Beware: Spring brings bee swarms

Published 7:00 am Saturday, March 29, 2014

By Eddie Smith

Agriculture Agent/County Coordinator
Pearl River County

Homeowners are often surprised and alarmed when a swarm of honey bees appears on a small tree or shrub near their homes. Usually a swarm of bees is temporary and should not alarm you. You can think of a swarm on a tree or shrub as the honey bees’ resting stop.

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Swarming in Mississippi, the prime swarming season is from mid-March near the Gulf Coast to mid-May in the north. But small swarms can still occur in the summer months. A swarm is a medium to large group of honey bees looking for a new home.

Swarming is nature’s way of increasing the honey bee population in an area. The swarm (worker bees and old queen) came from the original location (such as a hollow tree, old building or barn, someone’s attic, beekeeper’s bee yard), where about half of the honey bees stay with the new queen honey bee. Normal nesting sites are enclosed areas, where the honey bees are protected from the environment (sunlight, wind, and rain).

You should not be afraid of swarming bees but use caution, and stay some distance from the swarm. Most of the honey bees are docile. One out of 30 swarms are aggressive, though, especially if they are out of honey, have experienced bad weather, or have built a honeycomb. Before the honey bees leave their original home, they eat lots of honey to sustain them while finding their new home.

Usually, a swarm will stay just a few hours, but several days is not uncommon. As the swarm clusters on the tree or branch, several scout bees (worker honey bees) are surveying the area for a suitable home or nesting site. Usually, the swarm leaves once the scout bees find a permanent location for the colony. The Extension Service maintains a beekeepers list if you need a beekeeper to come and remove a swam.  Sometimes a swarm will decide your house will make a good location for their new colony.

Honey bees can cause many problems if you let them establish. They may enter behind the chimney, under loose boards on the eve of a house, inside holes cut in the brick for the gas or air conditioner line, and many other places. Fill in all cracks and holes in the brick (gas and air conditioner lines), cracks around windows and chimney, and water faucets. Every year, check for and nail down loose boards, replace any warped boards, and seal all open spaces with caulking or foaming spray.

If the honey bees are easy to get to on the outside of your house, beekeepers may remove them. But if the honey bees are in your house, most beekeepers cannot remove them. The best option when honey bees are in a house is to call a pest control company.

Honey bees do not fly at night, so most of them are inside your house early in the morning or late in the evening. To kill a majority of the bees, ask the pest control company to make your house their first job of the morning or last job of the evening.

Some pest control companies may tell homeowners it is illegal to kill honey bees, because they are the official state insect of Mississippi. But it is not illegal to kill the insects in homes or structures.

Dead bees, fermented honey, and pollen smell bad, so you need to remove the entire honeycomb and bees from behind the wall. Secondary pests such as ants, wax moths, and dermestid beetles may move in if you don’t remove honey, wax, and dead bees. You may need to hire a building repair contractor for this step of the process.

Also, if the honeycomb is left in the wall, new swarms next spring may reoccupy that site, because the new honey bees are attracted to the smell of the leftover beeswax. The number of honey bees in a new colony increases very fast in the spring, so the quicker you fix the problem, the better. Honey bee colonies in a house,

if left alone, can increase to 40,000 bees or greater with large amounts of honey and pollen present.