Spring Has Sprung – and so may the swarms
by Guest Author Lisa Boesen from the Audubon Center of The Rockies
It’s there. Hanging from the bench, fence, or tree like synchronized swimmers carefully balancing themselves, clinging gently to each other, protecting something precious. Thousands of bees. Swaying. Humming. Looking for a place to go.
Mid-April to late June is bee swarm season in Northern Colorado. But what is a swarm, what does it mean, and what should you do?
A swarm is nature’s way of propagating and continuing a species. The process signals growth – the splitting of a colony, the leaving from the original colony, and moving to a new space to create a new colony. It is a wonderful experience – as long the hive does not decide inside a roof soffit is a great choice for a home.
Managing a swarm is not 100% preventable. A local backyard beekeeper will be trying every trick of trade to prevent half the colony from leaving, but there is always a possibility a swarm will happen. Nature happens.
A beekeeper’s responsibility, along with feeding, measuring and managing mites, and harvesting honey, (if lucky), is also space management of the colony in the hive boxes. For a backdrop, in the Winter, the queen does not lay eggs. When it is cold, there is minimal growth in the hive and the bees. The primary Winter focus is staying warm, fed, and healthy (among others).
In Spring, when the weather begins to warm above 50 degrees, and the flow of nectar begins, the original queen will begin laying worker bee eggs. In addition, if the worker bees sense there is overcrowding, a new queen will be produced, the original queen will leave with approximately half of the original colony, and the new queen and half of the original colony will stay to rebuild the original colony. The original queen and worker bees will swarm in a group to a temporary location, such as a tree branch, bicycle, bench, or fence, until scout bees can find a permanent home.
Knowing when to call for help to remove a swarm is helpful. Not all bees collecting in one spot are a swarm. For example, when snow begins to melt, bees will leave hives and collect water to take back to the hive. Know the difference between bees and wasps/yellow jackets. Bees are furry. Yellow jackets and wasps are black and yellow. Finally, a swarm will hang on an object. If bees are already inside of a structure, for example, inside a wall or roof soffit, removal requires different level of expertise – not swarm removal.
What do you do if you see a swarm?
- First, don’t panic. This is a natural annual occurrence. Bees in a swarm do not have a hive to defend, so they are not likely to attack or bite in defense.
- Call your local Swarm Hotline. For Northern Colorado, it is 970-658-4949.
- Don’t disturb the swarm. Don’t spray or try to move it to another location. Do not call an exterminator.
- Take picture of the “bee ball” to send to the Swarm Hotline contact. Include the location and how long you think the swarm has been at the location.
- Take a moment to pause at nature’s wonder -because it is. You will be fascinated on how fast most swarm removals occur.
- With good technique, the swarm collector will take the swarm to a new home – many times to a farmer or perhaps to the collector’s own bee yard.
From a financial perspective, a swarm of bees that can be collected and protected is at least a $150 investment for a beekeeper. Annual bee hive loss is approximately 40% in the United States, so a swarm that can be collected, hived, and managed by an experienced beekeeper, can be an integral part of sustaining local agriculture, as well, surrounding home gardens.
So, take pause, appreciate that a healthy hive somewhere was able to split and propagate another generation. That’s a good thing.
Lisa Boesen is a Fort Collins-based, Colorado speaker, writer, beekeeper, and Habitat Hero Gardener. She enjoys sharing tips and tools for an extraordinary lifestyle at any age, including volunteering skills to local organizations. Nature, birds, and habitats have a natural affinity to pollination, and she loves supporting the Audubon Rockies and its mission by sharing the Habitat Hero Garden program to the general public!
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