Why do bees swarm?

Published: 05-05-2021

A swarm of bees in May
Is worth a load of hay;
A swarm of bees in June
Is worth a silver spoon;
A swarm of bees in July
Is not worth a fly.

Why do bees swarm?

In the spring and early summer, a swarm of honey bees is a familiar sight. Beekeepers can take advantage of this time to rear new colonies, with the best time being in May or June. It's usually not worthwhile doing this in July - hence the famous lines from the nursery rhyme above.

Generally speaking, bees usually decide to swarm when their current colony has increased its population by a significant amount and there is a lack of space. The bees will decide that it's time to create some new queen cells ready for a new colony to start. The old queen will then know it's time to get out of the way and leave the current hive with many of her entourage following behind her. But go where? Well, a few worker bees will have left the hive prior to this, and reported back with news of a good place to settle for a while. Hence, finding swarms in some interesting places!

Seeing a swarm is a fascinating sight, a true wonder of nature. It's amazing to see the way that bees instinctively know how to manage their colony's growth, and also know that their way of doing things hasn't changed over millions of years! They truly are so efficient at everything they do. However, it might be slightly less fun to see a swarm if it's one of your own. Then you need to think fast and take appropriate steps to collect them before they decide to leave their temporary resting spot for their chosen new forever home. 

Where is the swarm likely to land temporarily?  

Before swarming, bees fill themselves up with food - just as we would before a long journey. The scout bees will have found a place to settle for a while (usually locally, but may be a little further out) and then all at once, half or more of the colony will leave the hive, taking to the skies, following the queen's scent. 

Swarm of Bees

The swarm may land on anything from a tree, to a piece of garden furniture, and there are even cases of swarms being on cars due to the queen being trapped in the boot! Regardless of where they decide to land, if a beekeeper hasn't been successful in preventing the colony from swarming (please watch the video below) this is the critical time to collect the swarm - and that time is limited. The scout bees will have been out looking for a more suitable, permanent home and therefore the bees could decide to fly off at any time toward their chosen forever home.  

What to do if you're a beekeeper? 

Rather than bombard you with a lot of text, we decided to get Simon to make a video to explain everything, from the best ways to help prevent your bees from swarming, to how to collect them if they do. Please take a look at the video below:

Please note that you can find the two other videos mentioned by Simon by clicking on the links below:

Simon collecting his swarm of bees from an old Ash tree

Simon transferring a swarm to a top bar hive

Equipment needed

May is the peak of any beekeepers' diary, so all manner of equipment is needed. Everything from:

In the above video, Simon uses a BS Honey Bees 2 in 1 Poly Nuc Box, but we also have BS Wooden 6 Frame Nucleus Boxes made from high density pine wood, perfect for collecting swarms or splitting your colony.

Let Simon talk you through them:

What to do if you're not a beekeeper, and you see a swarm? 

If you see a swarm somewhere, don't be alarmed. There will be someone that can collect the colony safely.

If you don't know of any local beekeepers, please visit The British Beekeepers Association Swarm Removal page. There you can find lots of information on identifying the various different types of bees, along with a postcode search at the bottom of the page to find your local swarm collectors.

Get in touch with us

If you have any questions at all. We'd be happy to help. Just email us at: info@simonthebeekeeper.co.uk  

Happy beekeeping! 

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