PEI

It's swarming season on P.E.I., Island beekeepers say no cause for alarm

As the weather starts to warm up across P.E.I., Islanders may start to notice large groups of bees swarming outside of their hives.

'The bees are very non-aggressive when they're in a swarm'

Swarming happens in late spring and early summer each year as bees leave their colonies to look for new places to build a hive. This picture shows swarming bees in Ontario. (Bruce Richardson)

As the weather warms up across P.E.I., Islanders may start to notice large groups of bees swarming outside of their hives. 

Swarming season happens in late spring and early summer each year as bees leave their colonies to look for new places to build a hive.  

It's probably the safest encounter someone would have with bees because they don't have a hive to protect.— Dave MacNearney

David MacNearney, a beekeeper in Morell, P.E.I., said while large clumps of bees hanging from tree branches or clinging to the sides of buildings may look alarming, it's completely normal and one of the ways bee colonies reproduce. 

When a colony gets too large for its hive, he explained, it splits into two and the queen and older bees will leave to find a new place to build a hive.

"They fill up with honey and they leave," MacNearney said. "They'll go roost in a nearby shrub or a tree or it might be on the side of a building and they'll just hang out there while they send out scouts, and the scouts are looking for an appropriate or new home."

'Sit back and enjoy the show'

Bees' favourite places are hollow trees, but he said they will settle for any kind of cavity or hollow space big enough to store honey for the winter. 

'They'll go roost in a nearby shrub or a tree or it might be on the side of a building and they'll just hang out there while they send out scouts,' says P.E.I. beekeeper David MacNearney. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

He said some beekeepers will set up swarm boxes close to active hives, giving the bees a space that's easy to find where they can start building a new hive. 

MacNearney said homeowners can also set up swarm boxes if they want the bees to stay on their properties.

"You can set them out and attract bees and they'll come and establish a home in that box," MacNearney said.

Some beekeepers will set up swarm boxes close to active hives, giving the bees a safe space to scout for a new hive, MacNearney says. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

For those who don't want the bees around he said not to worry — it usually isn't long before swarms move on to their new homes.

"Sit back and enjoy the show. Like I say, they could be there for a couple hours or it could be three days but they just won't bother anybody," MacNearney said. "Then you'll just notice them all leave or you might not even notice them leave, you'll get up the next morning and they'll have gone."

Swarming bees aren't aggressive

While swarming bees may look frightening, MacNearney said they're actually very docile. 

Island beekeepers say swarming is one of the ways bee colonies reproduce. When a colony gets too big for its hive, it splits in two and the queen and older bees leave to find a new home. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

"The thing that people should know about swarms is that the bees are very non-aggressive when they're in a swarm because they're clustered around the queen and they have no home to protect," MacNearney said.

Swarms are a great opportunity to observe bees from a safe distance of a few feet, he added.

"It's probably the safest encounter someone would have with bees because they don't have a hive to protect so they're not defensive in any way," MacNearney said.

He said if homeowners are concerned and want a swarm removed from their property. they can call the P.E.I. Beekeepers Association, and a beekeeper will come collect the swarm and move it to a new hive. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brittany Spencer is a multi-platform journalist with CBC P.E.I. Email: brittany.spencer@cbc.ca

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