If Arkansans encounter a buzzing mass of bees floating in the air this spring, they should stay calm and appreciate a firsthand glimpse at the natural process of a bee swarm, says Yong Park, associate professor of agriculture-entomology at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
Though the phenomenon may sound like horror movie fodder, bee swarms are not dangerous and an individual’s chance of being stung is slim.
“Understandably, a bee swarm may be an off-putting sight to someone who does not know what it is,” Park said. “Swarming is only a temporary behavior of the honey bee that occurs during the spring, and Arkansans can rest assured that they are not out to sting anyone.”
Bees in a swarm are gentle, he said. Because their honey crop – also called a ‘honey stomach’ – is filled with honey, they do not tend to bend their abdomen to sting any bystanders.
Park said swarming occurs on warm, calm mornings and afternoons from March to June. The process begins when a honey bee colony survives the winter and produces one or more new queen bees. As the new virgin queen bee is ready to emerge, the previously-mated queen bee leaves the colony with half of its honey bees. The swarm swirls in the air or gravitates to an object such as a tree branch or fence if the former queen happens to land on it, and the scout bees then start to search for a new place to nest.
“A swarm, which could number from 20,000 to 30,000 honey bees, may look like a round ball hanging on a tree,” Park said. “The bees might stay there anywhere from 20 minutes to several days. They will leave the location as soon as the scout bees find a decent place to make a new nest, such as the crevice of a tree or house wall.”
If spotted in a backyard or neighborhood street, bees in a swarm should simply be left alone, he said. The wandering wayfarers will soon find a new home and continue to serve their purpose as pollinators, helping guarantee healthy flower, fruit and vegetable gardens across the state.
“Though the sight of a bee swarm may look somewhat disconcerting, Arkansans should remember that swarming is a natural and temporary behavior of the honey bee,” Park said. “When left to thrive, bees will continue to benefit our ecosystems.”
To report a swarm sighting for research and tracking purposes, contact Yong Park at 630-388-9483 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Will Hehemann is with the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences.