Help with Bee Swarms
Honeybees have evolved swarming as a method of increasing the number of colonies. If a hive gets too full of bees or the queen is old they will swarm.
In the Spring, usually in May and June, around the middle of the day the old queen bee in a colony will emerge outside together with thousands of worker bees, and in a whirling mass, fly off and land nearby on a branch or post or other resting place. They will hang there in a mass some large and some smaller in size than a rugby ball while scout bees go off and explore for possible new homes. The decision process may only take a few minutes, or may fail and the bees remain there, but usually before the end of the afternoon the bees take off again and head for their new home. This may be an empty beehive or a hole in a tree or often somebody’s roof. While they are hanging there in their first resting place on the tree branch or post, it is a relatively straightforward job to collect them and re-house them in a hive.
Once they have got into a roof they have stopped swarming, they soon set about organising their new home. Getting them out after that is not easy. Finding somebody to try the job isn’t easy either.
If you know of or have a swarm hanging somewhere in the garden then it probably didn’t come far and it probably came from a nearby colony owned by a beekeeper. The owner may well like them back and would be grateful to be informed if you can find out who it may be. Bearing in mind that they may not be there for long, and you would like them gone then you will need to contact somebody quickly. Somebody is not likely to want to come far to collect a swarm because, apart from the cost of travel, it could easily be a wasted journey. If the presence of a swarm alarms you, you should be aware that swarming bees have other things on their minds than stinging, their stomachs are full of honey so making it very difficult to bend to sting, so this makes them rarely aggressive. If you just wait they will probably go anyway.
What to do if you find a swarm of bees
All branches have contacts who will try to find somebody to collect a swarm. Find the branch that covers the area where you have found the swarm and call the branch Co-ordinator’s phone number. We are very busy during the swarming season and are not always able to answer calls immediately, so please call again later if you do not get through the first time.
Find your local swarm co-ordinator
More information on swarms, including the difference between honeybees, bumblebees and wasps, can be found on the BBKA website together with the contact details for local swarm collectors. Some branches also have local swarm coordinators and collectors:
Branches have no budget for operating this coordination service, and are unable to return answer phone messages. Please call again later if you do not get through to them the first time. Please note that many beekeepers also have day jobs and it is likely you will have to wait for a response. Please be patient and understand that we are a group of voluntary, local beekeepers – we are NOT a commercial operation providing a 24×7 swarm collection service.
The swarm coordinator will provide contact details of a local beekeeper in your area who may be able to collect the swarm – depending on where it’s located. We are only able to deal with honey bees (in accessible locations) NOT WASPS OR BUMBLEBEES. Our aim is to remove the live swarm, not to destroy it. Our beekeepers are all local enthusiasts and not pest control officers.
If you have insects coming out of a hole in the ground then they are definitely not honeybees. They may be wasps that could become a nuisance and you may wish to destroy them. Any insect powder squirted down the hole after dark will normally finish them off. If they are round and cuddly then they are probably bumblebees. These lovely little creatures are becoming rarer and should be preserved as they do a great deal of good as well as being a integral part of nature. Bumblebees are not aggressive and rarely sting, so you have to work hard to upset them. Both they and wasps do not swarm, and neither type of colony will last the winter as new queens are produced at the end of the summer, and the rest of the old colony dies. These queens find somewhere else to hide away for the winter before starting again elsewhere in the spring. If you can, just fence the area off so children and pets cannot disturb them.
Insects coming in and out of a roof are more likely to be wasps than honeybees. Unless somebody saw a swarm go in, then the chances are they are wasps. The only sure way is to get up close and have a good look, an option that is not always popular. If they are not causing any trouble then you can just leave them alone. Wasps will die out anyway, and honeybees will probably die out after a couple of years and in the meantime you get the benefit of a free pollination service. Beekeepers are not insured to collect swarms from roofs or other parts of the building.
To find out more about bumblebees look on the Bumblebee Conservation Trust website bumblebeeconservationtrust.org for descriptions and photos of all the many types.