Bee smart this swarm season

Beekeeper Daniel BeeShepherd in front of a swarm of bees.

Beekeeper Daniel BeeShepherd in front of a swarm of bees.

A huge swarm of bees on a tree near Castlemaine.

A huge swarm of bees on a tree near Castlemaine.

Spring is a busy time for beekeepers as this is the time of year when honeybees swarm.

Castlemaine resident and natural beekeeper Daniel BeeShepherd is the founder of a ​social enterprise called the Castlemaine Bee Sanctuary. Daniel rescues bees that otherwise may have been destroyed. Daniel said last year about 40 swarms were caught and he heard of at least 20 others - and that was just in Castlemaine and nearby areas.

Daniel recommends that if people see a swarm of bees they stay calm and contact a beekeeper.

"Seeing so many bees in one place can be very intimidating but this is as docile and gentle as honeybees ever get. Honeybees are never aggressive, they are only ever defensive. Swarming bees have no home to defend and their only concern at that point is finding a new one, " Daniel said.

Swarming is the European honeybee's natural method of reproduction on a colony level. They are the only species of bee that do this. In spring, the queen increases her egg laying and the colony population sharply increases. When the hive becomes overcrowded, about half to two-thirds of the bees leave with the queen to try to establish a new home somewhere else. A new queen takes over the bees in the colony that are left behind.

"As thousands of bees leave the hive, they form a huge cloud and then settle in a cluster, usually on a nearby branch. They can stay in that cluster for a few days while they send out scouts looking for a place to make their new home," Daniel said.

"The ideal home for the bees is a hole in a tree but they aren't fussy, just about any cavity will do. Research has shown that honeybees prefer a cavity of about 40 litres with a small defendable entrance two to three metres above the ground - so your chimney or wall or roof cavity is an appealing home for them!"

Daniel said it was important to try to catch swarms, as apart from being a nuisance for homeowners, they often move into tree cavities that would otherwise be used by native animals, and there aren't many tree cavities to go around.

"We have been catching swarms in the Castlemaine area since 2013. We carefully remove the bees and re-home them in responsibly managed bee-friendly hives throughout the community and we never use poisons or pesticides."

You can contact Castlemaine Bee Sanctuary on 5470 6216 or at www.beesanctuary.com.au

Swarm facts

When swarms happen: From the end of September and throughout October

Number of bees in a swarm: up to 15,000

Size of an average cluster: about the size of a football

What people should do if they see a swarm: DON'T PANIC and call a beekeeper

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