Swarm of honeybees no cause for alarm

May 19, 2009|By JEFF SEMLER

Spring is in the air and so are honeybees. Many people have a shoot first ask questions later attitude when it comes to flying insects, and honeybees get very little exceptions.

Honeybees are not dangerous in our area. I know many of you have seen news pieces on killer bees or you have been stung, but take heart, if you let them be, honeybees will return the favor.

So for those of you with fears of honeybees here are some things you might like to know:

o Bees fly about 20 mph.

o Bees are insects, so they have six legs.

o Male bees in the hive are called drones.

o Female bees in the hive (except the queen) are called worker bees.

o Losing its stinger will cause a bee to die.

o Bees have five eyes.

o Bees carry pollen on their hind legs called a pollen basket or corbicula.


o An average beehive can hold around 50,000 bees.

o Worker bees must collect nectar from about 2 million flowers to make one pound of honey.

o The average worker bee makes about one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.

o Average yearly per capita honey consumption in the U.S. is 1.3 pounds.

o Bees have two pairs of wings.

o The principal form of communication among honey bees is through chemicals called pheromones.

o Bees are important because they pollinate approximately 130 agricultural crops in the U.S., including fruit, fiber, nut and vegetable crops. Bee pollination adds approximately $14 billion annually to improved crop yield and quality.

This is the time of year when we get calls at the Extension Office when homeowners report swarms of bees. This is a natural phenomenon and is not cause for alarm. Here in the Cumberland Valley we have a cadre of beekeepers who are willing and able to collect swarms.

Honeybee swarms are a favorite topic of people who make horror movies. Actually, they are one of the most beautiful and interesting phenomenon in nature. A swarm starting to form is a thrilling sight. A swarm may contain from 1,500 to 30,000 bees including, workers, drones and a queen. Swarming is an instinctive part of the annual lifecycle of a honeybee colony. It provides a mechanism for the colony to reproduce itself.

Overcrowding and congestion in the nest are factors which predispose colonies to swarm. The presence of an old queen and a mild winter also contribute to the development of the swarming impulse. Swarming can be controlled by a skilled beekeeper; however, not all colonies live in hives and have a human caretaker.

When honeybees swarm, they will settle on a tree limb, bush or other convenient site. The cohesiveness of the swarm is due to their attraction to a pheromone produced by the queen. The swarm will send out scout bees to seek a cavity to nest in and will move on when a suitable nesting site is found. Rarely, swarms may initiate comb construction in the open if a suitable cavity cannot be found. You may want to call a local beekeeper to see if he would like to collect the swarm. Contact the county Extension office or the Maryland Department of Agriculture for a list of beekeepers in the area. Late season swarms are of little value to beekeepers. A traditional poem advises:

A swarm in May - is worth a load of hay.

A swarm in June - is worth a silver spoon.

A swarm in July - isn't worth a fly.

Sources: Texas A & M and University of Nebraska fact sheets.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by e-mail at

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