Why honey bees swarm: A primer

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

By M.J. Subiria Arauz


Residents of Clayton and Henry counties may soon begin to hear the buzzing sounds of honey bees swarming nearby. But they should not panic, according to experts.

The bees have a tendency to swarm when the population rapidly increases inside their hive, said Tom Bonnell, horticulture program assistant for the Clayton County Extension Service, and also president of the Henry County Beekeepers Association.

The swarming will generally occur from March, through June, in both Clayton and Henry counties, he said.

A swarm of honey bees does not automatically represent danger, or a threat, he said. It is not aggressive or defensive, because it has neither young, nor food stores, he added. Of course, if excessively provoked, Bonnell said, the bees will switch into defensive mode. "If you see these bees, don't spray on them, don't aggravate them, or chase them away," he said.

Bonnell said it is important to not "terminate" the bees, because there aren't many of them around. "Swarming can be controlled by a skilled beekeeper, however, not all colonies live in hives and have a human caretaker," said Bonnell.

Humans rely on honey bees for much of their food supply, he said, and honey bees are important, because they pollinate foods such as fruits and vegetables.

Bonnell explained that honey bees will also swarm, because it is Mother Nature's way of controlling inbreeding, and that bees will also swarm when the old queen bee has left the beehive, because a new queen bee has hatched. If the old one doesn't leave, there will be a fight to the death, he said.

"The old queen leaves with half her bees," said Bonnell, thus, "the swarm." They will

eventually settle on a tree limb, bush or other convenient site, said Bonnell.

They will settle in "any place," he said, even "outside of people's front doors, their walls, any areas ... wherever the queen lands."

Though the swarming bees are trying to find a place to nest, they are also protecting the queen, located in the center of the swarm, he explained. "The cohesiveness of the swarm is due to their attraction to a pheromone produced by the queen," said Bonnell.

The horticulture program assistant said the swarm will send out scout bees to seek a cavity for nesting proposes. These bees will look into holes they can explore and build a honey comb, he said.

Frank Hancock, of the Henry County Extension Office, said people shouldn't run into many swarms at this time. "Honey bees are out trying to make honey, and others are out collecting nectar to feed themselves, and taking care of their nests," said Hancock. He stressed that the bees are not out to harm anyone, and suggests that people just leave them alone.

"They are out pollinating flowers and vegetables in your gardens," he said. "Some are out killing other insects that eat your flowers and vegetables. If you go to killing bees, some other things may take over your yard."

Individuals who spot a swarm of honeybees should contact a local beekeeper, he said. If residents do not know a phone number for a beekeeper, they can call the Clayton County Extension Office, at (770) 473-5434, or the Henry County Extension Office, at (770) 288-8421.

--The Henry Daily Herald staff contributed to this report.