Bee swarm season begins in Ohio Valley

WHEELING — A swarm of feral bees at West Virginia Northern Community College brought local beekeeper Eric Blend to the campus on Tuesday to remove and transport the colony containing more than 15,000 bees to his apiary.

The colony at WVNCC marked the start of swarm season for Blend, which typically lasts until the beginning of June. During this period, Blend and other local beekeepers will be called to remove stray swarms of bees that have broken off from their original hive to make a colony at another location.

Blend outlined these swarms as temperatures start to rise and more food, such as dandelions and other flowers, becomes available to colonies. As the colony grows due to the increased food supply, a new queen is made in the hive.

Now with two queens in the same hive, the old queen is forced to leave the hive, taking her swarm of bees to a new location. This new swarm could be located “anywhere” according to Blend, who noted he has had to remove them from trees, bushes, fence posts, houses and even cars.

When a swarm occurs on the side of a house or business, Blend explained that owners may be tempted to try to eradicate the swarm by killing individual bees. However, the swarm will not be killed until the queen is removed.

“If you just kill the foraging bees coming in and out, it’ll hurt the hive, but the queen will keep laying,” noted Blend. “What’s really important is to catch the swarm on a branch, which is like a holding location before they find a permanent place.”

While a swarm of bees may seem scary from the outside, Blend emphasized not to spray any pesticides or repellent on the colony. Instead, he advises one to call the Ohio County Emergency Management Agency at 304-234-3756, as they have a list of beekeepers from the Tri-State Beekeeper Association who they can contact to remove the colony.

“If the swarm is in a public area like a park, we want to make sure a beekeeper can capture it,” said Blend. “Swarms also serve as a good educational moment where we can inform the public about what is happening when bees swarm.”

The removal of a swarm of bees is beneficial not only for residents who do not want to be stung but also for beekeepers, who can use the swarm to add more genetic diversity to their own apiary. Blend explained that a swarm from Martins Ferry will have different genetics from one from Elm Grove.

“Beekeepers can’t catch every swarm, but the importance of getting them when we can is that we can bring the genetics of a most likely native honey bee back to our homestead,” explained Blend. “I can bring all these different bee genetics to my homestead and breed these bees with each other to create a good, genetically diverse Ohio Valley bee hive over time.”

The swarm for WVNCC now resides in a hive at Blend’s farm, the Blended Homestead.

While checking up on the new colony on Friday, Blend noted that the swarm was doing well, as the queen had begun to lay eggs and the bees were forming honeycombs.

“There is bright yellow on the legs of some of the bees in here so that means that they have been bringing pollen back to the hive for food,” said Blend. “That’s a good sign when there’s regular bee activity occurring in the swarm. It was good that this swarm had such a large number of honey bees, as they have a population with plenty of foragers who can go out and bring food back which helps the hive out.”

While the Northern swarm is faring well at Blend’s farm, he noted that just because a hive is large enough to swarm does not necessarily mean it is healthy.

“When you get a swarm, it’s not like they’re the highest quality of bees so you have to care for them,” explained Blend. “It could be possible that the old queen in the hive was around three or four years old, so she’s not in the best shape. When you take in that swarm, it becomes your responsibility to care for that specific set of bees and the challenges that come with them.”

Beekeepers will monitor the swarms they take in to ensure their queen is OK and give the hive medicine if needed. Blend added that monitoring and controlling mite populations in hives is also an important aspect of keeping colonies healthy.

With temperatures predicted to drop next week, Blend noted that swarms that have not built hives yet, which can protect them from inclement weather, may die when exposed to the cold temperatures.

Blend noted that having a beekeeper remove the swarm from the property gives the colony a “better shot at success.” Blend’s ability to integrate and manage the Northern swarm in his hive will raise its chance of survival.

“The only thing that comes with a swarm is its bees and queen, so what’s cool about them is that the original hive is unaffected,” noted Blend. “That hive could have a swarm again on that same tree, it’s all about bee genetics. When we pick up a swarm we are also taking in the genetics of the bees that swarm, so it’s one of those things where we kind of take the good with the bad.”


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