Alabama Beekeepers Association

Honey bee swarms

Click here for a list of Alabama beekeepers that will remove hanging swarms from your property.    Click here for a list of information the beekeeper will need from you. Click here for a list of Alabama beekeepers that will remove bees from inside the walls of a house or other structure.

 

A honeybee swarm is a mass of bees in a cluster usually hanging from a tree limb.    Swarms are not generally a threat and are reluctant to sting HOWEVER honeybees can and will sting if provoked.  

 

Nature has programmed the honey bee to swarm as a method of propagating the species.   This can occur during most any summer month but is primarily limited to the months of March, April and May in Alabama.    The further south you go in the state the sooner swarming occurs.

 

When a swarm occurs, approximately 60% of the bees in the colony will leave their hive in a swirling mass and settle in a large cluster on some nearby object such as (but not limited to) a tree limb.   They will stay clustered for from a few minutes to several days depending on weather and other things.   When they break the swarm cluster, they will leave in a swirling mass just as they came and move to a permanent home.

 

If they are going to leave, why bother them?

Where they go when they leave should be the homeowner’s main concern.    Honeybees will take up housekeeping in any cavity that is large enough for their colony.    If there are openings in the exterior of a house or other structure, they might well move in!    The space afforded by wall studs, floor joist and attic spaces are ideal for a colony to locate.

 

To prevent this happening, the homeowner is welcomed to contact an Alabama beekeeper from this list and a beekeeper will come and remove the hanging swarm usually at no charge to the homeowner.  Some beekeepers do however charge for hanging swarm removal.    Whether or not there is a charge and how much should always be clearly understood before committing to remove a swarm or have one removed.    If a beekeeper charges, and there are other beekeeper listed for your area, check more than one beekeeper as others may not charge.     Neither the Alabama Beekeepers Association nor this Webpage is responsible for any conflict between any beekeeper and the homeowner.

 

As soon as you spot a swarm in your area, look all around your home and other structures for 200 or so bees congregating in any one location on any surface of the structure.    This is a sign that the bees are seriously considering that location for a new home.    If you see this, look for an opening in the structure.    If one exist, that is most likely where they are considering as an entry point into the structure.    Blocking the bee’s entry will prevent the bees from entering BUT that does subject the homeowner to possible stings.    The best course of action is to contact a beekeeper quickly.

 

INFORMATION THE BEEKEEPER NEEDS

The homeowner should be prepared to furnish the following information before calling the beekeeper:

  1. How big is the cluster?   Compare the size to a commonly known object preferably a softball, a football, a basketball or similar items.
  2. Where is the swarm located:
    1. How high off the ground.
    2. Is it accessible (Is it where a beekeeper can get to it)?
    3. Is it on the caller's property?
    4. Is it on a tree limb or other and specify.
  3. Has it been sprayed with insecticide?
  4. Do you have any dogs or other dangers in the area where the swarm is located?
  5. Will anyone be home when the beekeeper gets there?
  6. A phone number where you can be reached.
  7. Ask for the beekeeper's cell phone number and call him if the swarm leaves before he arrives.

 

(Item 7 expanded) The beekeeper should give you his cell phone number so that you can keep an eye on the cluster and let the beekeeper know if the swarm leaves before the beekeeper arrives.   This can save him an expensive trip to your place should they leave.     Once they leave, there is nothing he can do when he arrives.

 

It is pretty common practice for the beekeeper to leave the hived swarm on your property until after dark the day it is collected.   Most if not all of the bees will go inside the hive at dark and the beekeeper will take all of them away after dark.    If the hived swarm is removed as soon as it is hived, there will likely be several hundred bees lost and will hang around the area for a day or so looking for the swarm.    If this happens, the lost bees will return to the hive they originally came from within a few days unless the queen (or a queen) was left behind.   If that happens the remaining bees will cluster again somewhere with the “left behind” queen.    These clusters are generally small.

 

On occasion, the beekeeper will just shake the clustered bees from the limb or wherever they are located into a bucket of box and haul them away.    Click here for a short YouTube video on how this can be done.

 

Why do honey bees swarm?

As stated above swarming is nature’s way of prorogating the honey bee species.   Honeybees start raising young bees in late winter in anticipation of the spring blooms.    A queen bee can lay up to 2,000 eggs a day during peak brood production, which is several times her body weight.   This can cause the colony to get crowded and that can trigger a swarm.    There are other technical reasons for swarms also.  

