SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah welcomes warmer spring weather, beekeepers in the Beehive State are advising residents on what to do about swarming honeybees — their top sentiment being don't kill them.
“The honeybee is a huge provider of pollinating the crops that we eat,” said Nick Cunningham, a local beekeeper in Pleasant Grove. "And it's a scientific fact that if the bees dwindled away, we would be soon to follow because we rely on all our crops that they pollinate."
Cunningham made a Facebook post about honeybee swarms on April 15, which has since been shared more than 7,000 times and hosts more than 400 comments from people in and out of Utah. He listed his phone number and offered to pick up honeybee swarms in his area for free.
“My initial goal was just to spread the word to whoever I could get it to,” he said. "Gathering swarms is a huge thing for beekeepers because if we don't gather them up, there's a good chance they won't survive."
Since the post, Cunningham’s received four notifications reporting swarms, all of which he said came from the Facebook post. He contacted other beekeepers closer to the areas where three calls came from and retrieved one swarm himself in American Fork.
Rick Eiler, a resident in American Fork, called Cunningham Friday after a neighbor contacted Eiler and his wife about a bee swarm on a neighbor's property.
The homeowners weren't at their house when the bees were spotted, but the neighbor had texted them about the swarm and planned on spraying it with poison.
Rick Eiler intervened and inspected the swarm with his wife, Shannon Eiler, from about 4 feet away, where he said they were able to tell the insects were honeybees.
"Bees are good, we want to keep bees," Rick Eiler recalled telling the neighbor.
"We certainly know we are destroying the planet with every little thing that we do, and so anything we can do to, whether it's using less plastic … or simply just knowing about our environment, in this case bees … any conservatory efforts are I think important."
Luckily, yet another neighbor had seen the Facebook post and gave Cunningham's phone number to Eiler. Cunningham arrived about 30 minutes later with equipment.
He educated the growing crowd of neighbors and about 10 children about what a honeybee swarm was, what he was doing to it and why it's important to save them, according to Eiler.
"People don't really know what to do, or what they are, or what it means," he said. "So their first reaction is to spray them with water, which isn't good for them anyways."
To collect the bees he placed a hive box near the swarm, which was located in a bush on the ground, and transitioned the bees by scooping them up in handfuls and placing them in the box.
He got most of the bees in the box Friday night, but because of time restrictions he wasn't able to get to the queen. So he left the box partially open to allow more bees to enter, and returned later that night to try and collect the rest.
He returned again Saturday and was able to move the queen to the box, and the remaining bees followed the queen on their own. They now live at Cunningham's apiary.
... It's a scientific fact that if the bees dwindled away, we would be soon to follow because we rely on all our crops that they pollinate.
–Nick Cunningham, beekeeper
There are about 1,800 registered beekeepers in Utah, according to the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. Most beekeepers will pick up swarms for free. Department officials recommend using the comprehensive list of beekeepers across the state who collect swarm, which can be found at beeremovalsource.com.
Cunningham, who's a member of Utah County Beekeepers Association, estimated the swarm was made up of about 50,000 honeybees, which he said would've been a big loss had the bees been sprayed.
"The biggest problem with bees right now is we're losing them drastically to a lot of different things," he said. One of those things is heavy use of pesticides, he added.
Bees swarm because they are "homeless" and looking for a new home, Cunningham explained.
While honeybees aren't inherently threatening, like wasps, Peter Somers, Salt Lake County bee inspector, said honeybee swarms can be dangerous and it's best to stay away from them until a beekeeper is there.
"The general opinion is that they're not going to sting — I mean I hear that all the time," he said. "However, it's not true."
He explained that people think this because swarming bees have no hive to protect, so therefore they won't sting.
"But it's not true, they will — I've gotten stung by many swarms," he said.
However, that's not to say some swarms aren't calm, he noted. It really depends on several different factors, he said, such as time of day, health of the colony and whether or not the bees have been agitated and are acting defensively.
"But I would not go in there believing that they won't sting you," he cautioned. "Too many people have allergies and a bee sting can be very serious for the wrong person, so it's not worth messing with."
If someone sees a swarm, experts advise to try and identify the swarm as bees or wasps.
Somers said bees have hair, are usually brown or black with a little yellow, whereas wasps are usually very yellow, and more slender and longer than bees.
If it is a swarm of wasps or hornets, Somers advised people to call an exterminator. If people aren't sure, he said it's always better to call a beekeeper first rather than an exterminator.
However, wasps and bees can be difficult to distinguish, even for experts, he said.
"People confuse them all the time — including beekeepers," he said. "It's easy to do."
Somers said he gets a swarm call one to two times a week and people are usually curious and interested in the swarm. However some people can respond with fear, especially if they don't know what the swarm is.
He estimated that a large number of people probably wouldn't know how to handle a swarm.
"So that's what you do, you call a beekeeper," he said. "A beekeeper is always eager to catch a swarm."
Honeybees don’t swarm in the rain, and swarms are especially common this time of year, according to Somers.
“If there’s been a period of several rainy days, that first nice day is usually a pretty active swarm day, at least in the months of April, May and June,” he said.