Honey Bee Swarm Information

How to deal with a ‘swarm’ of bees in your garden or home

One of the most common reasons for people contacting us is for the removal of a ‘swarm’ of bees at a property. Our members are very happy to do this, but we will only retrieve honey bee swarms, NOT bumble bee nests, solitary bee nests or wasps’ nests.

This service is offered to the community on a voluntary basis by experienced beekeepers. Although the beekeeper will endeavour to help if they can, we cannot guarantee that a beekeeper will be available when you require one.

FBA and DWFBA, nor the individual beekeeper, can accept liability for any problems that may arise during a swarm collection. Some of the swarm collectors may be members of the Scottish Beekeepers Association, and will therefore be covered under the Public Liability Insurance (up to a limit of £10m). Please confirm this with the individual swarm collector if you have any concerns.

There will be charge for this service of £30, as it is a specialised job. The fee covers the travelling expenses and time the beekeeper will take to safely remove the bees from your property. Please confirm with the beekeeper that you are happy to pay this in your initial conversation.

What is a swarm?

Honey bees usually swarm during the months of May, June and July.  If you discover a swarm and need help and advice, Fife Beekeepers Association or Dunfermline and West Fife Beekeepers Association may be able to assist.

Swarming is the natural reproductive mechanism of a colony of honey bees. About half the colony and the queen bee leave the hive and set up a new home elsewhere. The remaining bees stay in their original home and raise a new queen.

Swarming takes place in two stages. In the first stage the swarm flies away en masse from the hive and clusters, typically on a tree branch or fence post. The cluster may be anything in size from that of a grapefruit to that of a football or even larger. The bees may stay there for a few hours or even for a day or two, whilst scout bees find a new nest site.

A flying swarm or a cluster of honey bees looks scary but it is not dangerous. Honey bees are not normally aggressive and the swarm, with no home or honey to defend, is more focused on finding a new home and protecting their queen bee. If you do not disturb them, they should not bother you.

Their ideal new home will be large enough for them to build comb, to rear brood and to store honey. The photo below of a wild honey-bee nest in a tree, this gives you an idea of the space they need.  A hollow tree, a chimney stack or a cavity wall would be an ideal home for them. Occasionally, and very rarely, honey bees do not find a suitable home in time and start to build their new nest in the open, as in this photograph.

What type of insects have I found at my property; honey bees, bumble bees, solitary bees or wasps?

Beekeepers are unable to assist in the removal of bumble bees, solitary bees or wasps. This is because these insects only make temporary nests, which will be there for one season and then will be abandoned. Honey bee nests may be present for many years and grow extremely large. That is why it is so important for beekeepers to remove honey bee swarms BEFORE they take up residence in loft spaces, cavity walls, chimney stalks etc.

Therefore, it is helpful if you can distinguish between them. This can be done by observing the insects themselves or looking at the type of nest they have built.

Honey bees (Apis mellifera)

Honey bees are quite small (about 18-20 mm long), slightly hairy and are muted in colour, varying from orange-brown to very dark brown or black.  You may see brightly coloured balls of pollen on their hind legs.

These are examples of what a honeybee swarm might look like at your property, as it forms a cluster before finding a new permanent home. If you see this type of swarm then contact us via this website or via our two Facebook pages.

Bumble bees (Bombus)

Bumble bees are bigger and bulkier than honey bees, and are noticeably furry. There are more than twenty species of native bumble bee, all of which vary in size and colour. For more information about bumble bees go to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust website.

Bumble bees usually nest in small holes. These are commonly located below ground level, especially in dry locations such as under sheds or garden furniture, or at the base of trees, or in compost bins.

Like honey bees, bumble bees are not normally aggressive and only become defensive when they, or their nest, are disturbed. Bumble bees are important pollinators that rarely sting or attack people or animals. Their nests should ideally be left alone. The bumble-bee colony, apart from the queen (who will find a new nest site), will die out at the end of summer and will cause no further problems. So leave them alone and they will disperse in the autumn.

Wasps (Vespula vulgaris)

Unlike honey bees and bumble bees, wasps are not hairy. Their smooth bodies are brightly coloured black and yellow. They are a little bigger than honey bees. Wasps are more aggressive than bees, especially in the late summer when they are looking for sweet sustenance. They can sting multiple times without dying, unlike honey bees and bumblebees, who die when they have stung someone.

Wasps typically build a characteristic ‘papier-mâché’ nest (a ‘bike’), hanging in sheltered spots, for example, underneath the eaves of roofs, in attics or in sheds.

If a wasp nest is not a nuisance it can be left until the autumn when the colony will naturally die out (apart from the queen who will find a new nesting site to overwinter). The nest will not be reoccupied. If the nest is a problem, then you would need to contact a local pest controller to have the nest removed. Please do not contact us as we are unable to remove wasps nests.

Solitary Bees

Mining bee – Andrena species

There are many species of solitary bees that will usually be seen in spring and early summer. It can be quite difficult to distinguish some species of solitary bee from honey bees. One clue is that there is a kink in honey-bee antennae, whereas solitary bees’ antennae are straight.

They make their nests in small holes in walls or trees, or burrow in the ground or banks of earth. They can also colonise bird boxes, which provide excellent, dry homes for these bees. At certain times of the year there may be many bees ‘swarming’ around the opening of these nests, these are male drone bees waiting for female queen bees to emerge, in the hope of mating with her. This activity is perfectly normal and will not increase your risk of being stung if you just leave the bees alone. After a couple of weeks the activity will die down as the male drone bees disperse.

Like all bees and wasps, solitary bees are beneficial to the environment.  They pose no risk to humans, and are likely to be only active for a few weeks. Leave them alone if at all possible. We will not remove solitary bees from your property so please do not contact us to do this.

What information will the beekeeper need?

Once you have determined that you do indeed have a swarm of honey bees, then the beekeeper will need certain information from you (see below). When you have all of this information then contact us via this website or via our Facebook pages.

  • a description of the insect (size, colour, markings) if you can see them clearly enough
  • a description of the location of the insects, especially the size and height above the ground of a cluster
  • how long the insects have been there (if known)
  • your name and contact details
  • clear directions to locate the swarm site (postcode, local directions, grid reference, or, most accurately, what3words) plus any potential access issues to that location
  • a photograph of the cluster will help, but do not take any risks to taking one

What to do while I wait for a beekeeper to arrive

  • Keep people, children, pets and other animals away from the swarm cluster.
  • If possible, alert passers-by and direct them away so that they do not accidentally disturb the swarm.
  • Do not disturb the swarm yourself, or try to get it to move on, or attempt to spray it with insecticide.
  • If you have to move around near the swarm, do so calmly and without making any sudden movements or loud noises.