Thursday, September 3, 2009

Late Summer Honey Bee Swarms - Should I have a bee swarm removal done?

Yesterday, I ran across a great blog maintained by a very interesting lady, Mo, who lives in Arizona. A honey bee swarm landed in her backyard tree, and being a naturalist, she wants to save the honey bees. She’s been researching honey bees and swarms and getting quite the education about these complex social insects and the dilemma we are now facing with Africanized Honey Bees. Please take a look at her blog here. I wrote a post on her blog, and she was kind enough to consider my thoughts. Here is a follow up to my post, and it applies to anyone who encounters a late summer bee swarm.
“About your bee visitors. Ladybug gave good advice, when they advised that you could probably leave the swarm alone, and it will leave on its own. Swarms are *usually* transitory, providing a resting and reconnoitering waypoint, until the bee scouts find a permanent location. You probably have a mother colony nearby and can expect to see more swarms in the future.
And, swarms are mostly non-defensive, meaning that the sting risk is low, probably because they have no nest, young or honey to defend, and they are focused on finding the permanent colony location. The clock is ticking, as they have maybe a week’s worth of honey stored in their crops.
Here are my opinions, fwiw:
1. I’d bet the swarm was Africanized, based on the size. It’s a small swarm, plus European bees will rarely send out swarms this time of year.
2. Swarms in late summer are probably loaded with parasites, such as varroa mite, which is believed by many to be a major culprit in Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). These small swarms can be thought of as ‘taking one for the team’, as they might be an effective means of removing a high proportion of the parasite load of the mother colony. Beekeepers risk infecting their own bees if they hive these parasite and disease laden bees.
3. Honey bee populations are increasing, & sacrificing one swarm near a residence will have little effect on the population. Yes, the media has publicized (yes!) our higher mortality rates of Managed honey bees lately, but I think an important message has not been conveyed: Wild bee populations have actually been increasing in much of the U.S., and in some areas, we are seeing an explosion of bees! Of course, this population growth might be due to Africanized (AHB) intrusion, which is a double edged sword…GREAT for pollination, not so good for humans and domestic animals, as they can be quite defensive and a significant sting risk.
4. Transporting and relocating may be an option, but realize that this swarm probably won’t survive. It’s small, probably has a virgin queen of low quality, and likely has a high parasite load.
One important note: Many will tell you that they can identify Africanized bees, based on behavior or morphology (what they look like). Let me assure you that these are false claims. I have a Master’s degree in Entomology, with a stinging insect specialization. I employ an entomologist who has spent years in Africa, keeping hundreds of African bee hives. My partner is an entomologist with years of honey bee experience. Even we can’t ID AHB by casual observation. We have to perform a lengthy test involving ~50 bees, dissections, measurements and calculations to get even a probability of Africanization. And like I mentioned before, swarms & newly established colonies (European & AHB) are usually non-defensive, so that is useless as a means of identification. Our website has some info on swarms that might be helpful, although it mainly deals with Springtime bee swarms, a totally different process:Honey Bee Swarm Info
Please bee careful with opinions (even mine!), as I’ve found many providers in this field are crafty, and tell the client what they *want* to hear. As an insect scientist, I try to be aware of my feelings and bounce them against fact.
Oh, one other note, please keep watch around your home, as bees often move into soffits, wall voids and many other areas in & around the house.
So, I guess my advice would bee to do what feels right. If your desire is very strong to have the bees relocated, have it done, but please have a licensed expert, one who has beekeeping experience, required licenses for pest control ( application of residual pesticide will help keep a repeat occurrence), commercial liability & workmen’s comp insurances. There is no reason for you to be liable for an incident that gets out of hand in today’s litigious society. Realize this will likely cost more than eradication of the colony, which is ok in my opinion. Again, if you go with eradication, employ a qualified provider. I have seen really, really unqualified providers make a mess of things and homeowners need not go through such an experience.
Bee well! Richard Martyniak, M.Sc. Entomologist (and super-tall beekeeper)”

p.s. I've always loved this bee swarm rhyme: "A swarm in May's worth a rick of hay; And a swarm in June's worth a silver spoon; while A swarm in July isn't worth a fly."

1 comment:

  1. Hi Richard,

    It is done, and they are gone.

    I took your advice, and thank you for taking so much time and trouble to educate me in the way that you have.

    I can't help feeling that we are making such a mess of this world with all the meddling that we do, but then that is not really a new thought for me!

    Thank you again.

    Kindest regards, and good luck with all those bees down there in Florida!