As a hive reproduces every given season, the new honeybee generation is intended to replace the oldest one (which typically leaves the hive when close to dying so their kin doesn’t have to clean up) as well as other losses. As sometimes happens, hives can grow too big, leaving honeybees without enough space and honey to survive. The solution that works best is to produce a queen egg (made with “royal” jelly by the worker bees) and for half the hive to leave with the new queen in tow just before she’s born—this half a hive of thousands of bees is called a swarm, which produces problems if it lands in a populated area while out looking for a permanent new home. Luckily for Missouri honeybees, there’s a group whose sole purpose is helping the disenfranchised honeybees in these swarms.
This volunteer group is called Swarm Chasers, and this group, which includes Debbie Bedynek, specializes in not just educating its community about the importance of honeybees but also relocating swarms that have landed in busy areas. “Initially,” Bedynek said, “it started as a volunteer group from the Missouri Department of Conservation. We learned about how beekeeping was so important to our environment.” Shannon Holcomb, an experienced beekeeper, encouraged this group’s members to learn what it means to become beekeepers—according to Bedynek, that guidance gave her the push she needed to try her hand.
“In 2012, I got my first bees,” Bedynek says. “We started having beekeeping meetings. That’s when we actually formed the group Swarm Chasers…We’re weather buffs, so we watch storm chasers on The Weather Channel, and we submitted the name Swarm Chasers. One of our biggest roles is to capture swarms.” After a swarm has left its original hive with a new queen, it can end up making a new home in someone’s tree, car, or house, especially if “scouting” parties don’t find a better, safer spot. As Bedynek has noted, this can be a real problem for those not experienced in handling bees.
As per educating the public, Bedynek and Swarm Chasers make it clear how citizens should handle swarms if they come upon one. Specifically, the swarm should be left alone because, even though the bees are at their most vulnerable and gentle, they ought not to be disturbed. Bedynek says in situations like this, people specifically should contact the Department of Conservation or Animal Control, whom in turn contact Swarm Chasers to come out and rehome the homeless honeybees.
By Bedynek’s perspective, being in Swarm Chasers offers camaraderie and makes it easier for brainstorming how to resolve hive-related issues. “It’s fantastic to have the group, a resource of local people who know what they’re experiencing in our region…[We] care about conservation. The bees are a huge part of our ecosystem: they pollinate flowers, wildlife eat plants, plants need bees to grow, and without that we’re without plants, we don’t have our animals, and without plants and animals, we don’t have us.”