Santa Barbara Bee Swarms: A Beginner's Guide

Bee Swarms: A Beginner's Guide

By Kevin O'Connor on Mar 15, 2019 at 08:28 PM in Santa Barbara Pest Control

"Every spring I see at least one loud mass of honey bees flying in Santa Barbara... scary!"

Santa Barbara Bee Swarms: A Beginner's Guide
A "ball" of honeybees resting after they have swarmed. The queen is in the middle.

Humans are hard-wired to be alert to the sounds of honey bees buzzing -- honey bees can sting and we want to avoid that! However, buzzing is not a reliable sign of honey bee aggression: buzzing is caused by a honey bee's wings moving (to fly, to fan its hive and cool things down, to communicate with other honey bees) and experienced beekeepers learn to recognize the particular sound an angry honey bee makes. They know that while a swarm looks and sounds scary, it is actually one of the gentlest expressions of honey bee activity!

How can a swarm of honey bees be considered "gentle?"

When a honeybee nest, or hive, becomes densely packed with young honey bees and is starting to feel constrained for space, the colony decides to split. Departing honey bees gorge on their honey stores in preparation for their exodus -- in fact, they are so full of honey that it is hard for them to sting, even if they wanted to!

They emerge from the hive in an awesome mass and the air fills with honey bees zinging around. The queen honey bee, a heavier and more awkward flier, emerges and the colony escorts her to a spot between 50 and 100 feet away, where the queen lands and her accompanying attendants mass around her, protecting her in a large "ball" of honey bees. 

Don't poke: leave the swarm alone!

At this point, the swarm is quite docile -- they are on a mission to find a new home and are not interested in anything else. HOWEVER -- if you were to go up and poke at them (or throw rocks at them as some teenagers feel compelled to do) they would not take it kindly and might come after you.

They will stay in this ball for a few hours to a few days, protecting the queen as the scout honey bees scour a thirty mile area looking for a new home (often in a tree). Once the scouts have found the home, they communicate its location to the honey bees attending the queen and the swarm moves up en masse and flies to its new home.

"Help! The honey bees have balled up in my Santa Barbara back yard and I am worried about someone getting stung!"

Santa Barbara Bee Swarms: A Beginner's Guide2
A beekeeper gently removes a bee swarm from a bike.

If you are worried about a honey bee swarm being poked at by your children or dog, or have any other concerns, DO NOT SPRAY the honeybees! They are a vital part of Santa Barbara's environmental health, pollinating crops, wildflowers and bringing increased fertility to your and your neighbors' back yards and gardens. Simply keep your children and pets away from the swarm until it moves on.

If you can't wait until the honey bees move of their own accord, or are concerned that what you may be seeing is wasps or yellow jackets, ask for help:

Contact O'Connor Pest Control today if you desire professional and knowledgeable pest control advice or call us at 800-284-7985 for immediate service!