Why 'Kill it with Fire' Should Not be Your Reaction to a Honeybee Swarm

The unusually warm weather this February and March lead to an abundance of nectar and pollen forage for bees which they eagerly took advantage of. As such, many beehives have multiplied and when things get too cramped some of the hive moves to a new location.

The process by which this occurs is called swarming, and is a natural cycle of honeybee colonies. After receiving reports by scout bees of possible new homes the queen bee leaves the colony with a large group of worker bees. Sometimes the swarm will land on a tree branch, building, telephone pole-and even a car's windshield- while they prepare to make the trip.

“Bee swarms are happening about a month early, and many beekeepers are caught off guard,” says Sydney Barton, social media manager for the Chicago Honey Co-op.

I spoke with her after noticing reactions to bee swarm online this week ranging from fascination to fear. The sight of thousands of bees swarming may natural trigger a fight-or-flight reaction in us-but, in reality, there's isn't anything to fear from them.

1. Don’t be Dense.

Possibly the most famous overreaction to a honeybee swarm documented online comes to us from Something Awful forum member, Flannel Bob. In 2006 he photographed how his brother-in-law dealt with a bee swarm that landed on a swing set in the family's yard. You can probably surmise from this single photo in the series that his method was dangerous and didn't end well for the bee swarm. If you come across a bee swarm do not do anything that would endanger yourself or your property.

2. Call 3-1-1.

Depending on where you live, calling your local non-emergency number and reporting the bee swarm may be the only step you need to take.

This week Gawker brought us video of a bee swarm relocation in the East Village with the help of emergency personnel. This is a good example of a progressive attitude towards bees and beekeeping that every city should follow.

3. Find a Local Beekeeper.

If calling 311 doesn’t lead to the removal of the swarm it's time to do a Google search for a local beekeeper or beekeeping group. The Chicago Honey Co-op has a list of beekeepers in the Chicago-area who remove honeybee swarms. A similar list may be found on the websites and blogs of beekeepers in your area.

A “free” hive for a bee co-op or community garden means an expansion of work they do in your area. When you see a bee swarm think of it as money that could be invested in your community on the brink of flying away.

According to Sydney, a beekeeper would be happy to take a swarm off your hands because a bee package to start a new hive ranges from $80-$130. She also advises calling exterminators-but not for the reason you may think. “Many of them are concerned about Colony Collapse Disorder. They will contact beekeepers like us to remove the swarm,” she says.

4. Let them be.

When the swarm is not interfering with anything Sydney says the easiest thing to do is to do nothing. At this stage honeybees are considered to be very docile because they’re full of honey, not protecting a brood, and their main objective is finding the queen a new home. Eventually a swarm will move on to the home the scouts found earlier. This can take anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of days, but they’ll be on their way soon enough.

It seems it's bee swarm season all across the country. Not even the Pentagon is safe from bee swarms. Yesterday a beekeeper and amateur beekeepers who work at the Pentagon relocated a swarm of 10,000 bees. Let's be smart about how we handle ourselves and the bees.

I once had a bee swarm in the garden that an uncle decided to deal with in the same manner as Flannel Bob's brother-in-law. Fortunately for the bees, my uncle was still at the 'shoot them with a water hose hose stage' of the freak-out when the bees decided to move on. Have you encountered a bee swarm? How did you handle it?

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