In which I re-home a swarm of bees

A few weeks ago on the eve of Tulip Time, I saw this hanging from my pine tree in the back yard near the clothesline. At first, I thought a shirt had blown off the clothesline and ended up in the tree.

On closer inspection, I saw it was a swarm of honeybees! I was scared of them at first, especially since the dogs thought they might be worth jumping at. The Klompen Classic was set to begin in an hour with the path going right past my house. Would the runners be greeted with bee stings? And the next day was Tulip Time.

Not sure what to do, I texted a few people. Dr. Paulina Mena assured me that bees are only aggressive when they have their own hive. These bees had left a too full hive, following the queen who wanted a new house. Paulina had the perfect place, a bee box at Central College was empty. The next morning, her student, Lauren, came to get the swarm. She brought bee suits, duct tape, and a cardboard box.

Yes. I did want to put on a bee suit. She’d never collected a swarm before and I’d never seen one. We had so much in common! I did NOT want two active hives in my yard. The queen inside of the swarm, directing her subjects with pheromones, was well-fed and fat. She wouldn’t be going far. The other hive was still somewhere nearby, probably in a tree, with a new queen ready to emerge.

One of the first things Lauren did was drop the bees into the box. She used her hands and I had a big dipper used for water testing for her to use for scooping them. Once most bees were in the box, she looked for the queen. Yes, she was there.

Lauren identifies the queen bee.

As yard bees, these were always friendly, not aggressive. In order to collect all the bees, I snipped the branch they’d swarmed on into the box.

I look like I’ve done a lot but in reality, it was a lot of watching.

Lauren taped up the box and drove them to their new location, a mile away.

The queen was put into the bee box and fed some honey to keep her happy. Otherwise, she might have taken off to find better digs. Her subjects followed her into the new palace; even the few who were left behind would be able to fly a mile, following her pheromones.

Here’s more about the ethics of capturing swarming bees. Basically, if they don’t like the new home, they’ll just leave.  Bees are never truly domesticated. And the best chance of success comes when bees are not moved far from the climate and location they are used to.

I went to visit the bees today, exactly three weeks after I first encountered the swarm.  A few bees flew over, as if to greet me. They looked happy in their new box. I must admit, I feel a little guilty in not letting them find their own new home, but they wouldn’t have gone far and my yard is an active place. One they established a colony they might not be so kindly. What if they found a place only to be sprayed with insecticides?

            If you look closely, you’ll see a good number of bees at the bottom of the hive box.

There seem to be plenty of bees left in my yard coming from a now smaller population with a new queen in a place unknown. I do miss those swarmers. If it happens again, I’m going to let them stay.

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