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Better safe than swarmy: Manitoba apiarist says thousands of bees ‘camping out’ isn’t uncommon

Honeybees return to a hive at Veterans Affairs in Manchester, N.H., on Aug. 7, 2019.
Honeybees return to a hive at Veterans Affairs in Manchester, N.H., on Aug. 7, 2019. AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File

When a Headingley, Man.-area woman made headlines after being confronted with a swarm of honeybees gathering on her maple tree Friday afternoon, local bee experts knew exactly what was going on.

John Russell, president of the Red River Apiarists’ Association (RRAA), told 680 CJOB that the sudden appearance of a buzzing blob of bees on the side of a tree or a house isn’t uncommon at this time of year.

“The last two weeks and the next two weeks to come, this is when the nectar flow is happening in our province,” Russell said.

“The nectar flow is when there is just a plethora of flowering plants and crops that are providing an abundance of nectar for honeybees.”

Russell said during this time, the bees start filling their colonies with nectar and converting it into honey, at which point the colonies become congested and run short on space.

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“Population being peak, it triggers a behaviour called swarming, where they will produce a replacement queen for the colony, and the original queen — with a large portion of the young bees — will suck up a bunch of the honey and they will abscond, looking for a new home.”

Before they settle on a new home, however, he said there’s a behaviour that’s like a “camp-out” where the bees will gather in large numbers — a swarm — and it can be anywhere from a tree in someone’s yard to an attic inside a home.

“They’re kind of eclectic in choosing those sites, and that’s the opportunity where a trained beekeeper can come and collect them,” he said.

“Unfortunately, what happens is they get into trouble (by swarming near homes) because not everyone’s going to be willing to coexist with 10,000 bees in their attic.

“Usually that ends poorly and they become a target for extermination.”

Beekeepers, however, are able to interrupt the swarming behaviour and get them into a brood chamber — and from there, they can transport them to commercial honeybee farmers.

Read more: Winnipeg City Hall abuzz with hive of new neighbours

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Russell said in this weekend’s incident in the Headingley area, members of the RRAA were able to get close to the swarm and scoop them into a box.

“If you’re able to get the queen and the major mass, the bees that are in the air… will be attracted to the pheromones the queen is exuding in their new home, and they’ll basically ‘pied piper’ themselves to where we want them to be.”

The RRAA is encouraging all Manitobans to contact the association if they encounter a swarm, rather than immediately going for that can of insecticide.

Get Gardening: Attracting bees and butterflies
Get Gardening: Attracting bees and butterflies