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Bee Swarm On Your Tree Or Bush? Save Money!

Posted On Jan 20, 2014

A bee swarm is a glob of bees hanging from vegetation, usually a tree or a bush. Swarms form suddenly, and can ball up in vegetation within 3 to 6 minutes. Swarms are transient and form like this to rest the queen, in their travels, to find an area that they can occupy that has available water sources and forage. Bee swarms are common in Arizona. After careful research over the years, we agree with most fire districts that swarms are not an immediate threat and usually, if left undisturbed, will pass through an area after they have rested. Resting periods can last from less than an hour to seven days, depending on prevailing weather conditions. If a swarm is present for more than this time, please call us.

Bee swarms are usually non-aggressive, unless directly disturbed. When they are resting, they will seldom react to anything but direct intervention, Africanized or not. Do not spray them with insecticides , disturb them or try to move them in any way. They will leave after they have rested on their own. Typically they will leave quickly, when they have sufficiently rested, and move on.

If you have a swarm that has been at a specific location for more than seven days, and this will always be in vegetation, please call us. Also, if the swarm is in an area of high public traffic or where you may have liability and they can be disturbed by others, please call us. Otherwise, it is safe to isolate them and leave them alone. Swarms will very seldom colonize in an area they are adjacent to. They search for a structural cavity that is, more often than not, at least a quarter mile away from their resting site. If you happen to see movement, and exploration activity from the swarm to any of your building structures, including your home, grounds or out-buildings, please call us.

In general,. it is usually safe to leave a swarm alone and wait. It will save you money and more often than not, statistically, they are just passing through. Swarms are non-aggressive unless directly disturbed. We have provided more information about bee swarms in the article below.

African Bee Swarm Facts

Honeybee swarms are common throughout Arizona. What domestic European honeybees we have left in the southern and central parts of the State of Arizona, typically only swarm once or twice a year in the early spring. These are in managed areas and usually tended by professional beekeepers. There have been no wild European honeybee swarms reported in our area since 2005. Africanized honeybees, in contrast, will swarm all year long. Their survival strategy is to constantly sub-divide and continue to seek and occupy forage rich areas.

This is how they infest and take over areas so quickly. Statistics say that there may be as many as six or more Africanized honey bee colonies in a city block. An established African honeybee colony is capable of sending out swarms many times a year if forage is available. Peak periods of swarming activity are in the spring after winter rains and in the fall after the monsoon rains.

A swarm is a migrating group of honeybees composed of a queen, drones and many workers. Sometimes, as they travel, smaller swarms will join larger swarms to increase their chances of survival and multiple queens may be resident in the swarm for a short period of time as they travel. It is common to see swarms move through an area looking like a dust devil or large moving ribbon, and as they travel, they make a significant amount of noise. Many people report that it sounds like a low flying airplane moving through the area. As swarms periodically decide to rest, they quickly form into a ball, protecting the queen, on trees or bushes or similar vegetation. A typical resting swarm will look about the size of a football, or a glob of bees, which counts about 8,000 to 12,000 bees. Some combined swarms can be much larger and look like a basketball in size and can, occasionally, be even larger. Resting will occur after several hours of flying or if rain or winds force them to hold up in a protected area.

Swarms, Africanized or not, are not overtly aggressive in nature. They are more interested in survival than in any form of confrontation. It is very common for people to call us and say they just discovered a large ball of bees in their bush or tree and it was not there an hour ago. It only takes a swarm three to six minutes to form at a chosen resting site, and when they do form, they quiet down quickly as they rest. There is very little activity until they decide to continue to move on and then, they leave just as quickly. Over the past several years, we have studied Africanized honeybee swarms extensively. Our research indicates that swarms are non-aggressive unless directly interfered with by spraying with insecticides or attempting to dislodge them or make them move out of their resting location – they are non-reactive when they are at rest unless threatened or disturbed. Further, any attempt to dislodge them may force them to move into a nearby structural cavity, in order to increase their chances of survival, rather than continue to move through the area and continue to migrate. Swarms are transient. Our research indicates that if you see them on vegetation, they will more than likely continue to move, otherwise, they would have already chosen to move into you’re house or a neighbor’s house directly. They deserve watching, but statistically, they will explore areas for colonization at least a quarter of a mile away from their resting site, if they are not moving on. A honeybee swarm may rest anywhere from five minutes to seven days at a particular site. In unusual circumstances, they may decide to stay at their resting site and build honeycomb, however, this is usually in pine trees, citrus trees and they will always be there for more than seven days. If honeycomb is eventually visible, and it will be, this is a subject of concern and you should call us.

Africanized honeybees are prolific pollinators and deserve our respect. Aggressive behaviors begin to occur only after the bees have developed honeycomb, brood and have established themselves in a structural cavity that they intend to occupy or, rarely in an open exposed colony. It is their nature to seek out structural cavities that they can easily defend and occupy. Structural damage will begin immediately if the bees move into a structural cavity as they lay down a pheromone scent, an oily urinary secretion that acts as a marker to that particular site for that specific colony and can be recognized by other bees as well from as far as three miles away. Additionally, they will immediately begin to build honeycomb which is highly moisture retentive, will cause significant structural damage, and will also cause future infestation problems if not properly handled by a professional. If bees are noted moving into a structural cavity, or they are seen going in and out from one, call us immediately to avoid the consequent damage and danger. Damage can be minimized, if a new colony is stopped quickly, but never entirely reversed. The longer a colony is left to become established, the greater the damage and higher the probability of future infestations. If a swarm has decided to rest in a commercial, or a high traffic area, and you are uncomfortable with your liability if someone would disturb them, then call us.

With the advent of so much publicity in the media about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), many people have become concerned about the scarcity of bee populations across the United States. All honeybee populations are tremendous pollinators and add to our environment. Africanized honeybees are now pervasive in Arizona and have successfully dominated domestic honeybee colonies in the wild – they are here to stay. People in Asia and Africa have co-existed with the species for centuries. After the “killer bee” scares of the late 1990s, we have learned much about them. We advocate, as well as most Fire Districts throughout the State of Arizona, leaving them alone unless there are potential public liability issues.

In summary, they are here to stay. Like any other insect, reptile or wild animal in our Sonora desert environment, we need to understand their behaviors. Africanized bee swarms are not a serious threat unless directly confronted or interfered with. On the other hand, African bee colonies are very dangerous and should not be allowed to establish without control when around people, livestock or pets and will cause serious structural damage to commercial and residential structures with a high probability of future infestation in the general area if left unchecked to develop on their own.