Swarms and feral nests of honey bees have always been a major resource for beekeepers. In certain areas, there is fierce competition between individuals interested in collecting these free bees. Thus, traditionally, beekeepers have initiated contacts with fire and police departments, extension offices and other public agencies to be called when swarming bees are reported.
Although wild swarms are easily captured, they can be vectors for parasites or pathogens. It also now appears that European bees, especially in the southern U.S., will also be subject to physical takeover by wild Africanized swarms. More insidious is gradual Africanization after supersedure because of numerical superiority of wild Africanized drones. For all the above reasons, feral bees can increasingly become a liability.
The following have been suggested to minimize anticipated problems from feral nests and swarms:
1. Locate feral colonies and evaluate their nuisance potential.
2. Locate potential future nesting sites for feral colonies and keep them under observation.
3. From time to time collect bees from feral swarms and have them checked for tracheal and Varroa mites and other diseases.
4. Learn how to kill feral bees and destroy their nests. Be prepared to do so when they are infested with mites or potentially become a stinging hazard.
In other words, the aggressive elimination of honey bee swarms and nests of unknown origin may be an important management strategy for beekeepers in the future. Potential benefits include: eliminating bees that might cause highly publicized stinging incidents; reducing competition for nectar collection by managed colonies; and eliminating sources of apiary Africanization and infectious diseases. The state of Florida has in fact established best management practices that do exactly what the above paragraph suggests.
Research suggests that two populations of bees now coexist in many southern areas. One managed in boxes is European in origin; the other a feral one often out of beekeepers’ control is Africanized. A great challenge for those in beekeeping in the region inhabited by the bee, therefore, will be how to manage the Africanized feral population. It is this cohort of bees that will reduce nectar resources for, and genetically mix with, managed bees and become the prime source of potential public stinging incidents.
Some time ago, one of the beekeepers first affected by Africanized honey bees made a presentation in Florida about the effect of this insect. In summary, he advised all to “Just Say No to Africanized Honey Bees.”
A number of ways to hive swarms is found at talkingwithbees.com. They range from shaking bees into a box to trapping and/or vacuuming the insects. The key to managing swarms is locating the queen. Once she’s in a hive, worker bees will march right in, just one of the many wonders of keeping honey bees.