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Swarms

when we can help

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Why do they swarm?

Swarming is natures way of multiplying bee colonies. The old queens foragers fill up with honey and take off with her. She leaves behind some brood, nurse bees and a new queen in the old hive. The old queen and her older foragers look for a new home taking a short break along the way. That is a honeybee swarm.

who's bees are they?

It's almost impossible to tell where they come from as many are still wild. We've even heard of long abandoned hives in fields still thriving! Responsible beekeepers go to great lengths to prevent swarming in the first place but sometimes it's unavoidable.

General avoidance

If you want to avoid pests taking up residence in your home, the best advice we can offer is to make sure all holes, cracks and cavities that may affect the exterior of your buildings are sealed up as part of your regular maintenance plan. Making your buildings unattractive to any creatures looking for a new home is your best defence.

To bee, or not to bee

one of these is a honeybee

can you spot which one?

Can you see the main differences? Look at the legs and the antennae, big bottom of a mason bee, and of course the bumblers size!

what are they?

Hornets?

Hornets may also require pest control, especially if in a dangerous position. Hornets have nests made of a paper like material. Hornets are also good pollinators and eat pests in your garden, but also eat honeybees. Beekeepers don’t remove hornets.

Wasps?

Wasps may require pest control, especially if in a dangerous position. Wasps have nests made of a paper like material. Did you know that wasps are also good pollinators and eat pests in your garden, but also eat honeybees? Beekeepers don’t remove wasps.

Honeybees?

A honeybee swarm will rest and move on as described earlier. Their old hive will be nearby and then they fly miles to start a new one. Honeybees are great pollinators and do not eat other insects. Honeybees provide us with beeswax and honey.

Bumblebees?

Bumblebees are best left alone as they are valuable pollinators and some are endangered. Don’t try to block any entrance holes as they will try to find another way out, possibly inside a property.  They will die out naturally in late summer/autumn.

Mason Bees?

Mason bees are solitary bees. They can live in small holes, gaps in walls and eaves as well as the very popular bug hotels people set up. The Red Mason Bee is quite common in Scotland. These are fantastic pollinators. We don't rehome mason bees.

What does a swarm look like?

Swarm of honey bees
Swarm of bees

Appearance

A honeybee swarm is usually thousands of bees flying together in a large group. They may appear as a cloud or cluster of bees, often hanging from a branch, tree, fence, or other objects, and they look like the honeybees in the photo at the top of this page and just above.

Shape and Size

The swarm cluster usually has an irregular shape depending on what it's hanging from, and its size can vary depending on the number of bees involved. It can range from a small cluster to a larger mass, roughly the size of a football or even larger.

Bee Behaviour

Most bees in a swarm tend to be calm as they are full of honey and quite docile. There are exceptions so exercise caution and keep your distance. Bees may fly around in a circular or figure-eight pattern near the swarm cluster. Individual bees may come and go from the cluster, but they generally stay together as a group.

Did you know this?

audible clustering

Swarming bees often produce a distinctive buzzing sound due to the large number of bees flying and vibrating their wings together. The sound can be quite loud and if they're not visible it may help you locate the swarm.

Gathering Spot

Honeybee swarms usually gather temporarily in an exposed location, such as on a tree branch or fence, before relocating to a more permanent location, like a hollow tree, a shed, boxes or even an old hive. They tend to stay in the open for a few hours to a couple of days before moving on.

not a swarm

A few bees, maybe even a hundred gathered in a particular area is not usually a swarm. Leaving them alone is the best advice as they usually disperse after a few hours or when night draws in.

Swift action is needed!

Honeybee Swarm Timetable

Preparing to swarm
Old hive
Start of swarm

The old hive starts to raise new queen cells to replace the old queen. The old queen knows this and starts the process to leave home. Older foragers start to stock up on honey. Responsible beekeepers regularly inspect their hives to spot the signs and try to manage the hive to prevent swarming.

Ideal time to catch the swarm
Looking for a home
Swarming

After leaving the old hive, the old queen and her foragers rest while scout bees look for a new home. This ideal period for capture lasts from just a few hours to a couple of days, depending on weather. This is the best time to contact us.

Establishing new colony
New hive
Nesting

The scout bees find a new home, report back to the swarm and move in to start a new colony. If this is in an undesirable location, such as a building, swift action will be needed before they establish. You may need to contact a professional bee removal or pest control service. 

