Local beekeepers respond to summer swarms

The honeybees in Deb Hiller’s yard. Photos courtesy of Lisa Sprague.

By Alyssa Evans

What would you do if you saw 8,000 honeybees compacted together in your backyard?

Would you scream and run away? Get the garden hose to take care of them for good? Call a local beekeeper?

After Birch Bay resident Lisa Sprague was approached by her neighbor Deb Hiller about a swarm, she chose the
beekeeper option.

“At first, seeing the bees was scary,” Sprague said. “I have a little dog and didn’t want to go back and get hurt. The beekeeper reassured us throughout that we were safe and helped us do good by saving the bees.”

Honeybees swarm naturally in spring and summer as a way of increasing their population. This means honeybees may become unwanted housemates by temporarily living outside homes.

“I think people see a swarm and think, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s wasps’ and do the wrong thing by calling pest control,”
Hiller said.

Honeybees are robust and have fuzzy bodies, while hornets and wasps have hard bodies. Honeybees are golden with black stripes. Wasps and hornets are typically yellow or black and white.

Honeybee swarms are dense clouds of flying bees which typically settle into a tree or bush. The swarm forms a tight cluster to stay warm and protect the queen bee, according to the Mt. Baker Beekeepers Association.

Russell Deptuch with the honeybees.

“Every swarm is different and a challenge,” said local beekeeper and owner of Bees Choice Honey, Russell Deptuch. “But basically, bee behavior is the same. What the swarm is looking for is a new place to live.”

Beekeepers recommend leaving swarms for beekeepers to handle. If that isn’t possible, the other best option is to leave the swarm undisturbed. Honeybees generally only stop for a day or two, so the swarm shouldn’t be a long-term problem, according to the association.

Honeybees are generally docile. If a honeybee stings a person it thinks is a threat to the colony, the bee will die. This is unlike bumblebees and wasps, which can sting multiple times and still live.

“No one was stung,” Sprague said. “They weren’t mean. They were just cold and wanted warmth.”

A list of Washington state beekeepers who offer swarm removal services is available at beeremovalsource.com/bee-removal-list/washington/.

The sooner a beekeeper is called about a swarm, the better. By contacting beekeepers quickly, the chances of capturing a swarm are higher, according to the association.

“First of all, don’t spray them. Second of all, contact a beekeeper,” Deptuch said. “When the beekeeper calls, describe them. A lot of people don’t know the difference between a hornet, wasp, bee or honeybee.”

Honeybees help pollinate flowering plants through foraging. In the United States, it’s estimated that one-third of the country’s food supply depends on bee colonization, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

“Most people don’t realize how valuable honeybees are. They’re valuable pollinators,” Deptuch said. “Honeybees are facing a lot of issues right now; lack of habitat, pesticides, global warming. Nobody can really pinpoint what the problem is, why the bees are declining.”

Beekeepers are losing about 40 to 50 percent of their bees during winter, whereas in the past beekeepers lost about 10 percent of their bees each year, Deptuch said. Last year, he lost about 30 percent of his bees.

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