By Ashley Vandermaarl, SPECIAL TO THE REVIEW
A swarm of honeybees garnered quite a bit of attention when they landed on a shoppring cart just outside of the Waterdown Sobeys earlier this month. The bees eventually moved on, but the incident has raised some public concern about the possibility of more swarms and questions about what to do when they occur.
Bee swarms can happen at any time but they don’t normally occur in the spring, said Mary Swirski, a fifth generation bee keeper in Waterdown. She noted that the early warm weather could be causing the heightened activity with the bees.
Swirski has already helped capture and remove nine swarms this spring. A typical swarm is composed of about 10,000 bees, but they range from 5,000 to 60,000 bees.
Swirski noted that bees are not usually aggressive when they are swarming. In fact, Mary’s father, 89 year-old Walter Swirski, noted that bees do not sting when they are in a swarm.
Swarms occur when the bees’ hive gets too big. The queen has laid eggs, and they are hatching into larvae. The queen then takes half of the worker bees, and they leave to build a new hive. The other half of the worker bees stay behind to nurture and raise the young larvae. It is this traveling pack of worker bees and the queen that makes up a swarm. When the bees land – on a tree, a house, a shopping cart – they are merely resting before going on to establish a new hive.
“They can rest for five minutes or for three days,” Swirski added, noting that a three-day rest is uncommon.
The best advice for the public is to stay away from the swarms, she said as they will move on eventually. If someone happens upon a swarm, they should walk calmly and quickly away, as running and flailing arms may seem threatening to the bees.
Swirski notes that while killing the bees is not illegal, it is devastating for the already low bee population. It is estimated that 60 per cent of the bees in North America have been lost due to colony collapse. The newest theory for the loss of bees is systematic pesticides, which soak into the ground, are absorbed by the plant, and then poison the bees that collect the nectar.
Just two years ago, the Swirskis’ apiary suffered a colony collapse. It was difficult and expensive to purchase new queen bees due to the shortage, she noted. Because of this, beekeepers are more than willing to come and remove swarming bees, free of charge. “The best time to remove the hive is early morning or dusk,” Mary said. “The bees are all resting then and it’s easy to just put them in a box.” However, the swarm will move on if left alone.
Sometimes it’s best to just let nature do its thing.