What to do if you spot a swarm this summer
The idea of a bee swarm is pretty alarming to most people. We imagine a horde of aggressive bees crawling over us and covering us with stings – scary stuff.
But in reality, bee swarms are usually fairly docile and harmless, and very unlikely to attack you in any way.
Swarming is a natural bee behaviour. As colonies expand throughout spring and summer, they can outgrow their home and run low on food supplies. If this happens, in the wild or in a hive, part of the colony will naturally split off into a swarm. The swarm leaves the hive in search of a new place to live, and can cluster in trees or on buildings.
As summer approaches, it’s good to know what to do about swarms without hurting the bees – or yourself.
Here’s our guide to dealing with a bee swarm:
1: Find and identify
If you come across a swarm in your garden or elsewhere, don’t panic. Swarming bees are full of honey and don’t have a hive to defend – so they’re usually pretty calm. Still, it’s best not to get too close if you don’t need to.
Before you act, make sure you’re dealing with bees – wasps sometimes cluster in a similar way, but are much more aggressive and dangerous. Bees are a softer orange and black, with fuzzy bodies, while wasps have bright yellow and black colouring, and lack fuzz.
If the swarm stays calm when you approach, it’s probably bees. If it starts to buzz and move angrily, move away quickly, as you may be dealing with wasps.
2: Exterminate or relocate
If you do think you’ve found a wasp swarm, contact an exterminator promptly. Wasps can sting again and again, so you don’t want them living on or around your property. But, if you’re confident that you’ve come across a swarm of bees, don’t call an exterminator – killing off a colony is a huge waste, in a time of declining bee populations.
On the other hand, you can’t leave the bees to it either. While bee swarms are generally harmless, most people don’t want a fully-fledged bee colony in their backyard. The prevalence of the varroa mite in New Zealand means that most wild bee colonies won’t survive anyway – human-run hives are essential to bee survival.
3: Swarm solutions
Fortunately, swarms are fairly easy to relocate – if you’re an experienced beekeeper. If you’re not, get in touch with an expert and they should be able to remove the swarm and take it to a new hive.
If you don’t have a friendly neighbourhood beekeeper to give you a hand, there are a few ways to find one: report a swarm, or get in touch with a local bee club – they should be able to send out a beekeeper to help.
Once you’ve found a beekeeper, they will usually be able to come fairly quickly. They’ll want to know where the swarm is located, and if it’s in a high or hard-to-access area. When they arrive, they’ll dislodge the swarm, put it into a box or container – sometimes leaving the box in place for a couple of hours to let stragglers reunite with the swarm - and take the bees to their new home.
You’ll be able to rest easy without a swarm nearby, and you’ll know that the bees are happily settling into their new home. It’s a much better outcome than extermination.
Although swarms are generally not dangerous to humans, they can pose risks to other bees – including yours. If you’re a beekeeper collecting swarms, or if you have hives on your property near a swarm, you need to be aware of AFB and varroa mite risks. You don’t usually know where a swarm comes from, so you don’t know whether the bees have been treated or tested for disease.
If you introduce a new swarm to a hive, it’s important to quarantine the bees and test for AFB before placing them near your existing hives. All new colonies should be treated for varroa mites as well.