Perhaps you’ve seen an cloud of bees moving through the neighborhood recently. It’s that time of year when honeybees “swarm”: a hive splits in two and half leave to find a new home. While it can be an intimidating site, tens of thousands of bees darkening the sky, the bees are at their most docile at this point, and there are many beekeepers that would be more than happy to come collect them if you can find them.
Kevin, a beekeeper in lower Wallingford, writes:
It’s springtime and once again the natural world gets out of winter mode and life renews itself. Spring and summer are also the times when swarms of honeybees start looking for new homes. A honeybee hive is considered a superorganism. While individual bees are born inside hives, the whole hive reproduces by splitting into two (or sometimes more) much like an amoeba.
Here’s what happens. A colony in the wild grows in numbers within the hive, but the hive cannot expand. To relieve the overcrowding, the worker bees decide to split the colony. They raise a new queen among their young, and half the bees and a queen leave the hive in search of a new home. This is what a swarm is. The remaining bees raise a new queen and go one with life in the old hive. The swarm is left to gather somewhere in a ball of bees while scout bees search for a new home. Once a home is found, the bees, up to 15,000 of them, move in all at once. It’s an amazing event to see.
Most beekeepers are capable of expanding space in beehives and thus are reasonably successful in keeping bees from swarming. Many will actually create artificial swarms by splitting their hives in two thus increasing their number of hives while keeping the bees from swarming on their own.
Swarms are not inherently dangerous. They’re just waiting somewhere before moving into a new home. The main danger comes when you try to bother them or if individual bees panic. (There’s been many a time when an individual bee got tangled in my hair and panicked.)
The 911 center has a list of beekeepers that will capture swarms of bees for free providing they are fairly easily accessible. The beekeepers will first ask questions to make sure they are indeed honeybees rather that wasps or other types of bees. In Wallingford (or north Seattle), you can call me directly (206-633-3577 or 206-861-4638).