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Bee Swarms: Hype Vs Reality

Here in Oregon’s Willamette Valley were getting reports of swarming. This is the kind of info beekeepers share with each other and Rogue Farms Beekeeper Josh Cronin stays on top of it all.


Now that the swarming season has begun, we figure this is as good a time as any to talk about honeybee swarms and sort out the reality from the scary hype.

A cluster on the Rogue Farms Hopyard in 2012.
A cluster on the Rogue Farms Hopyard in 2012.

Swarming is a natural step in the life cycle of honeybees. They swarm because the hive is healthy, growing, and getting overcrowded.

The hive creates new queen cells, a clue to the reigning queen that it’s time to leave. And so she does, taking about half of the hive with her.

What you’re seeing on the photo the left is a cluster. The swarm forms a large mass, often on a tree limb, and literally hangs out while scout bees so off in search of a location for a new hive.

And this is where the hype takes over. A cluster can look pretty scary to people who don’t understand what’s going on. They call in the police and fire, notify the media and the situation will sometimes escalate out of control.

For a trained beekeeper, a swarm is usually no big deal. Honeybees in a swarm are typically docile, having stuffed themselves with food in preparation for the flight to a new location. And they don’t have a hive to defend. Here’s how Josh captured one of these clusters last year.

Rogue Farms Beekeeper Josh Cronin collecting a swarm. He started by trimming away nearby trees limbs.
Rogue Farms Beekeeper Josh Cronin collecting a swarm. He started by trimming away nearby trees limbs.
Josh places a box under the cluster, shakes the limb, and the bees fall into the box.
Josh places a box under the cluster, shakes the limb, and the bees fall into the box.
A few seconds later and the swarm is safely contained.
A few seconds later and the swarm is safely contained.

As they say on TV, don’t try this at home. Collecting a swarm is best left to a professional who is prepared to deal with the honeybees should they act unpredictably. This is even more important if you live in an area with Africanized Hybrid bees.

The important thing to remember is that honeybee swarms are rarely something to worry about. Keep a good distance. But don’t freak. They’re just big blob of honeybees doing what comes naturally.