Friday, June 1, 2012

Swarm Season!

It’s June… and you know what that means. School’s almost out for summer! I’ll bet you’re ready to just buzz on out of the classroom and start enjoying your time outside. And that’s just what the bees are ready to do, too! The period of time between mid-May and mid-June is typically referred to as swarm season, because honeybee colonies all across the country are splitting up and dividing in anticipation of summer’s abundance.

 Perhaps you’ve seen a swarm hanging from a branch or clustered on a fence post. You may have felt a little bit scared or uneasy, but don’t panic! The honeybees in that swarm are extremely gentle. They do not want to give up their life to sting you because they are protecting something very special. Deep inside the core of that living ball of bees is a queen bee. The workers surrounding her are protecting her while they send out scout bees to find a new home.

 But why do bees swarm anyway? During the winter, the queen stops laying eggs and the population of the hive decreases until spring. Once the queen begins to lay up to 3,000 eggs each day in the spring time, the hive becomes very crowded. When it is too full, worker bees start to produce queen cells (visit the January blog post for more information on queen cells). At just about the same time that the new queens are due to emerge from their cells, worker bees start to rush around inside of the hive, telling other workers that the time is right, and urging them outside of the hive. Eventually, the queen bee and up to half of her workers leave the hive and settle in a new home. The hive is no longer crowded, and it now has a brand new young queen bee, ready to start laying eggs.

 Many beekeepers keep busy during swarm season catching swarms. Because a swarm is a cluster of bees with a queen, it is very valuable. Due to the gentle nature of swarms, a beekeeper can easily shake the bees into a new hive and then add it to his bee yard. 

 If you see a swarm of bees in your area, don’t be afraid. Just call your local beekeeper as soon as possible. If you don't know a beekeeper, look online to see if you can find a local or state beekeeping club's contact information.  You can also try calling your county's extension office.  Watch the swarm rescue process from a safe distance- you’re sure to bee amazed at what you see!