Throughout the month of May is prime swarm season for honey bees. If you are a bee keeper you might be very excited about this. Otherwise, the thought of a swarm of bees ascending in your yard can be quite intimidating. Have no fear, swarms of bees tend to be very docile as they are on a mission to find a new home.
Honey bees swarm because their hives have become over-crowded. When this starts to happen, the colony will raise a new queen. When the new queen is almost mature, the old queen will leave the hive and release pheromones that half or two-thirds of the hive (worker bees and a few drones) will follow. Initially they won’t be far from the hive. They could land on a tree, fence post, mailbox, a building, and even in/on vehicles. The worker bees will cluster around the queen to keep her safe and warm, others are scout bees. The scout bees fly out looking for a more permanent home, once they find one the entire swarm will fly to this location. Once inside their new home, they will secrete beeswax and start building comb for the queen to lay eggs and store honey.
A few things to keep in mind about bee swarms. Swarms tend to be docile, since they are not protecting brood or honey. However, if they are messed with by spraying them with water or insecticides they can become aggressive. Depending on how the weather and how quickly the scout bees find a new home a swarm can stay in the same location for 24 hours or will move quickly. If you have a swarm on your property call a beekeeper! Call your local Extension Office and they can direct a beekeeper your way.
For those beekeepers on the search for swarms to add to their bee yards, remember the earlier in the season you catch them the better! The saying goes “A swarm in May is worth a load of hay; a swarm in June is worth a silvery spoon; but a swarm in July is not worth a fly”
Submitted by Jessica Bessin, Agent for Horticulture, Mercer County Cooperative Extension Service