Image courtesy of BBKA

Swarming

Swarming is a natural method of reproduction for honeybees and it happens when the old queen and half the workers in the hive or nest leave to find another home. About a week before the swarm, the colony will send out ‘scout bees’ to identify a new home, and this could be an empty hive, hollow tree, or a building. When the swarm leaves the hive, they cluster to make sure the queen is with them, and to gather the flying bees.

If you think you may have seen a swarm, please use the following procedure:

  1. Don’t panic!  Swarming bees will have filled up on honey to keep them going until they find a new home and as such are unlikely to sting unless provoked.  Please don’t try to spray them with water or any kind of pesticide and don’t try to move them on yourself
  2. Don’t call a pest controller.  Most are unlikely to deal with honeybee swarms and will probably direct you to a local bee group to arrange a collection.  The campus hive network would prefer to collect the colony first if possible so we can house it in one of our campus hives (and collection is free!)
  3. Contact a member of the hive network.  You can do this by emailing sustainability@leeds.ac.uk or calling 0113 343 7375 as soon as possible.  The swarm is unlikely to stay around for very long before moving, so act quickly and try to give as much detail as possible including a contact number and an exact location.

I’m not sure what type of bees I’ve seen…

If you have seen a lot of bees, but are unsure what they are, the following descriptions may be of assistance:

  • Honeybees – These bees live through the winter and are the bees the hive network are responsible for.  As with most bees, they can sting, but usually only when seriously provoked. It is only honeybees that swarm. They can vary in colour depending on their sub species from dark brown/black to a more yellow that can be confused with wasps.
  • Bumblebees – Usually ground nesting, but can occur in wall cavities.  The nest usually has up to 200 bees and all except the queens die off at the end of the year.  The queen hibernates (usually underground) over the winter and the whole process starts again in the spring.  All bumblebees apart from the drones are capable of stinging but rarely do unless disturbed.  It is very difficult to move nests and as such, the general advice is to leave them alone unless they are causing a serious problem.  They do not return to the same nesting site in the following year, so once they leave, you are able to block the hole to prevent any chance of returning colonies.
  • Solitary Bees – We have a number of solitary bees on campus and these can often be easily mistaken for honeybees. On the city campus, they tend to nest in bare patches of dry soil on the ground.   These bees also have a sting and also rarely use it.  Solitary bees are great pollinators and we try to encourage them on the campus wherever possible.

This link to the Yorkshire Bees webpage may be of use in helping you to identify which type of bee you have seen.