There's a time and a place!

are they in walls?

If the honeybees (or anything else) seem to be coming and going from your wall, eaves, or in any other part of a building, that's not a swarm now, it's a colony. You'd likely need to consult pest control or a specialised colony removal service, as they can cause damage as the colony expands. Even if they die, they and the hive could rot attracting other pests.

Is it the right time?

Honeybees tend to swarm in "swarm season" which is May to July. Sometimes they can swarm a month either side but that is usually dependant on very good weather and conditions. The general rule is that swarms happen on sunny days during those periods.

stay calm

Honeybees will not usually attack unless provoked but also don't get close. Don't make any sudden noises or wear strong scents. If you don't have Beekeeping PPE, wear light coloured clothing and cover all exposed skin. Keep children and pets away.

you're nearly there

Swarm of bees

Kintyre and Mid-Argyll Beekeepers Association and the swarm response team are run by volunteers.

Are you now fairly certain it's a honeybee swarm?

  • Usually swarms last only a few hours or, depending on the weather, a couple of days.
  • While we will try to mobilise in time to catch it but sometimes we will be unavailable to help.
  • Please note any swarm catching or hive removal work inside wall cavities or buildings, awkward to reach places or those at great height are beyond our capability. You will need to contact pest control or dedicated bee removal services in those cases.
  • Please also bear in mind this is a volunteer run service, and it’s with all of these caveats in mind that we offer assistance.
  • Contact us and our swarm response team will be in touch as soon as they can. 

and here we are!

information you need

The beekeeper will ask you questions about the swarm:

  • Describe what you have seen or ideally take a picture.
  • Size of cluster/how many (e.g. football size etc.)?
    • Honeybee swarms are thousands not a dozen or so
  • Location/access (indoors, outdoors, roof, eaves, rooms, chimney (outside or inside etc)?
    • Basically, look and see if they are gathered in one spot (a swarm) or coming and going (a colony).
  • Height (e.g.  Hedge, fence, 1st floor, roof top)?
  • How long have they been there?
  • Have you called or contacted anyone else? 
  • What are the circumstances? Have you already had someone out? Is there a history?
  • Address/directions/parking including postcode? Perhaps use WhatThreeWords for a precise location?
  • Your contact number
  • Please inform the beekeeper if the swarm leaves before they arrive or if someone else collects it to save a wasted journey.
  • Do not give multiple beekeepers the details once one has agreed to attend.
  • Please ensure you have read and understood everything, especially about bees inside a building as we’re unlikely to be able to help. Do not just send an email or complete the form with hardly any detail.

setting expectations

  • Collecting a swarm is normally a 2 part process:
    • Part one – to get the bees into a box.
    • Part two – to return in the evening to remove bees and box.
  • Some beekeepers may ask for expenses.
  • If on arrival the beekeeper finds that it is not honeybees then they are unlikely to be able to help.
  • Beekeepers don’t remove wasps or hornets.
  • Swarm collection is carried out by volunteer beekeepers at their own discretion, they are not paid to provide this service.
  • Swarm collection means we keep the bees if captured successfully. 
  • The beekeeper may not be able to come immediately; they may have jobs and commitments of their own.
  • Beekeepers have to consider their own safety; it may not be possible to remove a swarm from difficult-to-reach places, such as a rooftop or high tree!
  • Please don’t use chemicals or other products. Also, if you know the colony was already treated by pest control, go back to pest control for advice. Poisoned bees cannot be saved and we do not rehome poisoned bees. 
  • We do not charge for this service. If you wish to help us in our work educating people about beekeeping, you can make a donation to the association via the Treasurer

correct information helps everyone

Since June 9th 2023
Calls answered
0
Pest control issue, referred
0
Unsafe to respond
0
Unable to attend
0
Swarms captured
0

Contact the swarm team

Who are the swarm response team?

They're experienced members of the Kintyre and Mid Argyll Beekeepers Association who have volunteered to help specifically with honeybee swarms and they have the equipment and knowledge needed to help. Only Scottish Beekeeper Association members have swarm recovery liability insurance and the conditions of that dictate our response.

Can I call a member I know?

It's important we receive your help request through this site so that the right people will be contacted straight away. The Association has agreed this to be the correct route as it will prevent confusion, assign the correct people, and minimise any delay. N.B. If you are advised by information on this page, the BeeBot, or the beekeeper, to seek pest control help, any delay could worsen matters.

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