Swarm [swɔːrm]


A Case of Mistaken Identity

There have been occasions when beekeepers are called out to what homeowners think is a swarm but is in fact just a lot of active honey bees gathering pollen from a newly blooming tree. Wasps may also be mistaken for honey bee swarms, but these insects generally do not cluster like honey bees. The only time they will appear to swarm is when the nest has been disturbed, treated, or the entrance has been blocked and foraging wasps are trying to get back into the nest.

Although most wasp species, like yellow jackets, build their nests in the eaves of houses and in trees, some wasps build their nests in bushes or plants such as ivy, and so they can be disturbed much more easily and unintentionally, causing a swarm-like reaction. If you have been gardening and suddenly there is a lot of buzzing activity, you may have disturbed a wasps’ nest.

What to do if you find a swarm

First of all, don’t panic! A honey bee swarm is not to be feared. Swarming is the honey bee’s method of reproducing. The colony splits, half departing with the queen. Upon leaving they are much less defensive having left behind their nest, brood (baby bees), queen cells and stored food (honey and pollen). It is wise, however, to keep a safe distance.

Before contacting a beekeeper it is necessary to determine what you are looking at. If you are unfamiliar with insects and their differences honey bees, bumblebees, wasps, hornets and other yellow and black flying insects can cause confusion. Please consult the images below to confirm you are looking at a honey bee swarm before contacting a beekeeper.

Honey bees will begin swarming by flying in their thousands to a temporary location where they will settle into a cluster. Swarms may hang on branches or settle on a wall or fence post but they may in fact cluster anywhere that suits them. They may not appear very active, but if you continue to observe you will see bees coming and going as they plan their final journey to a new nesting site (or a beekeeper’s hive).

It is important that you do not disturb the cluster and call a beekeeper as soon as you can.

To find swarm collectors in your area, enter your postcode into the swarm collector map below.

Beekeepers are only allowed to collect honey bee swarms and may not be trained to handle other insects. Please note, swarm collectors can only enter a property with the consent of the owner/tenant and may not be able to assist where the bees are inaccessible, such as in a chimney flue or a wall cavity. In situations such as these a specialist bee control and removal service will need to be called. It is best to supply the beekeeper with as much information as possible about the swarm to prevent surprises.

Swarm Gallery

If you think you have a swarm of honey bees

Enter your postcode in the box below to find your nearest honey bee swarm collectors.

Before contacting your local swarm collector, please have the following details to hand as these are all questions that the swarm collector will ask:

  1. Size of the swarm – size of a basketball, a football, a tennis ball?
  2. Location of the swarm and how accessible it is – is there a side gate that the collector can use? Has the swarm settled in a bush or a tree, for example? Is it at head height or will a step ladder be needed?
  3. How long has the swarm been there? – swarms may not stay in one place for long and swarms that are greater than 9ft from the ground regularly move on within 24 hours
This service is undertaken entirely by volunteers, some of whom work full time, so should your call be unanswered please try phoning another collector.

If you have wasps or hornets

Please note that St Albans & District Beekeepers Association are unable to remove wasp or hornet nests.  If you have a problem with wasps, please first visit St Albans City & District Council if you are on benefits to see if you qualify for removal for a discounted fee, otherwise: For professional wasp control call Andy Chittenden www.fc-pestcontrol.co.uk 07916 903253 andy_chitts@hotmail.co.uk