Bee swarms seen, not to be feared

BOAZ – Swarms of bees have been spotted in the Mid-Ohio Valley this spring, but this is not a problem, only part of the bees’ cycle of life, say local beekeepers.

Teresa Wagoner, a beekeeper in Boaz, said the swarms are part of the life cycle.

“This is nature’s way of reproducing,” she said. “It’s God’s way for them to reproduce so they can continue.”

Wagoner said the swarms occur in the spring, usually from April until the end of June. However, they can be seen as late as October. Wagoner said the past winter was hard on the bee population.

“Last year everything was early and this year it’s late,” she said.

Wagoner explained that a swarm forms after a queen bee leaves an established hive and half the bees from the hive follow her, landing wherever she does. Once the bees cluster, a few scout bees go out to find a location for a new home.

“Nobody knows why certain ones stay and others leave,” she said. “It happens and the swarms show hives are healthy and producing more bees.”

Wagoner said the swarms may be seen more locally because of the number of beekeepers in or close to populated areas. She said the Mid-Ohio Valley Beekeepers Association – of which she is a member – has 76 members in West Virginia and Ohio. She said their main goal is to protect the honey bee.

“Because of the number of beekeepers we hear more of it,” she said. “Some of them come from our beekeepers’ hives.”

Wagoner said swarms can appear suddenly.

“A swarm looks like a small black tornado,” she said. “They will circulate like a tornado and when the queen lands somewhere. She will attract the swarm, they cover her and they will stay there.”

Wagoner said if someone sees a swarm they can call her at 304-375-4919 or 304-482-6401 and someone from the MOVBA will come to gather the bees. She said it is important to make sure the bees are taken away because they will set up their colony in the least expected places.

“Any crevice is where they will go,” she said. “It can be expensive to get them out. Many exterminators will tell home owners to call us to gather them.”

Last year, Wagoner said, was a light year of loss, less than the normal loss of about 15 percent.

“We were fortunate in not many of us had losses,” she said. “In the fall the bees begin to get ready for winter and the queen will continue to lay eggs until October to produce the bees that will keep the hive going until spring.”

Fall 2012 was dry and the queen bees stopped laying eggs early.

“If there is no nectar flow, meaning they have nothing to eat, she will stop laying eggs,” she said. “Instead of going to October, they stopped around the first of September and those bees ended up being the winter bees.”

Wagoner said the winter lingered and the bees left got old and started dying.

“The queen does not start laying until it’s warm enough,” she said. “There are always mites and starvation in a hive that also cause problems but this was not the worst year.”

Wagoner said if you see a swarm, the best thing to do is to stay away from it, call her and someone will come to relocate the bees.

“Many still have a fear of bees,” she said. “Many associate the honey bee with stinging, they don’t look at the good they do in the pollination of our fruits and vegetables. When they see a swarm the first they think is ‘Raid’ and that’s the worst thing they can do.”

Wagoner said the problem is not colony collapse syndrome that has hit the Midwest more than other areas.

“We have not seen that here,” she said. “Many scenarios have been looked at but we believe it’s pesticides, we don’t deal with that as much as the corn belt.”

Wagoner said while area bees do not have to deal with pesticides, they do deal with chemicals to treat lawns.

“If we find a swarm and find there is no queen we can mix them with others,” she said.

Wagoner said the way they mix them is called the “newspaper method.” She said the new bees are placed on newspaper above the hive and by the time they eat through, they have the odor of the new hive’s queen and they will mix in with no problems.