What’s the buzz? Why honeybee swarms are behaving differently this year, and what to do if you see one

Apiarist David VanderDussen set up a hive for a honeybee swarm to turn into a home, and the early swarm took an unusually long time to settle due to weather. – Emma Persaud photo

In all his 43 years of beekeeping in the area, Stirling beekeeper David VanderDussen has never seen a year like this one.

“This is the earliest swarm I’ve ever seen,” the apiarist said on May 3 in a video he sent to his family and has shared with Quinteist.

“This is a record sighting for me,” he said, noting his previous record was May 4. Most honey bees start to swarm between mid-to-late May when the weather is warmer and flowers are in full bloom.

“Bees that swarm are looking to start a new colony,” he said. “They send out scouts to look for a cavity for them to get into because they’re a cavity-dwelling animal. They rear their babies around our body temperature and are looking for protection from the elements.”

Not only was this swarm earlier than expected, it was also a big one. This sighting, VanderDussen said, is called a prime swarm; a large, early-season swarm. He said that the mild winter and early pollinating blooms may be the reason.

“It means we’re having an early spring and the season is advanced,” he said. “They’ll raise their first round of baby bees and then a secondary round to take off with the original queen and then raise a new baby queen for the colony left behind.”

And this isn’t the only swarm that has VanderDussen buzzing this season: another prime swarm has appeared on a lavender bush in the beekeeper’s own backyard. Though he has offered them a hive to make their home, this swarm is taking its sweet time. While a swarm of honeybees will typically take a day to move from a swarm to a hive, this one has been moving between the bush and hive for five days now – and has even started to lay wax between the two locations.

“When bees swarm, their body fills with wax and they start to excrete it like sweat,” VanderDussen explained. “Typically they would fly to a new home in a day but since we’ve had all this rain they’ve just settled. I’m trying to hive them into an actual hive here on site.”

VanderDussen says if people see a swarm out in the wild or in their yard, to just let it “bee.”

“They’re very gentle, full of honey and have no home to protect,” he said. “People can call the Quinte Beekeepers Association, they have members who will come and collect the swarm to make up for any winter losses.”

The warm wet weather has been great for flowers, and sightings of swarms like this bode well for the area’s local honey crop, but Vander Dussen says it’s still too early to tell.

“There’s an old saying: a swarm in May is worth a bale of hay, a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon and a swarm in July isn’t worth a fly,” he told the Quinteist. “By then the honey flow is over and you have to feed them to bring them through the winter and their circadian rhythm is off.”

So Vander Dussen said to enjoy these kinds of sightings for the signs of spring they are.

“Just enjoy honey bees, they add a lot to quality of life. A lot of our fruits and vegetables need bees to grow. See a bee, say hello and let it go about its business.”

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