Before you begin…
What is a swarm?
Swarming is the natural way in which honey bees propagate. Swarms typically happen in May and June, but can occur later in the summer under certain conditions. In preparation to swarm, the hive will raise a new queen – or maybe several new queens. About the time the new queen emerges, the hive becomes increasingly active. The old queen stops laying eggs so that she will slim down, lose weight and be able to fly. Immediately before the swarm emerges, the workers engorge themselves with honey, as this food will be needed to start building come in the new nest. Then the old queen emerges with about half of the worker bees. This is the swarm.
The queen typically lands nearby; the workers follow and will surround and completely cover the queen. Swarms vary in size from on the small side (about the size of a softball or smaller) to quite large (about the size of a basketball, or even larger). While the swarm is at rest, scouts bees are out looking for a suitable nest site. These scouts return to the swarm and communicate their findings. Other scouts will visit promising looking nest sites (typically a cavity in a tree, but also may be inside walls, under eaves and around human built structures) and return to the swarm. When a consensus is reached, the swarm takes flight enmass and goes to the new nest site. This whole process usually takes a few hours, but can occur much quicker or take much longer.
At this point the new colony gets down to business. The workers build new comb and begin to forage. The queen begins to lay eggs and the life cycle of a honey bee hive starts anew.
Many people have never seen a swarm, but when they do it is a sight not soon forgotten. Although the bees look highly agitated, the swarm is actually quite docile. The swarm often times emits a loud buzzing sound which can be heard many yards away. A swarm looks like a cloud of bees (which it is) when in flight. A swarm at rest is an unmistakable mass of honey bees that might remind you of a large beard hanging from a branch or clinging to the side of some object.
I see honey bees hanging out on the side of a tree or the side of my house. Is this a swarm?
Perhaps not. If you see bees coming and going through a hole, then odds are the nest has already been established and what you are seeing is not a swarm. Under certain conditions (typically hot, humid weather) worker bees will gather outside of the cavity and just hang out. If you look closely, many of the bees may be oriented in the same direction and may exhibit a “washboarding” behavior; in unison, the bees will make ripples – sort of like a “wave” at a sports stadium.
Contrast this to a swarm, which is typically a large mass of bees which may be several inches (or more) deep. With a swarm, you will not see bees coming and going through a hole (as the nest has yet to be established).
OK. I think I have an established nest in my building. What do I do now?
If the colony is already establish in a building wall then removing them is entirely different than capturing a swarm. Trapping bees as they come and go usually will not work. To get to this hive usually involves a “cut out”, which is when the beekeeper has to open the wall to get at the hive. This can be a very involved process.
When searching the MBA Swarm Removal map, look for a beekeeper identified as doing “cut outs”. Contact this person, describe what you have and take it from there.
First, make sure you are dealing with honey bees; not all things the fly and buzz are honey bees. You could be looking at a nest of yellow jackets or hornets. Honey bees are cavity nesters and do not nest in the ground. If you see bees coming and going in the ground, then these are not honey bees. Also, you should compare what you are seeing (catching one and put it in the freezer to kill it) with photos of a honey bee. Click here for comparison photos.
If you have honey bees, then ask yourself the question if they are really bothering anyone. Honey bees are typically not aggressive and go about their business without bother. If you are a gardener, then you should welcome the bees as they are crucial for pollination of many vegetables, fruiting trees and flowers.
Many beekeepers will not tackle a cut out. However, some do. Most beekeepers who do cut outs will charge for their services, so be prepared. When searching the MBA Swarm Removal map, look for a beekeeper identified as doing “cut outs”. Contact this person, describe what you have and take it from there.
Will removing a swarm cost me?
Some beekeepers will remove a swarm for no charge, other will charge for this service. If the job involves a “cut out”, then expect to pay; the beekeeper will certainly earn their pay. Expect to pay for swarm removal, particularly if the beekeeper has to drive a distance to your location. As we all know, fuel is expensive and a beekeeper’s skill and time are worth something. On the MBA swarm removal map, beekeepers will generally describe their fees in the information bubble that pops up with you click on a location icon.
How does a beekeeper remove a swarm?
The specific technique will vary from beekeeper to beekeeper, but the generals steps are this. The beekeeper will show up with equipment; their bee suit, perhaps a smoker, a few boxes from a hive (usually with a couple of frames), a pruner and perhaps a ladder. If the swarm is located on a bush or a small tree, the beekeeper may prune away some branches and twigs to get unimpeded access to the swarm. The hive box is placed under the swarm and it is either knocked into the box or the branch is clipped and the swarm is taken to the box and shaken. The box is then covered. There will probably be a lot of bees flying around. However, if the queen is shaken into the hive box then the other bees will soon join her. Often times within a few minutes, there won’t be a bee to be seen.
Some beekeepers may use a “bee vacuum” to suck up a swarm. It sort of depends on the individual situation.
I think I have a hive in my wall. What are the consequences of ignoring them or using a spray?
Whenever you find a colony of honey bees, the first question to ask yourself if they are bothering you or your neighbors. If not then leaving them alone is certain a viable option. This is particularly true if the hive is located in an out building. Even if the hive is located in a wall of your house, as long as the hive remains alive they will maintain their environment and may not cause any issues. The trouble begins when a hive dies.
At that point, the wax moths move in, mice may go after the honey comb and the honey may begin to ferment. You might wake up one day and find thin honey dripping down a wall or through your ceiling. Something has to be done.
The same consequence may happen if you simply go after the hive with an insecticide. If you are successful then killing the bees removes their controlling influence and the opportunist move in as described above. And using and insecticide might not work, since the actual nest may be located some distance away from the entrance hole; too far to be reached by a spray.
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Other resources to check out