A Gathering of Bees

Desert Willow tree

The other day, I was on my way to the store when I saw something in the distance in our local park that was out of the ordinary.  I was pretty sure that I knew what it was as I had seen this before and so, I drove nearer.

Desert Willow tree

Can you see it?  There is a large mass on the right side of a newly planted Desert Willow tree.

Once I got closer and realized that my guess was right, I turned around and drove home to get my trusty camera.

Swarm of bees

Swarm of bees

What this is, is a swarm of bees that had stopped to rest in this tree.

Swarming is actually a fascinating phenomenon.  Usually the old queen of a bee colony, lays special eggs to create a new queen.  Then the old queen leaves with a bunch of her worker bees to form a new colony elsewhere.

They usually stop along the way for a day or two, which is what happened here.  While they rest, scout bees are sent out to find a new place to build a new colony.  This is a very vulnerable time for the bees as they are unprotected.  The queen is in the center of the mass of bees for better protection.

Swarm of bees

I had to play a bit with the lighting of this photo so that you could see the bees.  I stayed in my car and took this photo.

Swarming usually occurs during a 2 – 3 week period in spring.  You do not have to do anything if you see a swarm, but stay away.  The bees will usually leave in a day or two.  If they are in a dangerous location, you can call in a bee-keeper who will take them somewhere else and release them.  You can read more about swarming here.

**By the way, did you know that beekeepers clip the wings of the queen bees to keep them from leaving their hives?  I think that is just so interesting, although I wouldn’t want to do it.

Although I had observed bees doing this before, I was so happy to have witnessed this fascinating behavior of bees again AND to have had my camera handy.

Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a author, horticulturist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."
27 replies
  1. Hocking Hills Gardener
    Hocking Hills Gardener says:

    It is good to see honeybees around in your area. This was a hard winter for them in Ohio and beekeepers are reporting loses. They are getting scarce around here anyway and we depend upon them so much in the state.

    That is good information about them. I did not know that they were just resting and would leave for new colonies. Good information to know to just leave them be.

  2. Kiki
    Kiki says:

    Wow..fabulous info…very cool..I love bees!! Great shots Noelle, I havent seen that before..so always a treat!!

  3. Becca's Dirt
    Becca's Dirt says:

    Amazing – the life of bees. They scare me but I try hard not to swat and don't kill them unless I have to. Interesting I read on another blog that she was bothered by bees right now. Also on our local news last night there was a story about bees swarming a local clinic. The doctor, staff and patients could not leave till a bee person came to collect them.

  4. Rosey Pollen
    Rosey Pollen says:

    I am thankful for bees as long as they keep their distance. Do you get scared getting close? My dad used to have honeybees a long time ago and I remember eating that honey comb. Yum!

  5. evolutionofagardener
    evolutionofagardener says:

    That's pretty cool, although I don't think I'd enjoy seeing that many bees up close. If you know any local bee keepers, they might like hearing about swarms, especially now with the decline in the bee population and hives dying off. My father-in-law keeps bees and gets calls whenever someone in the area finds a swarm. He's usually able to give them a new home.

  6. Curbstone Valley Farm
    Curbstone Valley Farm says:

    Funny, this is the third bee post I've read today! Although yours is only swarming bee post of the morning. It's just good to see so many healthy bees doing what is normal and natural for bees to do. I'm sure they'll find a lovely new home soon. You're right, it's far better to call a local bee keeper for problematic swarms (never an exterminator), some bee keepers will actually hive a swarm, and are usually only too happy to assist.

  7. Christine B.
    Christine B. says:

    I've never seen bees swarm before. I congratulate you on having the moxie to get that close for a shot. I just saw the first bee of the year yesterday: a bumblebee. Unfortunately, the first mosquito sighting was yesterday, too.

    Christine in Alaska

  8. Annelie
    Annelie says:

    Wow, so glad you had your camera, and thanks for sharing. I did not know about the swarming. Very interesting also about clipping the wings.
    I was just thinking about bees today and our local farms that rent them, which is something I never knew you could do until recently.
    Thanks for stopping by earlier.


  9. Rosie@leavesnbloom
    Rosie@leavesnbloom says:

    I've never seen a bee swarm before and I think a few years ago I would have been afraid of it – but not now as I now have a fascination with bees. My friend had a swarm settle in her garden a few years ago and she said it was an incredible experience though she was anxious at first as she had never seen the likes of it before. She contacted a local beekeeper and he put her mind at rest. They only stayed a day or so in her garden – she says its a sight she will never forget.

  10. Jan (Thanks For Today)
    Jan (Thanks For Today) says:

    Noelle, this is amazing! I've never seen this before. I would hope that people who see it will not attempt to destroy the group or spray poisons on it–you never know with some people. How exciting this is. Thanks for sharing it on your blog;-)

  11. lostlandscape (James)
    lostlandscape (James) says:

    Cool photos! I lived with a beehive in the the back yard, maybe twenty feet from the back door, for several years. I was surprised how docile they were–same with skunks, which I coexisted with for a number of years. But in these days of Africanized killer bees I know it's riskier to assume the bees will be such good neighbors.

  12. pamsenglishgarden
    pamsenglishgarden says:

    Hi, Noelle, I actually had a swarm in my backyard some years ago. It was in a very populated area (not this house) so we called a bee keeper. He used a stick to coax the swarm into a box and took it away. We got free honey from the beekeeper after that. Of course, back then it didn't occur to me to take photos, duh.

  13. James Missier
    James Missier says:

    I always thought bees are very docile and friendly until one day for no apparent reason – one just came and stung on my finger in the morning when I was going to work on the road.
    I had the swell for few days and my thoughts about bees had changed ever since then.

  14. Kathleen
    Kathleen says:

    That's so cool Noelle! I've never seen a swarm like that. Believe me, I would definitely keep my distance if I did!
    I hope they find a new home soon. Funny, how we turn around and get our cameras for these kinds of things! I would have too.

  15. Christine
    Christine says:

    Great photos of a fascinating phenomonen, Noelle. I used to live next door to a bee keeper and his bees would swarm in one of my backyard trees almost every year. The first time it was a bit scary, but the bees are actually fairly docile while swarming. The bee keeper was able to capture them and take them back to his yard without wearing any protection at all. Not even gloves!

  16. Rose
    Rose says:

    Very informative, Noelle! I didn't know that bees would make temporary stops like this. Glad you went back for your camera.

  17. Kimberly
    Kimberly says:

    Noelle, this is absolutely fascinating! I've never seen or heard of this before. I'm highly allergic to bees so I'm not sure I'd have the nerve to attempt a photo. You really got a great shot! Amazing…honestly!

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