Surge in bee swarms seen in Richmond area
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Surge in bee swarms seen in Richmond area

Sep 12, 2023

Credit: Oisin Keniry/Cricket Ireland/Cover Images Cricketers in Ireland were bowled over on Wednesday (07June2023) as they were forced to throw themselves to the ground to escape a marauding swarm of bees.

Richmond is feeling the buzz a little extra this summer thanks to the increase in bee swarms.

Steve White, vice president of programs and swarm dispatcher for Richmond Beekeepers Association, said he's taken over 200 calls so far this year as compared to fewer than 70 last year.

Typically, swarm season starts at the beginning of April and lasts approximately four to six weeks, White said. This is around the time when flowers — which are bees' primary source of food — begin to bloom.

Early spring is also when honeybees begin reproduction and, as colonies grow and hives become more crowded, bees divide colonies in a process called swarming.

Bee swarm in Richmond.

But this year, White started getting calls about honeybee swarms in natural settings like trees and bushes as early as mid-February. As the season continues, honeybees will migrate into people's homes and other structures like chimneys and decks.

This surge in swarms is primarily weather-related, because the warmer-than-average winter has caused swarm season to start weeks earlier than usual, White said.

"The weather this year has been strange," White said. "It was like a switch went off and I started receiving six or seven calls a day … I still get calls almost every day."

A swarm of bees in a Glen Allen tree is shown.

Rob Wokaty, former president of Rockwood Backyard Beekeepers Association and a beekeeper with over two decades of beekeeping experience, said that this year's spring came almost three weeks earlier than usual in Richmond and along the East Coast.

Wokaty also said that there has been a unique pattern of about one day of rain followed by several days of sunshine this year, which is a welcome change for the bees because it boosts their food production.

With more food comes more swarms, and the surge in swarms this year has left beekeepers scrambling to provide the correct amount of space in boxes and honeycombs for bees, Wokaty said.

But Virginia is not the only place buzzing. Other areas across the U.S. like Pennsylvania and parts of the U.K. have reported similar swarming patterns this year. Last month, a volunteer police officer responding to a report of a bee swarm in Los Angeles was hospitalized after getting stung numerous times on his face and collapsing onto the street.

While some may wish the honeybees would stick to beeswax as opposed to their homes, White noted that, unlike hornets, wasps and yellow jackets, honeybees will not usually sting people and they actually play an important role in maintaining food supply.

In North America, honeybees pollinate almost 95 kinds of fruits and crops, including avocados, cranberries and soy. Honeybee pollination produces approximately one out of every three bites of food we eat.

This spike in swarms is even sweeter because it shows honeybee populations are bouncing back after declining over the past several years, White said.

White advised that anyone who comes across a swarm should leave the bees alone and contact their local beekeeper association to have it properly removed.

Katie Castellani (804) 649-6122

[email protected]

@Katie_c912 on Twitter

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