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Swarming in Honeybees

Swarming is often considered simply as colony reproduction, but there is an alternative view. Depending on whether you are a beekeeper or a member of the non beekeeping public, your views may vary from it being a minor nuisance to it being perceived as a threat.

First may I put your mind at rest! Honey bees are not dangerous... They are equipped with a sting and they can be provoked into using it. They are in fact very gentle creatures, but they are much prejudiced by grossly exaggerated and scare-mongering stories propagated by the worlds press and news media.

If you find a swarm of bees... First, do not panic, then contact a beekeeper (your local police station may have a number of beekeeper's addresses). A beekeeper will be able to collect the bees by using the methods outlined on the Swarm Collection page.

Bees in a swarm, that has only recently formed, are gorged with honey and are unlikely to sting, but please leave the collecting job to someone that is skilled.
Swarming happens in several sequential stages...

Conditions that can lead to swarming

Swarm decision taken

Raising queen cells

Queen cells sealed

Swarm issuing

Scouting for possible new homes

Swarm (photo from Ettamarie Peterson) Local clustering... This is the condition that most non beekeepers will recognise, with the mass of bees clustered on a post or hanging from the branch of a tree like a bunch of grapes. They may stay in this cluster for a few minutes up to a few days depending on the weather and how far the 'new home' decision making process has progressed. Worker bees will be seen on the surface of the cluster that have pollen loads and some workers will actively forage for nectar from the cluster. The pollen carrying bees were either already inside the hive, but had not unloaded or were returning from pollen gathering and became caught up in the frenzy of the swarm issuing. Some dancing may be observed on the cluster surface... This may be recruitment of scouts to visit particular proposed sites as part of the destination decision making process or it may be due to nectar foraging.

Deciding on a new home

Traveling to a new home

Adopting a new home

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Written... 18 December 2001, Revised...26 January 2002
Revised... 31 May 2002