Its been a very chilly March here in DC, but this weekend temperatures are supposed to rise and spring is going to arrive in earnest. This forecast has beekeepers all over the city anxious and excited. Warm weather means bee season can begin. But it also means we are likely to see a few bee swarms around town. Do you know what to do if you see a swarm of bees?
Despite what you may remember from picture books like the Berenstain Bear’s Big Honey Hunt, swarms of bees generally will not follow you for miles in an angry cloud. They are really just interested in finding a quiet home somewhere where their queen will be content.
Googling around on the topic I found some good sources of info:
-Indiana Department of Natural Resources has this site which explains a bit about why bees swarm. http://www.in.gov/dnr/entomolo/5746.htm
-At this site from the University of Nebraska Lincoln, the facts of a bee swarm are nicely outlined in question and answer format: http://entomology.unl.edu/beekpg/beeswarm.shtml
-The Creative Discovery Museum of Chattanooga, Tennessee put together this nice site about swarming – I like it because it is easy to read to children who might have questions about the topic: http://www.cdmfun.org/page/family-area/kids-area/experiment-of-the-month
Its been a horrible year for bees all over the US – both backyard beekeepers and big industrial beekeeping companies are reporting horrible losses and huge numbers of bee die-offs. While scientists try to figure the causes of the deaths and the factors involved in the syndrome known as Colony Collapse Disorder, swarms sometimes represent a slight ray of hope for those who keep bees.
In a recent email on the topic, Toni Burnham, a well-known beekeeper in DC explained it this way:
“Honeybees are under extreme threat and those swarms represent the unique populations that have not only figured out how to survive pests, pesticides and climate change, but THRIVE. We beekeepers can grab those bees, give them safe homes somewhere else, and help ensure a healthier future where honeybees can continue to make our food supply and green spaces grow.”
If you see a hive in DC, Toni asks to you to email dcbees at dcbeekeepers dot org so that officials from a special team in the city can gather it in safely. If you see a hive in another location – either another city or an area outside the Metro DC area – you are advised to call a local beekeeper, your local department of natural resources, or in some cases, your city’s emergency number. Surprisingly, many cities now have assembled special bee-triage teams that are ready and willing to help gather the bees and escort them to a grand new hive.
What you DO NOT want to do is panic or feel threatened. As was pointed out in the articles above, the bees are not usually aggressive during swarming if they land in an area that is not close to human traffic. DO NOT spray them with water or try to use pesticides on a swarm – this is cruel and often does nothing but make the bees feel defensive. DO NOT call someone else to come spray them either — this is a waste of money and a sad way to lose a large number of important pollinators.
Instead, admire them from a distance while you wait for expert help to arrive. As others mentioned in the sites referenced above, you are witnessing one of spring’s greatest moments.
Special thanks to Colleen Briglia for the awesome close up photo of a daffodil.
UPDATE: If you live in the state of Maryland, check out this link which lists beekeepers who can come gather hives in each county: http://www.mdbeekeepers.org/swarm_list.html