Honeybee swarms

Honeybees, our welcome friend in the garden, pollinating our flowers and much of our food too.
Since spring has arrived at last and the days are getting longer and warmer, we notice more in our gardens, in parks and hedgerows collecting nectar and pollen for their growing colonies. By the end of April, colonies of honeybees may be outgrowing their hives. At this point, the colony will often produce a new queen . There can only be one queen in a colony, so the old queen will leave with many thousands of the worker bees to find a new home. It is this collection of bees in search of a new home that is called a ‘.’

If you are lucky enough to see a swarm in flight, grab your camera, not as many people see them in flight as you might think!

The sound of a swarm can be likened to the slow engine drone of a WW2 Spitfire or Lancaster, moving very slowly through the air.


A swarm is an impressive sight. One moment the air will seem to be full of bees, and then they will start to settle, perhaps on a branch, a lamp post or the eaves of a building. They form a cluster to protect their queen who will be tucked away in the centre of the swarm.


swarm 2

swarm 3

swarm 4

swarm 6

swarm 7

Contrary to what you may have heard or seen in sensationalist films, a swarm is usually very calm. They have no food or young to protect and are therefore not aggressive. The cluster will remain where it is for anything from a few hours to a day or two whilst scout bees fly over the surrounding area looking for a suitable new home. The most suitable home for a swarm of bees is in the hive of an experienced beekeeper who will ensure that the new colony has the best possible start and protection from the various pests and diseases by which our poor honeybees are so beset these days.

Bee, Wasp, Hornet Identification 

See pictures and comparisons for proper identification of “bee”.  


Comparisons (Bee & Wasp/Hornet)

  • Bees have chunky bodies while wasps have slender bodies
  • Bees are fuzzy w/ hair and wasps are slick, smooth bodied & shiny.
  • Bees are pollinators & gather nectar while wasps are predators and feed mostly on other insects
  • Bee nests are waxy and wasp nests are made of papery pulp fibers.
  • Larger male (drone) bees do not have have stingers.
  • Bees and wasps can both inject venom when they sting.  Bees sting only once as a last resort and die while wasps and hornets can repeatedly sting without dying.      
  • Bees are gentle creatures while wasps are aggressive (predators).

Comparisons (Bumble/Carpenter & )

  • Bumble & Carpenter bees are hairier, larger in size, stouter than .  Carpenter bees being the largest.  
  • The yellow to black color is much brighter & vibrant with greater contrast on carpenter/bumble bees.
  • Bumble & Carpenter bees often forage for pollen & nectar on same types of flowers as honey bees.
  • Bumble & Carpenter bees are solitary bees & lack worker-queen hierarchy while honey bees are in large organized colonies
  • Bumble bees nest in ground in abandoned rodent holes, cracks & tunnels. Nests are smaller & rarely found inside homes.  
  • Carpenter bees bore new holes in wood for nesting; nests are the smallest.  Can be found on exterior timber, not as common inside the home.  
  • Honey bees nest in sheltered environments like open cavities in trees, walls, or under the shelter of an eave or overhang.  Are commonly found in homes.


What should I do if I see a swarm?

It is important to ensure it is a honey you are seeing!
Being an avid supporter of honeybees, I am a very busy swarm collector and will obtain a new hive for every swarm I collect.
However, I only collect swarms within a maximum 10-mile radius of Blackmoor Hampshire (UK).

If you spot a swarm of bees elsewhere in the UK, the best thing you can do is to call your local Beekeeper Association Swarm Coordinator.
A list of UK Beekeeper Association Swarm Collectors is found here.
The coordinator will arrange for an experienced beekeeper to come and collect the swarm and re-home it. Do not attempt to do this yourself as it may result in harm to yourself and the bees!


Have a fantastic 2016 honeybee season, please do everything you can to support your honeybees and other pollinators.
Plant bee friendly flowers wherever you can and ensure there is fresh water in the garden.

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