Swarms are a good thing

Tom Milstead/lingle guide Terri Walford poses by a bee swarm. Bees aren’t typically aggressive in swarms, she said, because the only thing they have to defend is the queen.

GOSHEN COUNTY – Spring means a lot of different things to a lot of people.

For some, it’s a refreshing time of year when flowers begin to bloom, gardens get planted and after a long and cold winter, the birds sing once more.

But spring is not without its not-so-happy moments. There are thunderstorms, which are sometimes accompanied by hail and the occasional tornado. Pollen becomes an issue for many, and for the first time in a long time, bees are re-emerging into our ecosystem.

The thought of a swarm of bees is enough to make some people shudder. There’s an actual name for the fear – melissophobia. It could even be justified, as Medical News Today’s reports that between 5% and 7.5% of people experience severe allergic reactions if they’re stung.

But all that said, bees play a crucial role in pollinating plants. Their disappearance would have immense effects on the ecosystem, and even make it next to impossible to grow some foods.

So, when the bees swarm, what do you do?

You call Terri Walford.

Walford, who lives near Lingle, began keeping bees about five years ago. During the spring and early summer, she has the tools, knowledge and willingness to collect swarms of bees and deliver them to safety.

According to her, swarms are a good thing.

“That’s how a colony reproduces, so it’s a sign of a healthy colony,’ she said. “When a colony reproduces, half of them leave with the old queen, and the rest of them stay back and create a new queen. The queen is inside of that swarm that you see. They all kind of cluster together, and then they send scouts out to find a new residence.”

The swarms are commonly on trees, but can occasionally occur on other objects like fences or railings. Walford said she’s collected swarms from roadblocks at the Wyoming Department of Transportation Port of Entry, as well as numerous other unique locations.

“There was one in Lusk that was on a pillar at a person’s house, so that was kind of interesting,” she said. “I haven’t found any inside of a helmet or anything like that. They’re typically in trees around here.”

The swarms aren’t difficult to capture. The bees aren’t as aggressive, she said, and they don’t have much to protect once the hive splits.

“A swarm is easy to capture,” she said. “Typically, they’re not aggressive because they don’t have a lot to defend, other than the queen. You probably should wear a suit, because there are some stings that happen. It’s very easy – you get the box under it, and you can pretty much scoop it and drop it in the box. If you have the queen, they’ll all start to go in.”

As Walford said, getting stung is a part of keeping bees. She’s been stung more times than she can count.

“I remember the first time I got stung, it was the first time I have ever been stung by anything and I didn’t know if I was allergic or anything,” she said. “Being stung by a bee is very different than being stung by a wasp. Since keeping, I’ve been stung by a wasp, and it was terribly painful and they can sting you multiple times. A honey bee can only sting you once and they die because they lose their stinger.

“I’ve been stung through the suit many times. Wearing the suit is no guarantee you won’t get stung. You wear the suit to protect your clothes from the dirtiness like honey, wax and propolis while working hives as much as to protect from stings.”

Walford keeps several hives, and while she does harness a small amount of honey – some of which she delivers to people who lead her to the swarms – that’s not the main reason she does it.

“I love watching the bees,” she said. “I could pull up a chair and sit out there and watch the bees for hours. It’s fascinating watching them come and go. They bring pollen in on their legs and you can sit there and watch them bring in purple, yellow, white orange – various colors of pollen and think about where they’re bringing it in from.”

Capturing the swarms is important, Walford said, because the bees will find a new home and it can even be in an occupied structure – like between the walls in a house.

“It’s not just about capturing the swarm to save the colony, but it’s important not to ignore a swarm,” she said. “They can actually find a hole in the side of your house. Between your walls is the perfect size to set up a colony. We’ve actually taken bees from between walls in houses on multiple occasions.”

If you have a swarm on your property, the best way to contact Walford is through a message to her personal Facebook page. The sooner she can get to it, the better.

“Capturing a swarm is super easy, but if they’ve established themselves it’s a little more complicated because you have to deal with the comb and all of that,” she said.”

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