Honeybee Swarm Season in New England!


Swarm setting in tree.

It’s May in Western Massachusetts- and that means the start of honeybee swarm season! Swarm season is the time of year when honeybee colonies may feel the need to take off in search of a new home.

There are many reasons a honeybee colony decides to swarm- including overcrowding, underproductive queen bee and disease. Beekeepers work to manage hives throughout the year, adding new frames and boxes to allow space for bees to store honey, pollen and for the queen to lay eggs. Beekeepers manage pests and diseases in a variety of ways, both synthetic and organic to keep colonies healthy and to prevent swarms. If the colony feels there is not enough space to store their necessities- or if the queen no longer has space to lay eggs a hive may swarm. If the colony feels their queen is subpar, they may swarm. If the colony is overrun with parasites, they may swarm. Sometimes colonies swarm on their own secret agenda- leaving even the most experienced beekeepers scratching their heads as to why.

The image of a swarm of tens of thousands of bees flying through the air is one that can bring great terror- but- it does not have to. Honeybee swarms are generally docile, they are focussed on finding a suitable new home and keeping their queen safe and warm during the journey- they are not looking for a fight. Before swarming, honeybees gorge on honey to sustain themselves for the long flight and search for a new home. With their bellies full of honey, it is difficult for bees to curve their abdomen in order to sting- great news for us!

A swarm of honeybees will at first look like a cloud of bees in the air, all flying in what look like little circles. There is a distinct sound swarms make, like a roar of buzzing- it is a sound beekeepers become very familiar with, and if you have heard it before you will know exactly what I mean. The swarm will settle on a tree branch, fence or other surface and cluster around the queen to keep her safe and warm. While the swarm rests, scout bees will fly off in all directions searching for a suitable new home- possibly a hollow tree, an empty hive in another beekeeper’s yard, or (hopefully not, but it does happen) a hole in your siding, chimney or deck.

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