Honeybee Swarms

Let’s talk about honeybee swarms! In Chattanooga, Tennessee, honeybee swarms start occuring in March. Collecting a swarm is one of the best things about beekeeping! You never know where bees are going to land and I’ve seen them in some really interesting places. Fortunately (and unfortunately) social media has brought us to a place where uncommon things seem commonplace. It makes swarm collecting seem easier than it is. This sometimes streches into the downright ridiculous with curated bee placement just for “likes” on social media. A 30 second reel where a beekeeper is collecting a swarm with no protective gear on can happen when you have docile bees but you can absolutely get stung collecting swarms so it’s best to err on the side of caution.

Bees do enough entertaining things so I don’t feel like I need to put bees on my face for attention. But I digress…let’s talk about swarms!

Why Do Bees Swarm?

Overall, swarming is a complex and natural behavior that allows honeybee colonies to reproduce, expand, and ensure their survival in changing environments. While swarming may seem disruptive, it is an essential part of the honeybee life cycle and contributes to the overall health and diversity of honeybee populations.

Here are the main reasons why honeybees swarm:

  1. Overcrowding: When the colony outgrows its space, typically due to a rapid increase in population during the spring and early summer months, it can trigger a swarm.
  2. Queen’s Aging or Decline: The queen bee’s pheromones play a crucial role in maintaining hive cohesion. As a queen bee ages or her pheromone production decreases, the colony may sense this decline and prepare to replace her. Swarming allows the colony to produce a new queen and ensure the continuation of the hive.
  3. Hive Health and Genetics: Swarming can also be a response to environmental stressors or disease within the hive. In such cases, the colony may decide to swarm as a survival mechanism to establish a new, healthier colony elsewhere. We normally call this “absconding”, which is different than swarming for reproduction.
  4. Reproductive Instinct: Swarming is a natural reproductive instinct of honeybee colonies. By splitting the colony into two or more groups, swarming allows for the propagation of honeybee genetics and the establishment of new colonies.
  5. Resource Availability: Environmental factors such as the availability of nectar and pollen sources can influence swarming behavior. A scarcity of resources may prompt honeybees to seek out new locations with better forage opportunities.
Small feral swarm in a pine tree

When Do Bees Swarm?

Honeybees typically swarm during the spring and early summer months, with the exact timing varying based on factors such as geographic location, climate, and the health of the colony. In general, swarming tends to occur when the colony population is at its peak and environmental conditions are favorable for reproduction and expansion.

Secondary swarms (afterswarms) may occur later in the season. Seconday swarms consist of a smaller bunch of bees and it can be diffiuclt for them to survive due to size and lack of resources. Beekeepers may encounter swarms during hive inspections or when managing colonies for division or queen rearing. I have witnessed several swarms that happened right next to the hive I was inspecting. Good times!

Here in Eastern, Tennessee the bulk of swarms can start at the end of March and last through May. We all know that bees do what they want when they want so exact dates cannot be put into a box. My latest swarm (absconding) was November 22nd and my earliest was in my home beeyard on Feburary 2nd.

What To Do If You Get A Swarm Call?

Be prepared and make sure you have your handy dandy swarm kit ready and already in your car ready to go! Don’t wait around before answering the call because the bees will not wait. I got to a swarm call last year and went to the backyard to see the swarm and decide what I needed to get out of my vehicle. I went back to my car to grab my swarm kit and walked to the backyard and the swarm was gone! Vanished! Nowhere to be found. So just know whatever you do you have to respond as quickly as possible. If you can’t go collect the swarm, be a responsible beekeeper and have another beekeeper friends number on standby. You don’t want the bees to move into someone’s house.

Who Do I Call If I See A Swarm?

Call a beekeeper! I recommend having someone’s number on hand and if you won’t be able to remember their name put them as “Beekeeper” in your phone that way you can easily find them. For the safety of the bees and people around them, it’s important to call a local beekeeper as soon as you get your eyes on the swarm. Do this now if you do not already have a beekeeper’s number in your phone. Look for local beekeepers and contact them to see if they want to be called to collect swarms. You can look for local bee clubs but don’t settle for just a phone number. Local clubs do not always immediately answer phone calls. You will often have to leave a message and according to some locals around Chattanooga you often do not get called back until the next day-and the swarm is gone.

If You See A Swarm Call Someone ASAP!

I’ve gotten calls from folks who knew this swarm was there for 5 or more days. Come on, people! Use the Google machine and call a beekeeper! Use other sources like the Nextdoor App, Facebook, or Instagram. If you do not personally use those social media outlets contact someone who does and have them post about the swarm.

It’s important that you get a specific location along with videos and photos of the bees. Let the beekeeper know about how high up the swarm is, if it’s difficult to get to, if we will need a ladder, if it’s on private property, etc. Since our “swarm collection labs” are portable, we need all the information we can get. Some of us drive many miles to a swarm only to realize we need another piece of equipment. It’s up to the beekeeper to ask all the right questions before deciding to go collect a swarm.

You can probably guess a lot goes into swarming on the part of the bees and the beekeeper. The more you know the more you can teach others to not be afraid of honeybee swarms. They really just want to get to a safe place where they can start rebuilding their colony. You can help do this by contacting a beekeeper when you see or hear about a swarm! Thanks for helping #savethebees