Contacting a Beekeeper
Many amateur beekeepers will collect swarms in their local area as a community service.
The beekeeper will need to know the exact location of the swarm, its size and how long it has been there. They will need to be able to get a beebox to the swarm and may leave the box there for a day or two. They will probably collect and remove the bee box at night after the bees have settled.
Providing the beekeeper with a photograph of the position of the bees helps the beekeeper understand the size of the swarm and also prepare the necessary equipment required to safely collect them.
Remember to check with the person you contact to see if they charge any fee to cover expenses.
The Amateur Beekeepers Association NSW has a "Find a Beekeeper" system that you can search for beekeepers that will collect swarms. You can search for a beekeeper here: https://www.beekeepers.asn.au/swarms
What is a Swarm?
Bees swarm when they feel overcrowded. It is a natural occurrence. A swarm occurs when the queen bee, accompanied by several thousand worker bees leaves the nest (wild) or beehive and searches for a new home.
Upon leaving the nest or hive, the swarm will form a cluster on a tree branch or other handy structure while scout bees travel further afield searching for a more suitable permanent site.
If you have a bee swarm in your backyard or local area please do not try and kill or interfere with the bees. The bees will not harm you if they are left alone. Remember the important role bees play in fertilizing many of our nuts, fruit and vegetables. Why not try to contact a beekeeper to have the swarm removed and placed in a beehive?
A swarm normally stays in place for a very short period of time, a few days, before the bees move off to the new home identified by the scout bees. The new home they select could be a hollow in a tree or inside the wall or ceiling of a house.
If a swarm settles in your area contacting a beekeeper quickly can allow the bees to be relocated before they establish a home in a place which could cause future problems for the bees or the owner of the property where the bees eventually decide to settle.
Have you found a Swarm or an established Colony/Hive?
If you find a large number of bees entering and leaving a hole in your wall or ceiling, rather than a swarm you may already have an established colony hidden inside the cavity area of your house. Bees are extremely productive and fast workers. That means the longer those bees have been present the larger their hive is likely to be.
As the bees you see coming and going are offspring of the queen inside the hive, their attraction to the hive is very strong. Blocking a single hole is normally not enough to prevent them from finding another access point. If it does stop the bees returning, it does not deal with the large number of bees already inside the cavity or the honey comb, honey and bee larvae which make up the colony.
Removing a hive from inside a wall cavity or ceiling is not the same as collecting a swarm. It is far more complex and usually much more intrusive. Removing a hive from inside a wall or ceiling cavity is called performing a CUT-OUT.
This term is used because often the only way to remove the bees, honey comb, honey and bee larvae from inside the cavity is to "cut out" a section of the wall or ceiling to gain access to the hive and remove it.
Because of the impact this process has on the building, not every home owner is prepared to undertake the activity and even if they are, not every beekeeper is prepared or equipped to carry it out.
The unfortunate alternative is to arrange for an exterminator to kill the bees with a pesticide. However simply spraying a pesticide will kill the bees but does not remove the honey comb, honey or bee larvae from inside the cavity. That material if not removed may result in attracting other rodents, pests or even other bees which can smell the left over honey. The honey itself may ferment and generate an even stronger smell.
A key point to remember is the longer the bees are there, the larger the colony hidden inside the cavity will become.
Bee, Wasp or Fly?
Australia has around 10,000 wasp and 2000 different bee species some appear quite similar while others are very different.
A few wasps in particular can become pests in urban areas and pose a threat from stinging. One such wasp is the introduced European wasp which can be aggressive especially if a nest is disturbed. The native Australian paper wasp is far less aggressive and will keep to themselves but certainly become defensive if their nest is threatened.
Unlike wasps, bees are rarely aggressive in nature and are actually less likely to sting. A bee can only sting once and dies after stinging as the stinger is barbed which causes it to be pulled from the bee's body. However during swarming season honey bee relocation can cause problems so remember your local bee keeper can assist in giving them their new home.