Published on 04/14/99

Don't Fret; It's No Threat -- Swarming's How Bees Do It

The world's first manufacturers of sweets and plastic are still hard at work, contributing more than $144 million each year to U.S. food production. If you see them in your yard, don't kill them.

Colonies move in swarms

M. Fonseca, UGA CAES
Removing a 
bee swarm from a house.

BEES ARE GOOD -- REALLY! Many homeowners see bee swarms or hives as a threat, but Marco Fonseca, an Extension Service agent in Cherokee County loves to get calls about bees. "The callers see (bee) swarms as a problem. But I see them as great, because I know we're increasing the wild bee population." More bees means more effective pollination in gardens and crop fields.

"Each year honey bee colonies reproduce by a process called swarming," said Keith Delaplane, an Extension Service entomologist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

"During midwinter, the queen begins laying eggs and the colony's population grows," Delaplane said. "By spring, the nest is congested with many new bees. The colony raises a new queen, and the old queen flies away, accompanied by more than half the bees."

Swarms search new sites

The flying swarm can cluster on a tree branch or other object while scout bees search for a nest site.

"A hanging swarm may take on any shape, depending on the surface where the bees are clustered," Delaplane said. "Most hanging swarms are round or oval, about the size of a basketball and dark brown."

Swarms in your yard?

If honey bees swarm in your yard, you have several options:

  • Don't disturb them.
  • If the swarm is safely away from animals and people, wait for it to fly away on its own.
  • If the swarm poses a real risk to people or animals, find a local beekeeper who will remove it. Not all beekeepers collect swarms, and some may charge a fee for the service. Your county Extension Service agent can refer you to local beekeepers who collect swarms.
  • If Africanized bees, commonly known as killer bees, are known to be in your area, report the swarm to your county Extension Service agent or the state Department of Agriculture. Fortunately, Africanized bees aren't known to be anywhere near Georgia.

Killer bees not in Georgia

"Africanized honey bees are probably the biggest anticlimax of the decade," Delaplane said. "They first entered the country in 1990 in Texas. To everyone's surprise, they began moving west.

"They're now found in southern New Mexico, Arizona and California," he said. "But they haven't even moved as far east as Houston. We can start relaxing a little bit."

Honeybee swarms may move in

Clustered swarms of honey bees are relatively gentle and usually won't sting. Still, treat them with caution. In about 24 hours, they will move on to their new home.

Unfortunately for some people, the bees' new home may be inside your walls.

"Wall voids are attractive to honey bee swarms looking for a home," Delaplane said. "This is especially true if the cavity has had bees in it before."

To prevent bees from nesting in walls, caulk potential entry sites, including known holes, gaps in siding and openings around plumbing or electric wires.

If you need ventilation around the openings, cover them with window screening.

For more information on bee swarms, contact your county Extension Service agent. Or see the bee-related publications on the Web at

Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.