Honey Bee swarms a possibility in 2016

Thursday, May 19, 2016

There is a natural occurrence, which takes place every spring, that sometimes strikes fear in many people when it happens around where everyone lives.

It's a warm spring day and you are out pulling weeds or spreading mulch, when all of a sudden you start to hear a buzzing noise in the air -- the noise gets louder and you look around to see a massive dark cloud of bees flying around your property. The cloud gets tighter and darker as it finally comes to rest on one of the trees or bushes in your yard.

You then realize it's a large glob of honey bees which has taken up residence on your tree.

Are they African bees? Is Mother Nature taking revenge on what we have done to the planet? Are they going to attack us?

The answer is a big "no" to all three of these questions. As a beekeeper, these are some of the things I have heard from people as I show up to remove them and it is a big misunderstanding of the honey bees' natural way of populating.

Honey bees are semi-dormant through the winter time inside either in a hollowed out tree, a hive or a wall in a house. They spend the winter in a tight cluster to keep their queen warm and fed, and their slowed activity allows them to survive through several months of cold weather. Once warmer temperatures hit, this cluster is broken apart and the bees become active yet again, bringing in nectar and pollen in the process. The increased temperature, coupled with an abundance of nectar and pollen, trigger the queen to start laying eggs again -- up to 1,500 eggs per day.

Then, 21 days later, each egg hatches as an adult worker bee to start their job-tasks in the colony.

With this said, a hive increases in population by more than 6,000 bees in a four day period. Before the colony reaches an overcrowded situation, some workers will turn some of the eggs into new queens. As new queens hatch, they will quarrel with the other existing queen and the winner will inherit the hives and the losers must leave the colony to find a new home with a large number of bees to keep her warm and fed and to build the comb in the new dwelling for honey storage and new bees. This event culminates in the swarm that just landed on your tree, bush or fence post.

And yet, the swarm is not in attack mode; they don't have a home to defend and they are very happy as their stomachs are full with the honey with which they gorged themselves before leaving their last residence. They do this so they can produce the wax for the new comb and start over.

Think of this swarm as a large group of homeless and confused pollinators just resting for a little while until their scouts can find them a good place to call home.

These are exciting and busy times for beekeepers in our community -- the members of the Putnam County Beekeepers Association are on standby and will gladly come to remove the swarms from your residence and get them set up in a nice new place to live, with many benefits included.

Our association is in its second year and we have had a large increase in the amount of beekeepers in Putnam County compared to 10 years ago. With this becoming so popular in our community, everyone should be seeing more honey bees around their gardens and there is also a great increase in the possibility of experiencing a swarm.

If an event like this takes place, don't be afraid and also don't bother them, just call a beekeeper or the association and we will get someone out as soon as possible. When they show up and finish capturing the bees into a safe container, they will be glad to answer any questions you may have because, just as sure as the sun is going to come up tomorrow, and when it comes to a beekeeper, they love to talk about bees!

If anyone is interested in learning more about honey bees, our meetings are generally the second Tuesday every month at DePauw's Julian Science building from 6-8 p.m.

The meetings are free and everyone is welcome.