Swarms make beeline for new homes

This is the season for honeybee swarms, and if you’ve ever seen one, it can be an impressive sight. 

Bee expert Otto Watler said there is no need for residents to panic, as swarming is a natural phenomenon for honeybees and is part of the natural process. 

But for some, the sight of the swarms can be alarming. “I am 50-something and I have never seen a swarm of bees like that before,” said Northward resident John David Ebanks, who observed a bee swarm with wife Ruth. 

“We heard a noise like a passing Jet Ski and when we looked up in the sky, there was this swarm of bees gathered together in a 5-foot-tall cone-shaped whirlwind hovering above the top of a neem tree next to our property near the prison. We believe they were killer bees,” Mr. Ebanks said. 

The bees were moving in a northerly direction off Regina Avenue toward the Northward main road, he said.  

Mr. Watler said Cayman is not getting any more bees or Africanized honey bees, also known as killer bees. “When bees are swarming, there is nothing that can be done with them. People just have to leave them alone and wait until they settle down,” he said. 

Mr. Watler said the day Cayman gets Africanized bees, everyone will know because they can be very aggressive. 

Explaining the recent bee swarming, Mr. Watler said bee colonies create new queens and then split up and look for a new home. The swarm of bees that leaves with the old queen can number in the hundreds or even the thousands.“It is their way of multiplying,” he said. 

Honey bees usually depart their old home between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. They make loud humming sounds with their wings; occasionally they may stop over a treetop, but not all the time; they are unpredictable and can make transitory stops on fences, the side of a house or anywhere that makes for a “safe” resting spot. If they do not like the place, they will send scouts out to seek another spot.  

“The reason people are seeing so many bees swarming is because the bees have no habitats,” Mr. Watler said, adding that before Hurricane Ivan, bee swarms often went to the mangroves because they were dried out and hollow; this and a lot of development means the bees have nowhere to go. 

Despite the beekeeper’s assurance of the bees not being aggressive, there are recorded incidents involving bees in Cayman. 

In 2008, 78-year-old Shirley Whittaker was killed in a bee attack, and in 2010 in West Bay a swarm of bees attacked a woman, killed her dog and left her with multiple stings over her body. Last year, residents near Walkers Road had to remain in their homes after a beehive was disturbed and a swarm of bees took over the area. Those bees stung at least two people, attacked a dog and forced residents in the neighborhood to remain in their homes on Moxam Road for several hours.  

Anyone who sees a swarm on a tree limb, preparing to move from one hive to another, should report it to the Department of Environment or the Department of Agriculture, and Mr. Watler’s team will come out to extract the bees. 

To keep bees from making a home in houses, people should caulk seams in their houses. Bees can find an entrance to a home through a hole as small as the blunt end of a pencil, Mr. Watler warned. 

Bees swarm at a house in Northward. – PHOTO: JEWEL LEVY