Why do honey bees swarm and what should I do?
The swarm is the honey bee’s natural method of reproduction. When conditions are right typically the old queen and about half the bees in the hive will take off in a huge cloud of bees, a swarm. They will fly to a predetermined location, often the limb of a tree, and settle as a large cluster of bees. This is what you often may notice first, a clump of bees ranging in size from a softball to a basket ball and sometimes larger, on the branch of a tree, in a bush or clinging nearly to any other surface. Normally this is not a permanent home and they will move on within a few days. Bees preferred home is the hollow of a tree or a similar location such as eves of a house or between the joists in a wall.
If can’t wait for the bees to move along on their own, or they have moved inside a tree or into your house it is time to call a beekeeper or bee removal company. Exterminators will sometimes do the job, but make sure they are prepared to do the job properly and do more than just spray the bees with poison. More than one has left the homeowner with a 5 pound mass of rotting bees plus wax and honey dripping in your walls.
When calling the bee removal company or beekeeper be prepared to answer the following questions:
- Are you sure they are honey bees? Yellow jackets and wasps are often mistaken for honey bees. See this identification guide for more info.
- How big is the cluster and what does it look like? Honey bees cluster as one big mass of bees as shown to the right. If they are a small cluster around a knot in a tree or hole in a wall they are no longer a swarm but an established hive which is much more difficult and time consuming to remove. If the ‘ball’ has a gray color or papery look then it is a wasp nest.
- Where is the swarm located? How high is it? Height usually adds to the difficulty of removal and requires ladders or special equipment. Swarms on fixed locations such as fence posts and walls can’t be shook or cut off as they could if located on a small branch.
- How long have they been here? Swarms that have been there for more than a few days are probably an established hive. While many beekeepers will handle swarms, far fewer are prepared to handle established hives, especially those in trees, houses or other structures.
How much does removal cost?
The cost of swarm and hive removal varies significantly by your location, difficulty and time required to remove the bees, insurance, state requirements and other factors. A hobbyist may remove an easy to reach swarm for free, but most commercial beekeepers and companies cannot afford to work for free. Some states may require licenses and insurance to remove bees. Even if the bees are ‘free’, the time, expenses, liability and risk of getting diseased bees far exceeds what a beekeeper would pay for bees from a commercial bee producer. Ask the person or company you contact what the charge will be.