What is a swarm?
As a honey bee colony increases its population throughout the spring, it may become overcrowded. At this time, it is harder for the queen’s pheromone to be distributed throughout the colony. The lack of queen pheromone signals to the worker bees to begin raising a new queen. Once queen cells have been made, half the colony will leave in a “swarm” to begin the process of finding a new home. This leaves more space for the original colony to continue on with their new queen, and the half that leaves will take the old queen with them. Before a new home is found, the swarm will move to an exposed location, such as a tree branch. The honey bees will cling together and become very still. The swarm can remain here for a few hours, or up to a few days. They will not build their nest in this location as honey bees prefer an enclosed space such as a wooden box or hollow tree. Contrary to what most people think, a swarm is very docile. The honey bees have no home to protect, and are very calm. Meanwhile, scout bees from the swarm will begin searching for a new home. Much like foragers, scout bees fly in search of new homes, and return to tell the other bees what they have found through a waggle dance. Each scout bee will return with an option for a new home, and the workers will vote on the best one by dancing. The vote must be unanimous. Once all the workers are dancing for the same location, the swarm will leave together to their new home.
Think you have a swarm?
If the bees are resting together in a ball in one exposed location, you have a swarm. If they are in a location that is not in your way, leave them alone. They will leave to their new home shortly and are not defensive. If they are in a location that is inconvenient for you, contact your local beekeepers’ association. Often, there will be someone who can come and remove it for you for a fee.
Sometimes, honey bees will make their new homes inside the walls of a house or shed and pose an inconvenience for the homeowner. If you can see an opening where the bees are entering and exiting from, contact your local beekeepers’ association. A beekeeper can remove it for you for a fee.
What to do if you have other insects? There are many insects that are commonly confused with honey bees and their hives. See our section called “what is not a honey bee?” first to identify what you may have.
Bumble bees build their nests in the ground, and do not return to the same nest site the next year. If you can live with these little neighbours for the rest of the season, you can fill in their next entrance in late fall once the bumble bees have moved out. Bumble bees are generally docile and are important pollinators!
Carpenter bees look similar to bumble bees, but they make their nests in wood. This sometimes includes porches and decks. If carpenter bees are damaging your property, contact a pest control company.
Wasps and hornets
Wasp and hornet nests are generally large grey paper balls, that hang from a single point on tree branches or eavestroughs. Like bumble bees, wasps do not return to their nests the following year. If you can leave the nest until the end of the fall, you can take it down once the wasps have left for the year. Don’t forget that wasps play an important part in the ecosystem through pollination and pest control! Beekeepers do not remove wasp nests for the public. If you need the nest removed, contact a pest control company.