 

When the bees decide to issue a swarm, they start swarm prep by reducing the queen’s diet so that she will stop laying so prolifically and will slim down to a flying weight.    The worker bees start several new queen cells.    Before the new queens start emerging from their cells, roughly 60% of the bees in the colony will leave with the old queen and that is a swarm.

 

After the swarm has left the hive, the new queens start emerging from their cells.   The first one to emerge will normally kill the remaining queens and she will become the matriarch of the colony.

 

Since the swarm is looking for a new home, the beekeepers beehive is a luxury apartment to the swarm and they will set up housekeeping quiet quickly and start preparing for the soon to come winter.

 

CAUTION

Probably the most docile time in a honeybee’s life is when they are swarming.   However, they can and will sting if provoked, swatted or mashed so do not bother a hanging swarm.   

 

Occasionally a swarm will stay where they originally settle and make that their new home.   When this happens it is no longer a swarm but is now a colony.  Colonies will defend their nest.   When you see a hanging mass of honeybees, look for signs of honeycomb.   If you see any comb, that is most likely a colony and they can be very aggressive if agitated.    Treat any established colony of bees with respect and leave it alone.     For that matter leave all honey alone.

 

What happens if the bees succeed in moving in to a building?

Once the bees move into a structure and take up residence, the average beekeeper will not remove them mainly due to the time commitment and liability problems.    Some beekeepers do specialize in removing bees from structures (click here for a list of Alabama beekeepers that will remove established colonies).     There is generally always a charge for this service.

 

REMOVAL OPTIONS

There are two common ways to remove a live colony from a structure.

  1. Tear the wall out and remove them physically.   This approach is quickest and most difficult but there are beekeepers that specialize in this type of colony removal.    There is almost always a charge for this service.
  2. Set up a “trap out”.    This approach is slow but does no damage to the structure.   Honeybees upon leaving the hive for the first time will orient them selves to the hive entrance.   Once oriented, they will return to that exact spot the rest of their lives (unless moved a mile or more).   This fact allows a beekeeper to place a screen wire funnel over their entrance point, little end away from the entrance and place a new hive with a frame of young bees and brood as close to the original (now blocked) entrance as possible.   The bees will exit through the funnel a few feet from the hive entrance but when they return they will go back to the original opening.   When they can not get back in, they will join the new colony because it has brood.    The bees will slowly vacate the original colony and join the new hive.    This will take approximately 42 days (2 brood cycles).    Once all of the bees have moved into the new hive, the screen is removed and the new colony (and other local bees) will go back in and remove any honey left behind (this is called “robbing”).

There is almost always a charge for trap out service.

Honeybees have a new pest in Alabama called “Small Hive Beetle”.    This is a bad news pest and because of it, trap outs are very difficult to do after early mid summer and it is unadvisable that it be attempted after the first of July in north Alabama.   

Why not just poison the bees in the wall?

If you poison them you will have a wall full of dead bees and brood and possibly a lot of honey and pollen left behind.    If you do not “stop up” the hive opening, another colony is likely to move in.    Dead bees and brood have a very offensive odor as they decay.    Pollen and honey attract ants, roaches, rodents and other undesirable pests.

 

The bees in a live functioning colony keep the colony temperature regulated at around 94°F.    Once the bees are gone, so is the temperature control and as the weather gets hotter, the comb usually gets softer to the point that it will no longer support the weight of the honey stored within.    When this happens, the honey can drip through the ceiling or wall into the structure until all of the supply of stored honey is depleted.

 

Why not just leave them alone and let them stay in the structure?

This is not at all a bad option.    If the ingress egress point is above “head high” to pedestrian, the bee’s flight is likely to remain above pedestrians and not likely to cause a problem.    Bees fly in a “bee line” from hive to nectar source.   That means they will go pretty much straight from the hive entrance to the nectar source.   The best nectar sources are trees, not plants so the bees may never encounter people until you need your house painted.    A painter with a simple bee veil, gloves and long sleeve shirt can paint right up to the hive entrance and is likely to never have a problem.

 

Neither the Alabama Beekeepers Association nor this Webpage is responsible for stings or any conflict between any beekeeper and homeowner.

 

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Created 4/15/11 brf