Springtime means swarms of bees are on the move in central Victoria, but they are nothing to fear – simply fledgling bee colonies finding new homes.
Daniel BeeShepherd, founder of the Castlemaine Bee Sanctuary, said about half the bees would leave a colony when it became too crowded, to establish a new one.
“Swarming is the bee colony’s way of reproducing,” Mr BeeShepherd said.
Swarm season runs from about late September to early November.
A swarm is typically the size of a football – although they can be much larger – and, on average, contains about 40,000 bees.
When bees left a colony to establish another, Mr BeeShepherd said, they clustered on a nearby tree or branch, then sent out a few hundred scouts to find a suitable cavity in which to establish their home.
The fledgling colony then undertakes a democratic process to determine exactly where it will set up shop.
Once a scout found somewhere suitable, Mr BeeShepherd said, it would return to the swarm and perform an enthusiastic dance to convince other bees to check it out.
Mr BeeShepherd said those bees would go out, return and perform the same dance.
He said the new home was decided once more than half the bees were all performing the same dance.
Coming across a swarm is no reason for concern.
“It might be quite intimidating to see so many bees in one place, but they’re as gentle and docile as honeybees get,” Mr BeeShepherd said, explaining at that point they had no home to defend.
But a beekeeper should be called once a swarm is discovered, to safely remove it.
Mr BeeShepherd said there were native animal species, such as the sugar glider and the brush-tailed phascogale, that needed cavities in trees.
There were not many old trees with suitable holes, he said, so when a colony took up residence in one, it became unavailable to other animals.
He said bees could also often take up residence in buildings, such as in chimneys, and became difficult and costly to remove.
Mr BeeShepherd said councils often kept lists of beekeepers.
He also has a network of beekeepers who can remove swarms.
For more information, visit the Castlemaine Bee Sanctuary website.
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