Early bee swarms no surprise this season

Indiana DNR photoTIME TO SWARM: When you see a swarm, do not panic. A swarm of honey bees is generally calm and they rarely sting. Do not spray the swarm with water or poison. Call a beekeeper as soon as you see them.

I received my first call of the year about a honey bee swarm last week. This is a little early as swarm season is generally from around Mother’s Day to early July. With the warm winter and early spring, however, this is not much of a surprise.

A swarm is usually the result of a hive becoming too large for its existing space. When this occurs the queen leaves the existing hive with a portion of the bees while the remaining hive creates a new queen and continues. While looking for a new home the bees will often cluster on a tree limb, bush or another location.

While a swarm looks and sounds impressive, these bees are fairly non-aggressive and will not bother people if left alone. One of the things you should not do is try to eliminate the swarm by applying pesticides or water. Bees are a necessary part of our ecosystem as pollinators, and a swarm should be treated as a resource.

Instead of trying to harm the swarm you should contact a beekeeper. Beekeepers are often looking for swarms so they can add new hives. I have been putting together a list of Boone County beekeepers interested in collecting swarms so contact the Extension Office at 765-482-0750 or by e-mailing cemanuel@purdue.edu and we can get that to you. Beekeepers may also contact me to be added to this list.

Occasionally bees will establish a hive in an undesirable location near and sometimes even in a home. Removing this is a different proposition from dealing with a swarm out in the open. You can contact a beekeeper but many of them will not do this sort of work. I also do not recommend that homeowners try to remove a hive themselves. For this sort of problem, a professional pest control company is often the best option.

Carpenter bees

This time of year you may begin to see large bees, resembling bumblebees, flying near your home and other buildings. These are probably not bumble bees but carpenter bees, also sometimes called wood bees.

Carpenter bees are not dangerous in the same way as bumble bees. While they often behave aggressively, including “dive bombing” at people, they rarely sting. In fact the bees that usually behave the most aggressively towards people are males that do not possess stingers. The female will sting but usually only if handled or stepped on. Carpenter bees are solitary insects so they do not establish large colonies such as bumble bees do. Also, they nest in wood while bumble bees typically establish their nests in the ground.

While the threat of being stung is much less than for many other bees and wasps, carpenter bees can still be considered pests. While they do not actually eat wood, carpenter bees establish their nests by boring round holes about one-half inch in diameter where they lay their eggs. Over time, this boring and subsequent tunneling activity can weaken structures. One sign of carpenter bees is small piles of sawdust beneath the holes.

Carpenter bees prefer to attack wood which is bare, weathered and unpainted. Therefore, the best way to deter the bees is to paint all exposed wood surfaces, especially those which have a history of being attacked. Once bees have nests they may be controlled with pesticides.

The best method is by using a hand duster to apply insecticidal dust directly into the holes. This treatment may need to be repeated one or more times. For serious infestations you may want to use a professional pest control company. Once the bees have been eliminated plug the holes to discourage future infestations. As with all pesticides, remember to always read and follow all label directions.

Curt Emanuel is the Boone County Extension Educator for agriculture and natural resources. Reach him at 765-482-0750 or e-mail cemanuel@purdue.edu.

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