Recognizing a swarm

By Whitney Bowes:

It begins like any other day.  Maybe you are outside getting the mail, walking your dog or simply climbing into your car to begin your day.  But then you hear it, a strange, wild buzzing sound.  Instinctively, you search for the source and then you see it.  Out of the corner of your eye, you spy a quivering mound of flying insects hanging precariously from a tree limb, a gutter or windowsill.  Worse, it’s a swarm of bees.  As the panic wells inside you, you take in the gravity of the situation.  Your neighborhood has just been taken over by killer bees and it is only a matter of time before they begin to sting.

But not really.  That swarm you see up in the trees is really a good thing.

While successful (and surviving) hives depend upon large numbers of bees performing various duties to keep the collective going, a hive can only grow so large before it begins experiencing growing pains.  More bees require more space and a hive cannot afford to sacrifice space for honey stores or distance from their queen in order to accommodate more than a hundred thousand bees or so.  But the life of every bee is important so instead of wasting their numbers and risk the future of the species, bees will raise a new queen, split their numbers and venture off to uncharted territory-like your back yard, across the street or even several miles.

The process by which they do this is truly remarkable.  Once preparations to swarm begin, everyone in the hive does their part.  Some of the bees continue to raise the succeeding queen while others get the old queen road-trip ready by putting her on a diet.  Once she is small enough to fly again, the old queen takes half of the hive’s workforce and sets off for a new location.  The mound of bees you see hanging out in trees and other normally high places is simply that group taking a pit stop to rest before continuing on their way.  So the strange and seemingly mound of bees is really a good thing.  It means that their numbers are healthy enough to begin spreading to new areas-hopefully to regain their numbers and begin the entire process again next spring.

And all the buzzing and activity?  No worries.  Bees are very protective of their home and their queen but being occupied with relocation and all the charms that go with it, they will be in no mood to sting or be bothered by you in the least.  So long as you mind your manners, they will not pay you a second thought. 

So the next time you see a mound of swarming bees, keep calm and smile.  It’s just a new family moving into the neighborhood.

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