Honey Bee Swarms
Most interest in this page on our website will be to identify and report a swarm for removal or inquire as to what type of insect is present and inquire how to remove it. It if helps, know that the top of the page is to help you idenify what you are seeing, the second part of the page is setup to provide guidance and advice, and the last part of the page is a bit more education on honey bee swarms.
A honey bee is around 1/2 inch long with a golden body that has alternating patterns of brown or black stripes on the back half of the bee. One of its key identification traits is it is very hairy and has hair on most parts of its body including its black legs.
Did you know that the Honey bee is New Jersey's state insect and it is illegal to kill them?
Often the first place to start is identification. Many people do not know the difference between a honey bee and wasps & hornets. It does not help that the media often put photos of wasps & hornets with articles about bees, but that is an aside.
People typically encounter "bees" in one of two ways. Honey bees rarely sting humans unless you encounter a nest. So one of the first things to check is if you've been stung, was it a honey bee? Once you know you an figure out what action to take. If you are unclear you can visit out our bee identification page and see photos of various bees and wasps to aid in identification or look at the summary below.
Often people are stung by an insect that is defending its nest while mowing the grass or walking near a porch or woodpile where a nest has been established. Frequently these encounters involve yellow jacket wasps or hornets.
Pictured at right is the most common 'non honey bee' encounter - the yellow jacket. If you have these see our 'Not a honey bee' guidance below. If this is not what you have, or you are not seeing what you have in the quick guidge below, we suggest you visit our bee identification page to learn what it is you are encountering and what type of nest they have and what level of threat they pose.
We love pollinators and beneficial insects too!
Before we give any advice to those who are having problems, we have to share that an insect being present is sometimes ok if it is not a threat. Bees, Wasps, and Hornets are beneficial for pest control and pollination and if they are in a place where they are not impactful, many times they can be left alone.
Many wasps and hornets are one season and done. They only use a nest once and will often not return. If they are in a place where you have no threat, we hope that you'll consider leaving them be.
If they are a threat consider calling a licensed pest control company and following their guidance.
First, don't panic. Seeing a swarming hive of bees can be a surpising, even disconcerting, but take solace that swarming bees, or ones that have collected as a swarm are seldom a threat. When swarming, honey bees typically collect on a branch or find something to hang on along with their queen. At that point they are simply staging for a period of time while the designated scout bees look for a new home.
In most cases the bees only remain in this place for a short time in order to make a decision on a suitable new home in a tree or cavity in nature that they will locate. The first option you have is to leave them 'bee' and in time the problem resolves itself with no harm to you. Keep your distance and they will leave on their own.
If they have collected or made residence in an unwanted are see "Asking for a Removal" below.
Don't want to "leave them bee", that's ok too. The New Jersey State Beekeepers association has a web page hosted by the CJBA dedicated to honey bee swarm collection and removals from unwanted places. On this website you can search for a person in your area and consult with them to have them collect the bees.
To prepare we would suggest you take the time to confirm they are honey bees using our bee identifiction page. The person you speak with will likely ask you for information to confirm that prior to bringing equipment to your home to collect the bees.
If possible: Consider if you can safely get a photo of what you are seeing to share with the beekeeper.
What if they are not honey bees? Will a beekeeper come out and help?
Most times beekeepers are interested in honey bees and will refer you to a pest control company for unwanted pests that are a threat. Some beekeepers or
Swarming is Honey Bee Colony Reproduction
Honey bees are a natural super organism that collectively make up individual colonies. Only the queen of the hive is able to lay eggs and her single job is to grow the colony so it can cast off and reproduce to continue the species.
Swarm Preparations for the colony
When a colony reaches a size large enough to cast off a subset of its members to make a new nest, preparations or swarm impulses kick in. The queen is prepared by the workers to leave the nest and the queen herself lays eggs in special cells prepared for replacement queens. When things are ready, the scouts and reigning queen along with one third to half of the hive exit the colony nest and head for a new home.
False Starts happen sometimes
In a normal swarming event the bees will exit the nest and the queen will leave with them. Sometimes she doesn't leave and there will be a great ferver for a while with bees flying all over but they end up returning to the hive if the queen didnt' come out. This is referred to as a 'false swarm'.
The Cadences of event for a swarm setting up a new home
- Exiting and Staging
Bees will prepare the colony and exit the hive. Prior to swarming scouts have checked out locations and sometimes the location is known and the bees will fly right to it. Most times however the queen will exit the hive with the swarm and land nearby on a branch, tree, or actually just about any odd place. The attendents that look after the queen will and with her and then the entire cluster of bees often forms a mass around the queen.
- Choosing a Nest Site
Sometimes the bees know where they are going and sometimes they need to scout a new location. Bees most times will stage at a site for a period of time while scouts visit and vote on a new location for the colony. Scout bees literally go to prospective homes and then return to land on the mass of bees and report back through a series of activities how good the location was in hopes of drawing momentum for the site they saw. If they report a good site other bees will be recruited to check out that location and see if they agree. Eventually the campaigns for different home sites solicit a winner and with consensus they fly off to their new home. If you listen to a departing swarm you might note a joyous hum at the bees departing for the new destination.
- Getting Set Up
Once they get to the destination they will commence building honey comb and within a few days or a weeks time the queen will have a place to lay eggs and get the colony established. Bees in nature will nest in trees, sometimes the ground but truth be told what is more important to them is the size of the cavity, protection, type of entrance and surroundings. By nature their best option is in the cavity of a tree, up high, and out of the way of predators. Bees that live in nature often take advantage of old nest sites that could have bee around for generations or make a new home and start from scratch. Bees that are not managed by beekeepers are referred to as feral bees.
Recovery for the Mother Colony
When a swarm issues from a colony the remaining bees, the ones that stay behind, begin a new chapter in life. The daughter queens left behind emerge from their queen cells and if more than one, which is fairly typical, find each other and battle to determine who will rule the colony. Sometimes the first queen to emerge will go to the other queen cells and dispatch them so as to ensure her reign.
Only a few days after emerging the queen will leave the hive to be mated and subsequently return and begin her leadership over the hive, spending the remaining day inside until she leaves with a swarm or is replaced by a daughter she'll produce when her usefullness has waned.