Why do Honeybees Swarm?

Ever see honey bees swarming in mass and wonder why they do this? If you have, then welcome to the club. Of course, the next thing you might wonder is exactly what is going on?

Bees swarm to orientate the members of the hive, whether that be to travel distances or to coordinate food sourcing.   Below are just a few reasons you may see this behavior and whether you should be concerned with it or not.

Reasons You See Bees Outside of a Hive

  • Orientation Flights: A female honeybee does not come out of the hive until she has graduated from the cleaning and feeding duties that all new worker bees have to go through, (we will discuss the duties of a honeybee in succession in another paper). However, the first time a bee comes out of the hive and prepares to go off searching for nectar, pollen, or water to bring back for the hive’s needs, it must orientate to the hive’s location.  They do this by flying in circles around the hive several times.  They will fly off several times with ever widening circles until they have the locations set.  This activity happens for every hatch off, so you will see this activity on many occasions.  
  • Robbing behavior: During lean times of the year, other bees will seek out other sources of nectar/honey or pollen other than the traditional flowers you see them on. You may have seen them on your Coke can or other sugary drink while you were at a picnic. They will also seek out ways to enter the hives of weaker nests to see what they have in resources.  If they do get in and out of the hive unchallenged, they will report back to their hive and tell the others where the free resources are located.  At this time, the first bee with many others will swarm out of their hive in attempt to rob out the weaker hive.  This invasion will be either stopped in its tracks or the swarm will kill all the current residents and take their resources. 
  • Bathroom flights: Bees are like people. We must relieve ourselves from time to time.  You have heard the old saying, “what goes in must go out”?  Well, bees are no different.  Bees are a clean insect. In fact, bees will fly out and use the bathroom when needed.  They will not go in the hive.  This is not more prevalent than in the winter months when bees have been in the hive staying warm for long periods of time.  On warm days, you will see that bees will head out to relieve themselves in droves. In climates where snow is on the ground for extended periods, you will see brown droplets all over the white snow around a hive.

Reasons You See Bees This Bees Outside a Tree or Structure

Swarming: When a hive has grown beyond its enclosure or the hive is too large, the bees will decide to seek out another location for the main hive.  This will mean the old queen will fly out with a group of the bees to start another nest (this is how bees propagate). 

I will go into detail on this behavior in another paper. The bees will flow out of the hive-like water out of your faucet and fly around the hive for several minutes. 

They will do this until the old queen takes off for a tree or other structure in the area.  Once she lands at the new location, the bees will gather around her making a ball of bees. 

They will remain at this location until disturbed or a new home is found.  At that time, they will all go airborne and fly to their new home.

Is it Dangerous to Approach a Group of Swarming Honeybees?

Yes and No. 

No, because due to the various critical reasons as to why honeybees swarm that I mentioned above, your approach will be seen as a disturbance.

The consequences to such a disturbance are not too harmful since honeybees are some of the least dangerous types of bees, but it’s still advised that you check the manner of your approach.

Furthermore, there are quite a lot of male honeybees (called drones) that do not have stingers and can’t hurt you in anyway except for scaring you to death. 

This brings to mind an incident where my grandson, who is deathly afraid of bees, ran from a bee so hard that he fell on an assault driveway hurting himself far more than a bee could have done.

He is okay by-the-way.   In most case bees are not aggressive.  In the bee world, we call them defensive because they will protect their hive but don’t go out to hurt anyone or thing.

Yes, because if they are being robbed by another hive, they may think you are one of the robbers and try to run you off too. 

Also, during times of dearth (without natural nectar) like in the fall, the bees will not want you near the hive for fear of you may stealing their resources.

However, the general rule-of-thumb that you’ll be advised to adhere to is just keep a low profile and observe the situation if you encounter honeybees that are swarming from a distance.

If they don’t take note of you, then there can be no possible incidents of risk and harm.

Is There a Way to Safely Get Rid of a Group of Swarming Honeybees

Some people don’t have the choice to just let it be and let it go with regards to swarming honeybees.

For various reasons including concern for your children and loved ones’ safety, possible effects to the vegetation in your yard, sanitary concerns, and even just personal irritation, you may want to get rid of swarming honeybees near your home.

If you’re one of these people, please be advised to call a professional to take care of the situation.  

If you keep bees yourself, you can wear the appropriate bee suit so you can handle the situation.  Please do not poison the honeybees or kill them in anyway as this may be illegal in your area. 

First, this will just aggravate them and cause them to be more defensive.  Secondly, bees pollenate one-third of our crops and without them we would not fare so well. 


Honeybees are some of the most fascinating and important species of insects there are in the natural world. Time and time again, they have proven to be indispensable to a vast array of animals-including us- as a source of nutrition through honey. 

Honeybees are also very important for maintaining the ecological balance of various habitats through processes such as pollination.

In lieu of this, it’s not too difficult to see why bee enthusiasts are so adamant in their advocacy for their conservation.

Part of this includes an appeal for us to have a sense of understanding regarding what most of us would see as oddities of behavior.

So, the next time you see a group of honeybees swarming, think on their importance and the appeals for them to be left alone, and perhaps, just maybe, over time, you’ll be just as charmed by their behaviors as those who have come to love them.






3 responses to “Why do Honeybees Swarm?”

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