Our honeybees in the Observation Hive had a good season: they experienced such a population boom (upwards of 10,000 bees!), they needed more space – so they started swarming!
It sounds scarier than it is, but a honey bee swarm is essentially half of the hive moving house. The colony has become so crowded, it’s becoming too difficult to make enough food for everyone and raise all their young. The colony divides into two groups, and one will leave to begin a new colony elsewhere. This also means the workers need to raise a new queen – a honey bee hive cannot survive without a queen. Either the new queen will leave with the swarm to go start a new colony, or the new queen remains behind while the old, original queen leaves.
A swarm looks impressive because many of the workers will converge around the entrance to the hive, sometimes forming a “beard” or huddle of bees (sometimes as large as a basketball!). They are scouting out new potential locations, and deciding amongst themselves where to relocate to. Interestingly, the swarm will not leave until each bee has agreed on the same location. Swarms look aggressive and scary to people, but the honey bees are actually quite docile at this time. It is not recommended, but some people have been known to go up to swarms/huddles of bees and stick their hands into the mass – and not be stung at all! A swarm does not mean a hive is unhealthy – in fact, it (usually) means the opposite, that the hive has been doing so well they’ve run out of room!
If you ever see or experience a swarm near you and are unsure what to do, check out the Ontario Bee Rescue for help. http://www.ontariobeerescue.com/services.html Good luck to the swarming honey bees, and we wish them a happy life in their new location.