By Bud Paine
Pinal Rural Fire Rescue
This is the time of year that honeybees are splitting up and moving around to establish new honeycombs. A clustered swarm of many bees may appear frightening, but most spring swarm clusters of European honey bees—the common honey bees here in our area—are extremely docile. It takes quite a bit of aggravation, such as being hit by sticks and stones or squirted with a hose, to create defensive behavior.
The reason a bee swarm looks like a clump of bees is because all of the workers are gathered around the queen, forming a clump. The queen is not the strongest of flyers, and so will need to rest at some point, perhaps on a branch, fence, or the side of a house. Meanwhile, ‘scout bees’ will be sent out to look for a suitable new place for the colony to live.
Are swarms dangerous?
They are focused on finding a new nest, not on attacking. That said, it is important to keep your distance from swarming bees, because if the bees feel threatened, then it is possible they will attack. A swarm may stay around for a few days, depending on how quickly the scout bees find a suitable new home. This could happen very quickly, even within a day.
If the bees don’t find a new nesting location, they may begin producing beeswax and forming combs at the spot where the cluster formed, such as a tree limb, the overhang of a house, or another unusual place. These “exposed comb” colonies may exist until fall (or year-round in warm-winter areas), but robbing bees, hungry birds, and inclement weather usually put an end to these colonies and their combs very quickly.
So, the point is…let them be and they will most likely just fly away to a new place. A swarm requires a large cavity, 4-9 gallons in size, to establish a new comb, so unless they have that where you see them they will leave. If you anger them by spraying water or knocking the swarm they will very well retaliate!
We have responded to several homes in Mammoth where the same swarm is slowly moving from property to adjacent property trying to find a new home. Pinal Rural Fire and Rescue will remove a swarm if it has stayed for several days, but usually we will just “wait and see” if it moves again.
Once it stays, and makes no sign to be leaving after 4-5 days, we will take care of the swarm for you. But, please, remember all the good honey bees do as they pollenate and create honey before you just try to destroy the swarm. If a swarm stays for more than 3-5 days, call PRF&R at 520-465-5300, and we will help you remove the swarm.