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Here’s why you shouldn’t panic when you see a cluster of bees in Baltimore — and what you should do instead

A swarm of bees can seem like a serious buzzkill in spring, but one local beekeeper says Baltimore residents should not panic when they see hundreds of pollinators cluster together outside of a hive.

Here’s a few things to know about why bees congregate on the sides of trees and buildings and ways to keep yourself and family safe:

Why do bees swarm?

Bees are biologically meant to swarm in large groups on surfaces outside of a hive about once a year, usually in the springtime, said Charles DeBarber, a self-taught beekeeper who works with the Filbert Street Garden.

Hives typically swarm in this manner because their home has become too crowded. The hive becomes cramped after the queen lays eggs and after the worker bees bulk up on the hive’s supply of nectar after winter ends — kind of like the bees are canning food for later, DeBarber said.

Between the extra nectar and next generation of pollinators, the queen leaves to find new space, usually bringing about 60 percent of the hive with her. The swarm then gathers outside of the hive while “scout” bees search for a new home.

During this period, people may spot the swarms in exposed locations like on the sides of trees or buildings. However, honey bees are usually docile as a swarm, and typically move on within 24 to 72 hours, DeBarber said.

What should I do if I see a bee swarm?

However tempting it may seem to empty a can of Raid on a swarm, DeBarber says people should resist harming pollinators.

“They’re so darn important,” he said.

While many crops of grain are self-pollinating, most fruits, vegetables and nuts are dependent on pollination from insects such as bees, according to a study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, bee populations have plummeted in recent years for a variety of reasons, including the use of pesticides that contain potent bee neurotoxins.

Still, bees occasionally swarm in locations that are problematic or possibly dangerous for people with bee sting allergies. In these cases, members of the public can call local beekeepers to come remove swarms for free to a better habitat.

DeBarber said he removed just such a swarm from Federal Hill Park Sunday before an Easter egg hunt was scheduled to begin.

Where to call?

In Baltimore, residents can call the Filbert Street Garden for bee swarm help at 443-594-2050.

Regional nonprofits like the Maryland State Beekeepers Association also keep lists of local beekeeping organizations that may be able to help when swarms begin to appear in April and May.

Beekeepers like DeBarber relocate swarms by hand into a special kind of box designed for bees, called a Langstroth box. DeBarber said he coaxes the bees into the box with bait or by moving the queen in first. Other beekeepers have been known to relocate bees using a vacuum with a wide hose.

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