen while preparing for the current queen to leave.
A frame from a honey bee hive showing the different types of cells made - a new queen cell (elongated and extending over the end of the frame), drone cells (raised caps), and worker bee cells (will be capped level with the top of the cell).
Once she is ready, the existing queen leaves the hive in search of a new location for her colony. She takes hundreds to thousands of worker bees (all female) and some drones (all male) with her, and together, these form a swarm.
Worker bees that are good at foraging for food are called scout bees. Scout bees find a suitable place for the queen to rest until they go off and identify a more permanent location to call home. The queen is often led to a tree or shrub branch or another object not too far from the original hive. Worker bees follow, milling around her to keep her safe and warm.
A honey bee swarm with several thousand bees. We suspect this swarm came from a local beekeeper located just a few miles down the road. Once it was collected, the beekeeper relocated it to his bee yard.
Scout bees search for an ideal location to begin the new hive. The swarm will stay put until the scouts report back and signal that they have located a suitable new home. While the honey bees wait, the swarm can be collected and relocated. If the swarm is not collected and left alone, it will move on once the suitable nesting site has been identified. This can take one to several days.
During this time, homeowners should not fear. Honey bees in a swarm are generally docile. They do not have growing brood in a hive to protect and are simply keeping the queen comfortable. Have patience, and the swarm will move on within a few days. If you are concerned about a bee swarm, however, please contact your local extension office, a local beekeeper, or a beekeeping association. The extension office may have a list of local beekeepers that wish to collect bee swarms. In most cases, beekeepers will travel to collect the swarm at no cost to you.
Once the swarm reaches its new home – whether that be a hollowed-out tree or a beekeeper’s hive box, the colony will begin to grow as the queen lays new eggs.
If you have an interest in honey bees or other types of bees, you may wish to check out the Ohio State University’s Bee Lab website: u.osu.edu/beelab. It is full of information on bees of all types – including honey bees and native bees. There are many presentations posted as well for you to watch and learn about all things bees!