Information for non - beekeepers who suspect a swarm has arrived in their garden or property and wish to know how to deal with it. Before calling pest control or a local beekeeper please take a moment to read the following information to help you decide what to do.
A classic swarm of around 20000 honeybees settled on a garden shrub where it will remain until the scout bees find a suitable location in which to build a new nest. While bivouacked on the shrub the bees cluster together to protect the queen and keep warm. During rain showers the outer bees all align themselves with their heads upwards and tucked in using their wings to provide a rain-proof outer cover. Only honeybees swarm. Bumblebees, wasps and other bee species do not swarm.
Is it a swarm? - The videos will help identify if you have a swarm or not. Only honeybees swarm. The bumblebees, wasps, and the many other solitary bee species do not swarm. A swarm will consist of thousands of bees, 10 to 30 thousand bees is not uncommon, and as they fly they can look like a small cloud and will be making an audible buzzing noise. When they land they all cling together forming a cluster that can be anything from the size of a pineapple to as big as a couple of footballs. If what you are seeing in your garden are a few large insects coming in and out of a particular location then the chances are they're not honeybees but are bumblebees, and they do not swarm.
An unmistakeable sight - A swarm of several thousand honeybees filled most of this garden for a few minutes before flying off and away over the hedge. Only honeybees swarm like this.
Why do honeybees swarm? - When a honeybee nest becomes overcrowded the colony will take action by producing a new queen which will remain in the original nest while the old queen along with all the adult bees fly out and away together to find a new home. Swarming usually occurs in late spring around the months of May and June and is how honeybees proliferate. It is normal behaviour for honeybees to swarm and take up residence in a hollow in an old tree or convenient cavity in a structure or building where they will build a new nest. When a swarm flies out it will first land nearby and cluster together as a mass of bees surrounding the queen while scout bees try to locate a suitable place for a new home. They are most likely to land in a hedge, or tree or fence post and that's when they can often end up bivouacked in someone's garden, remaining there until a suitable new location is found in a day or two depending on the weather.
Is a swarm dangerous? - In general swarming honeybees are pre-occupied with preserving their queen and finding a new home as quickly as possible and are not likely to be readily aggressive. That said, once the swarm has settled some bees will be flying around scouting and being on the lookout for dangers as they are quite vulnerable while outside the protection of a secure nest. Getting too close or trying to interfere with the swarm will attract the attention of the guard bees and is not advised. Inquisitive children and pets can be at risk of stings and should be kept at a safe distance.
What to do with a swarm - If a honeybee swarm lands and settles in your garden it will only intend staying a short while, a day or two at most before flying off to a new location. If it poses no immediate safety risk it is best left alone. If it overstays its welcome or poses an immediate safety risk a local beekeeper may be willing to remove it, however depending on where it has settled it may not be accessible or easily removed.
Other species - All bees, wasps and other insects are equally important to nature and perform essential functions in the ecosystems in which they and we live. Many are frequent visitors and residents of our gardens, unnecessary destruction of these should always be avoided. A variety of bumble bees regularly nest in gardens under huts and decking, in compost heaps, in bird nest boxes, and in building cavities. They are docile and only sting to defend themselves or their nest from direct interference. Bumblebee nests and colonies only last one season and die out at the end of summer. If they do not pose a safety risk they should be left alone. Wasps on the other hand can be readily aggressive and pose a greater risk of stings to people and animals and may be removed safely by pest control specialists if necessary. Trying to remove a wasp nest yourself is not recommended!
One of the first bumblebees to appear in our gardens in spring is the Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum). They regularly take over nest boxes and disused nest cavities in trees. They are easily recognised by a small number of them performing a hypnotic flying dance at the front of their nest. As well as nest boxes they will readily occupy any suitable cavity above ground level in structures or buildings and like the other bumblebee species they are docile and pose no great risk.
What to do with a bumblebee nest - These should ideally be left alone. Putting some temporary obstruction in their way (without blocking the nest entrance) can deflect them from where people or pets are likely to pass. In the autumn when the nest has died out the entrance can be blocked to stop further use of the cavity if absolutely necessary however bumblebees should be welcome in your garden and not discouraged. They are docile creatures, fascinating to watch, and are an essential element in our life supporting ecosystems. Your garden can provide a safe haven for them to live and breed, free from harmful chemicals and other threats.
Environmental Responsibility - We are all responsible for the environment we live in, and for the life that exists within it, no matter how big or small. We've known about this for some time, yet today the UK holds the shameful title of being a world leader in species loss, a staggering 41% of all UK species lost over the last 50 years, a trend that continues despite our awareness and the constant warnings. Much is said but very little is done especially by those who have the greatest responsibility, resources and ability to make the necessary changes to stop and reverse this.
Embracing Nature - We can all help by doing simple things and making informed choices around our homes and gardens to halt the decline of the very things that make up a healthy and sustainable environment. Gardening and managing our homes and property for nature as well as for our own pleasure and inner peace is easy and rewarding. When native species like bumblebees, hedgehogs, frogs, toads and birds etc come calling looking for a safe place to stay, lets embrace nature and give them that chance. It costs little but achieves a lot!