By MARION BARNES
Senior County Extension Agent
There are several sure signs that spring has arrived in the Lowcountry: all your vehicles have turned yellow overnight (pollen), more people wearing camo clothing (turkey season), yards and pastures begin to green up (weeds emerging) and swarming honey bees.
Few things will grab one’s attention as quickly as the sight of thousands of buzzing bees clustered on a tree branch or flying through your yard. After all, these are stinging insects that will defend themselves if disturbed.
Swarming is a natural process by which bees form new colonies in response to crowding within the colony. Swarming usually occurs in spring and early summer and coincides with nectar flow when a wide variety plants are in bloom providing nectar and pollen resources.
The primary season for swarming occurs between March and May, but secondary swarms can occur late in the season. Honey bee swarms can contain a few hundred to several thousand worker bees, a few drones and one queen. Swarming bees fly around for a short time, locate a suitable limb, tree branch or other object. When the queen finds a suitable location, she emits pheromones that signal worker bees to cluster around her. The cluster will remain stationary for a few hours to a few days until scout bees find a suitable location for a new nesting site, such as a hollow tree.
According to experts, when honeybees are swarming, they are not nearly as defensive as they are around their hives, because they are not protecting the brood (developing young bees) or stores of honey. However, if disturbed, they will defend the cluster; therefore, it is advisable for people, especially those who are allergic to honey bee stings, to keep a safe distance from the swarm to avoid being stung.
In most situations when a swarm is found in a tree or shrub you need do nothing other than stay back and keep a safe distance. However, if the swarm is located in a place that is problematic and poses a health threat, such as a highly traveled area, playgrounds, schoolyards, etc. and needs to be removed, you should contact a local beekeeper for assistance. South Carolina beekeepers are found throughout the state, and many are eager to collect swarms to start new colonies, enhancing the chances the swarm will survive.
The best way to locate a swarm collector is contact a local beekeeping association. You can find a list of local beekeeper associations and their contact information at the link below:
It is not illegal to destroy a swarm of honeybees, but it is not advisable. Trying to destroy a swarm can be dangerous, especially without the correct protective gear. Honey bees are beneficial pollinators that support agriculture and native plant communities. They can also provide beekeepers with additional income; therefore, contacting the nearest local beekeeper’s association to notify them about a swarm should be the first step in removing them.
For more information on honey bees and pollinator protection, visit the Clemson Apiculture and Pollinator website at https://www.clemson.edu/extension/pollinators/index.html
For additional information on honey bee swarms, check out the Clemson Home and Garden Fact Sheet HGIC 1736, Frequently Asked Questions About Honey Bee Swarms at https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/frequently-asked-questions-about-honey-bee-swarms/
(Marion Barnes is a senior agent with the Clemson Extension Service in Walterboro.)