IS IT A SWARM OF HONEYBEES ?

First identify the insects. Here are brief descriptions of what you may have.

HONEY BEES

Honeybee foraging on dandelion
Honeybee foraging on dandelion
 Bee swarm
Bee swarm

Vary in colour from golden brown to almost black. The Queen the mother of the colony, normally only one present. When mated she will lay all the eggs. If she fertilises an egg they become workers (female) up to 50 thousand at the height of the season, able to sting. If not fertilized they become drones (male)which do not sting about 400 present.

Bees filling comb with nectar
Bees filling comb with nectar

When the colony expands in the spring the natural process to continue the species is a process called swarming. The old queen will lay fertilized eggs in specially prepared queen cells these eggs are fed on a special diet of high protein food called royal jelly which converts the larvae into queens. When the first cell is capped over in preparation for metamorphosis. The old queen will leave with about half the flying foraging bees to start a new colony. The bees may fly a short distance and congregate in a cluster. This is a swarm.

The three castes of honeybee Worker Drone and Queen
The three castes of honeybee Worker Drone and Queen

Sometimes they fly further and can land in the most unusual places.  Scout bees will then search out a suitable place to continue the activity of the colony.

Wild comb in a willow tree
Wild comb in a willow tree

Bees build their comb from wax produced from glands in their abdomen.

If a swarm enters a chimney it can often be made to relocate by sending smoke up the chimney. Providing it can be done soon enough. If it clusters on the outside of a chimney try spraying with water from a hosepipe.

Honeybees are kept by beekeepers who collect their surplus honey. Honey is produced from nectar collected from many different species of flowers and trees. The bees mix the nectar with enzymes to produce honey. All bees are vital to the pollination of plants, flowers and many crops that we eat, so try to preserve them if possible.

BUMBLE BEES

Bombus terrestris underground nest of a similar species of bumblebee
Bombus terrestris underground nest of a similar species of bumblebee
Buff tailed bumble bee
Buff tailed bumble bee

Rounder and larger than honeybees with a furry covering. Many different colours according to species. Often found in bird boxes under decking in compost heaps, they love an old mouse nest in the ground. Very timid and will not sting unless provoked. Leave them if you can as they are very useful pollinators in the environment. they will also disappear in the autumn after rearing queens which overwinter in the ground or dry places.

There are also species of cuckoo bumblebees that lay their eggs in other bumble bee nests and allow them to rear their young as if they were related to the parent colony.

WASPS

Bright yellow with black stripes. Very smooth and shiny. They build nests of paper mache, in the ground in roof spaces  even in bird boxes. They are carnivorous  feeding their larvae on aphids and caterpillars, They are useful as pollinators as well. Can be a nuisance later in Summer when they start to eat fallen fruit. Will disappear after the first frosts after they have reared queens which overwinter in dry warm places.

 
Common wasp Vespala vulgaris
Common wasp Vespala vulgaris
Wasp nest underground
Wasp nest underground
Wasp nest above ground
Wasp nest above ground

If you have to remove a wasps nest purchase a proprietary wasp spray or powder and spray into the nest entrance late in the evening. When most flying insects will be in the nest. Dress up to avoid stings. Gloves and a net over your face if possible. Do not use a torch as they may fly towards the bright light. You may have to treat more than once.  Councils do not run pest control services due to cutbacks and private pest control companies are expensive.

SOLITARY WASPS AND BEES

Underground nest of an early mining bee
Underground nest of an early mining bee
Red osmia Osmia rufa nesting in tubes
Red osmia Osmia rufa nesting in tubes

Over 200 species of solitary bees alone. Most are too weak to sting. Examples are mining bees, mortar bees and rose cutting bees. Great little pollinators. Look after them.

HORNETS

 Hornet nest in a tree
Hornet nest in a tree
European hornet Vespa crabro
European hornet Vespa crabro

These are the wasps big cousins more black and brown with a hint of orange. Much bigger nests than wasps, but still made from paper mache. Tend to be more timid than wasps but will sting if provoked. To remove follow the same steps as above.

TREE BUMBLE BEES ON THE INCREASE Judging by the number of calls from members of the public with bees taking over bird nest boxes. I can only assume that the Tree Bumble Bee, Bombus hypnorum is doing very well this year. I have been advising the enquirers to leave them alone if possible as they are great pollinators and if LEFT UNDISTURBED will do no harm as they are not aggressive. However they can sting if provoked.

Photo Brian Jones 2013

Tree bumblebee
TREE BUMBLE BEE Bombus hypnorum Information below from WIKIPEDIA the free encyclopaedia. The nest is quite large, with 150 workers or more (according to some authorities up to 400). The species is a pollen storer; it stores pollen in separate cells and feeds each larva individually, instead of storing the pollen in pockets under larval cells. It visits an enormous range of flowering plants. The species has a short breeding cycle, with queens emerging early, usually in March. The first cycle is completed from mid-May to early July (depending on the season). A smaller second generation is produced in late summer in favourable years. Queens raised in the Autumn will overwinter to produce new colonies the following year. They do not overwinter as a colony like honey bees.
 
HEALTH AND SAFETY NOTE The Association does not take any responsibility for accidents or injuries arising from advice given in these notes.    Always take care and if you are not confident to handle the problem yourself seek professional advice.
 
FURTHER INFORMATION
BWARS for insect identification http://www.bwars.com/
BUMBLEBEES CONSERVATION  http://bumblebeeconservation.org/