If you've ever come across a mass of honey bees all swarmed together it is a very neat thing to witness, although it may also be a little frightening to see tens of thousands of them all at once.
The bees are actually resting and protecting their queen while looking for a new home. They have outgrown their current hive and the queen will take her faithful crew (via producing a pheromone) and leave room for the hive to reproduce a new queen and workers.
A recent swarm in our apple orchard, their former hive is in the background
There is only one queen bee and a single hive may have upwards of 50,000+ bees, so you can see that at some point it starts to get a little crowded and not all the bees will have access to the queen any longer and thus not getting her signals from her pheromones. This is the point where worker bees will determine the need for a new queen to be made (another fascinating topic.) Before the new queen emerges, the old queen will take part of the colony with her and scout a new area for her colony. This is what you see when witnessing a bee swarm. Scout bees are out looking for a new ideal location to place the colony and the rest of the swarm is resting and protecting their queen, who cannot fly very far before needing rest.
Now generally the bees are quite docile and just resting while the scouts are out looking, so you can get fairly close to a swarm without being in danger. That's not to say walk right up to a swarm, just keep some distance and enjoy this phenomenon.
A bee swarm may last a few days or a few hours, depending on how fast the scouts find a new home. Get some pictures while you can and just enjoy it.
The swarm surrounds and protects their queen while scout bees look for a new home
We have been able to enjoy seeing this several times in our own apple orchard which helps support the hives. There are 800 apple trees so the bees stay quite busy pollinating apple blossoms in early spring and in turn it keeps us quite busy in fall harvesting apples.
The hives in our apple orchard are home to well over 250,000 honey bees and I never have been stung.
So a few things to remember:
- Bees are good, they pollinate our food and flowers.
- A swarm means the hives are growing, which is a very good thing.
- Bees should not be feared, leave them alone and they will leave you alone.
- If you see a swarm, leave it. They will find a home soon. DO NOT kill them or spray them!