Swarms of activity deserve respect, fascination

The Coastal Gardener

July 09, 2010|By Ron Vanderhoff
  • A bee swarm.
A bee swarm.

Over the past few weeks we have had two or three honeybee swarms here at the nursery. If you are an avid gardener or outdoor enthusiast, you're probably accustomed to bee swarms, especially during this time of the year. At the nursery, these swarms immediately become a huge curiosity.

Did you see all of those bees? Are they angry? Are they looking for a person to attack? Are they lost? Are they looking for their hive?

To most, the sight of a bee swarm induces unusual, often contradictory emotions — beautiful and frightening at the same time. In others, it causes a feeling of curiosity and appall, like driving by a bad accident. You want to look, but at the same time you're afraid you might see something you don't want to.

A swarm of honeybees is capable of reducing the most fearless person to a shaking bowl of jelly. It exhibits sheer terror. During last Saturday's afternoon's swarm at the nursery we overheard comments of "call the fire department," "call the police" and "hurry, get some insecticide." Mothers grabbed their children. Others shrieked, hurrying for cover.


The reality of a bee swarm is quite different from the appearance. They are normally of no real danger and honeybees are usually at their most docile while in a swarming state.

Watching honeybees pour forth from a hive by the thousands, then swirling in the air like a tornado, all the time sounding like a runaway express train, then accumulating into a buzzing football-size mass, is one of nature's most awesome scenes.

What is this swarming about? Are they preparing to attack a helpless human at any moment? Not at all. They are simply engaged in a brief process to propagate their species.

A normal honeybee hive will go through the winter with a population of about 12,000 bees. Early in the season, the queen bee will start laying eggs to build up the population two, three or even four times larger so as to maximize potential during the flowering season. More bees mean more nectar, which is turned into honey as food for the upcoming winter.

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