Okanagan beekeeper safely removes swarm of 20,000 bees — without a suit
It’s not the largest swarm of bees Tyler Hug has seen, though he did call it on the bigger size of average.
Still, with hundreds of bees swarming around him and thousands clumped around their queen, Hug was cool as ice in a scene that would find many losing their cool and running for the hills.
On Friday, the South Okanagan beekeeper safely removed a swarm of bees in a bush at an RV dealership in Summerland. Hug estimated the swarm at roughly 20,000 bees.
And he calmly did so without a beekeeping suit on.
“The size [of the swarm] actually surprised me,” said Sharon Metzger of Summerland RV Centre. “I’ve never seen a swarm quite that big.
“So at first, it was a bit intimidating, but at the same time it was quite beautiful to see, knowing that honey bees are so endangered right now.”
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Hug said when he started beekeeping a few years ago, he wore full beekeeping suits. But now that he’s worked long enough with bees, he’s since learned when and when not to suit up.
“In that state of swarming, they’ve engorged themselves on honey and they’re really, really full,” said Hug. “Their whole instinct at this point is to survive. They’re so full of honey, they can’t even extend their stinger to sting you.
“So they really just bounce off you, land on you, check you out. But their primary goal at this time, during that process, is to protect the queen; that’s why they make a big ball.”
“They’re more interested in survival at this point; not defending the hive or a honey source.”
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Metzger said Hug did a lot of explaining prior to removing the swarm.
“He told us the honey bees were very docile when they are looking for a new home because they’re engorged with so much honey,” she said. “So he made us feel all very comfortable when the bees started swarming.”
Hug did state, though, that once a hive is established, and they start storing honey and the queen is laying eggs, “then they get a little more aggressive” and “their defences are on.”
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Swarms of bees in spring are normal, said Hug.
“A colony will grow until it grows to the volume of the hive,” he said. “Once it fills the hive up with population, the queen makes a decision that it’s time to divide.
“She lays a couple of eggs in the queen cells and then she takes half the population and goes and creates a new colony. Then the existing colony that was left behind will raise the queen.”
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With bees reportedly in decline in some areas of North America, seeing a swarm should be a good thing. But Hug warns that’s not always the case.
“Yes [it’s good news because] it means there’s an established colony somewhere,” he said. “We don’t like bee swarming; they’re not native to this region and what happens is they typically don’t survive the winter.
“So once they swarmed off, their survival rate of establishing a new colony and surviving the winter is quite low. So that’s why we do our best to capture them and then re-home them in an actual hive so we can take care of them.”
Hug also said “they will also establish a colony anywhere they can. So all of a sudden having a beehive inside of the walls of your house, you really don’t want that.”
He added that this week, he’ll be attempting to remove a swarm located inside a chimney.
For more information about bees in B.C., visit the B.C. Honey Producers Association. For the Okanagan, visit the North Okanagan Beekeepers. The North Okanagan website has a contact list of swarm catchers from Armstrong to Summerland.
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