It’s the summer solstice. Today is the longest day of the year with 16 hours, 38 minutes and 19 seconds of daylight in London. It’s also the day when Queen bees hit their peak daily laying rate of over 2,000 eggs a day. So it’s a good time of year to consider the dark side of beekeeping: the swarm.
A swarm of bees can be a nuisance and a distraction from everyday human activity, yet swarming is simply the way that honeybee colonies reproduce. Bees swarm in the Spring and Summer, when the colony is strong enough to divide, which is when people tend to be out and about more. Given the pressure on bees’ numbers in the U.K., this is a good thing. Yet the first time you see a swarm of bees, it’s bound to be an unnerving experience.
SWARMING: WHAT TO EXPECT.
If you are close to the hive, the first thing which you will notice will be the bees streaming out of the hive, rotating up into the air and buzzing loudly. Essentially, a swarm is half a bee colony leaving home, taking the old queen bee in tow. After 20 minutes or so circling in the sky, they will assemble in a cluster on a branch, fencepost or the like and stay there anything from a few hours to a couple of days while they decide on their new home. They will then “make a bee-line” for that new location.
SWARMING: WHAT TO DO.
Bees in a swarm will not pay attention to you, unless you act to get the bees’ attention. So if you find yourself in the middle of a swarm of bees, walk slowly and purposefully away to where you are comfortable. Do not run or flail your arms, despite the loud noise and the sky-darkening effect of 20,000 airborne insects. Sudden, jerky motions will get you noticed and provoke the bees.
SWARMING : WHAT THE BEES ARE DOING.
Bees in a swarm are docile. They have filled up with honey, which is the energy they will need to make the wax to build their new home’s comb. Their sole mission is to seek out a new dwelling place with the other bees. They are in a mellow mood and are not interested in you. Which is why “bee-beards” make great theatre, but also clearly demonstrate the placid nature of a swarm.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU SEE A SWARM:
Before notifying anyone, please ensure that they are not other flying insects. Please copy and paste: http://www.bbka.org.uk/help/do_you_have_a_swarm.php. If a honeybee swarm is confirmed, click through the on-screen instructions and input your post-code. When you speak to a coordinator, give clear directions to the exact location of the swarm. The swarm will then be collected.
Above all, stay calm and encourage all of your colleagues to do the same. A swarm is just nature in the raw. Treat it responsibly, but enjoy it for what it is !
Swarm Advice Sheet