Save the swarms
With all the recent news about declining honeybee populations, area residents might be surprised this spring to find huge swarms of bees hanging from tree limbs or clustered on a wall or fence. Swarms of bees are fairly common in Northern Colorado during April and May, and NCBA President Beth Conrey says residents can provide an important service by helping them find homes with local beekeepers.
Honeybees benefit everyone, Conrey says. In addition to producing honey, wax and other products, honeybees provide a tremendously valuable role in pollinating many of our most important food crops. In recent years, diseases and parasites have dramatically reduced the number of bees available to transfer pollen that’s needed to produce backyard or commercial crops including apples, peaches, plums, raspberries, squash, pumpkins and many others.
Swarming is the natural way that bee colonies reproduce to form new colonies. As the hive becomes crowded, the colony raises a new queen. This typically happens in early spring, as the colony grows rapidly to take advantage of the nectar offered by blooming plants. Eventually, a queen and a large portion of the colony’s worker bees fly out to seek a new home.
After leaving the original hive, the swarm lands and forms a large cluster, often on a tree or shrub, but sometimes on a building, fence or even a parked car. This clustering is a temporary step as the bees look for a hollow tree or some other suitable location to take up residence. While they are clustered, scout bees will fly around the area looking for a good place to begin the new colony. Left on its own, Conrey explains, the swarm usually will disappear within a day or two, once the bees find their new home.
Swarms can contain thousands, or even tens of thousands of honeybees, and that many bees in one place certainly can appear threatening if they happen to land in your yard. Fortunately, honeybees typically are not aggressive, and during swarming, they become even more docile. “There is no need to fear a swarm of honeybees,” Conrey says. “Treat them respectfully by keeping your distance and not harassing them, and the chance of them stinging anyone is small.”
The best action to take if a swarm appears on your property is to arrange for a beekeeper to remove the bees. Beekeepers value swarms as a “Colorado hardy” source of bees to populate their hives. A beekeeper can place the cluster, including the queen bee, in a portable bee hive. The swarm usually will accept the hive as their new home, and the beekeeper can move them to another location.
Beekeepers might charge a nominal fee to cover their travel expenses, especially in
these times of rising fuel costs.
The Northern Colorado Beekeepers Association (NCBA) maintains a list of beekeepers who are interested in capturing swarms and removing hives. The list covers Fort Collins, Loveland, Greeley and surrounding areas around Northern Colorado. If you find a swarm, go to the NCBA Web site at http://www.fortnet.org/NCBA and call the Swarm Hotline. You will be guided to an experienced beekeeper in your area.
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