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Bee gone Bernard honey makers

Shoppers on Kelowna`s Bernard Street were shocked and surprised by a swarm of honey bees which clung to a tree near a building on the corner of Richter and Bernard Avenues late Saturday afternoon.

The insects didn't bother anyone, though they drew curious onlookers. Eventually they were corralled and removed carefully by local beekeeper John Smiley Nelson, a former city councillor in Kelowna.

"I have bees myself, so you always have to deal with this sort of thing," said Smiley. "They're usually pretty docile when they're like this, I didn't even have to wear a veil."

Nelson said he held a box below the swarm and lowered them into it and the rest just climbed in on their own. He relocated them to an open field across from the former Zellers store on Springfield Road where they have joined others of their kind and, according to Smiley are now "happier than clams!"

While the phenomenon is shocking, it isn`t uncommon for the busy insects to behave in such a way.... only the location of the swarm was a surprise, at least for those pedestrians downtown who came upon the scene.

A new honey bee colony is formed when the queen bee leaves the colony with a large group of worker bees, a process called swarming. In the prime swarm, about 60 percent of the worker bees leave the original hive location with the old queen. This swarm can contain thousands to tens of thousands of bees. Swarming is mainly a spring phenomenon, usually within a two- or three-week period depending on the locale, but occasional swarms can happen throughout the producing season. Swarming is the natural means of reproduction of honey bee colonies.

Secondary afterswarms may happen, but are rare. Afterswarms are usually smaller and are accompanied by one or more virgin queens. Sometimes a beehive will swarm in succession until it is almost totally depleted of workers.

Entomologists consider the colony as a superorganism. An individual bee without a colony cannot survive for long. The colony also needs a certain colony size to reproduce. In the process of swarming the original single colony reproduces to two and sometimes more colonies.

Although a swarm of bees sometimes frightens people,  the bees are usually not aggressive at this stage of their life cycle. This is principally due to the swarming bees' lack of brood (developing bees) to defend and their interest in finding a new nesting location for their queen. This does not mean that bees from a swarm will not attack if they perceive a threat; however, most bees only attack in response to intrusions against their colony. Additionally, bees seldom swarm except when the position of the sun is direct and impressive. Swarm clusters, hanging off of a tree branch, will move on and find a suitable nesting location in a day or two. Beekeepers are sometimes called to capture swarms that are cast by feral honey bees or from the hives of domestic beekeepers.

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