What would you do if a huge buzzing cloud of bees landed in your back garden? May and June are known as the swarming months and if you encounter a swarm, don’t be alarmed. In late spring and early summer, honeybees take it upon themselves to test the patience of beekeepers and the resolve of the ordinary person with their tendency to swarm.
A swarm is a clump of honeybees that you might find gathered on a car or fence, hanging off a towel on the washing line, or dangling from the branch of a tree. The clump will contain one Queen bee and thousands of workers and what they’re doing by clumping together is protecting the Queen while they wait for their scouts to return with news of a new place to live. It could be a hollow tree but more likely than not it could be your chimney.
Swarming is a completely natural process and is the main way in which a colony of bees reproduces itself. It happens when a colony grows too large or if the bees have outgrown their current living space. When this happens, all the flying bees will fill up with honey and will leave with the Queen bee to find a new home. They’ll leave a baby Queen and all the younger workers to continue living in the old hive.
Most beekeepers will keep an eye on their hives and will split a colony if it looks like it’s going to swarm. It can happen pretty quickly though and sometimes the bees will fly the coop before their beekeeper has a chance to intervene. In this case you’ll first see a massive cloud of bees buzzing around the hive and then they’ll gather together into a living ball, clinging onto each other for support.
At this stage they’re really just interested in finding a new home and not at all trying to start a fight. Stay calm, close your windows and doors, keep children and animals away from the bees, and try to confirm that they are indeed honeybees by looking online. If you think they are, then get in touch with your local beekeeping association and they’ll be sure to come out to give you a hand. Remember that honeybees are facing a lot of challenges at the moment so if they can be re-homed into a new hive, you’ll be doing your part in helping them out.
If you’re the Isle of Man, visit the IoM Beekeepers’website to arrange for a swarm to be collected. For other places, contact your own local beekeeping association.