We’ve had quite a few calls lately from panicked clients who have come across a swarm of bees. While this can be unsettling, especially for those with allergies to stinging insects, this is actually a common and very natural occurrence, and there is typically very little threat from the bees at this time.
These swarms consist of honey bees, and this is actually one of the ways that honey bees reproduce! While most reproduction comes from the queen bee laying new eggs, honey bees can also reproduce, in a way, by splitting the colony. Typically, this occurs when the population of the original colony has grown too large, or there is too little food to support the existing population. The half of the colony that is splitting from the original is what makes up the swarm.
When the swarm first forms, the bees gather in a tight cluster. Usually, these clusters remain close to the original hive at the beginning. They can be on branches, shrubs, or really any object that the bees can land on, and it is centered around the queen bee. The queen bee is the backbone of the bee colony, the only one who can produce new worker bees, and therefore her survival is essential to the formation of a new colony. A few of the bees from this new colony will leave the cluster to search for a new location in which the colony can take up residence.
Until the scouts return with a suitable new location, the bees will remain in that area in their tight cluster. The amount of time the swarm spends in this cluster can range from mere hours to a few days, depending on the weather and how long it takes for the scouts to find a new home. If the weather is poor, it will take the scouts longer to find a new location and to return to the hive, whereas if the weather is sunny and warm, the bees may able to locate a new home quickly. Once the scouts return successfully, the swarm will move on to its new home.
Bee swarms typically occur in late spring and early summer, when the colony has been able to reestablish itself after the cold of winter. While the bees are in their swarm, they are often unconcerned with the goings-on around them, and as such are typically not aggressive toward humans. However, they will defend themselves if they feel threatened. The best thing to do when encountering a bee swarm is to leave them be…no pun intended. They will likely move on from that area soon. If necessary, though, most beekeepers can remove bee swarms easily and help to relocate these pollinators to a safe new home.