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The Daily Tar Heel

For honeybee swarms, Orange County offers careful swarm patrol

As honeybee swarm season reaches its peak in April and May, residents are urged to take special precaution in preserving swarms of honeybees if they come across them, said Carrboro Alderman and urban beekeeper Sammy Slade.

“They are part of the web of life we all depend on as they pollinate our food and flowers,” Slade said.

Slade said if someone is near a swarm they should call the Orange County Swarm Patrol.

“The swarm patrol is a group of beekeepers who can come remove the honeybees from their residence while acquiring a new hive, so it’s a win-win situation,” he said.

Chris Richmond, spokesperson for the Orange County Swarm Patrol, said when honeybees are swarming they are looking for a new home.

“We are a voluntary public service who can give them that new home as long as the swarms are reported quickly,” Richmond said.

He said upon receiving a report of a swarm, the nearest-available beekeeper will be dispatched.

Richmond said honeybee swarms are not dangerous and they are even more docile while in swarm mode.

“Honeybees are defensive creatures, and while swarming are even less likely to sting,” Richmond said.

The importance of protecting honeybee swarms is more important than in past decades as their populations have declined dramatically, said Phyllis Stiles, director of Bee City USA.

The 4.5 million commercial beehives managed in the U.S. in the 1950s has fallen dramatically to 1.8 million hives today, Stiles said. She said part of the decrease is a product of the phenomenon of colony collapse disorder, where beekeepers find their colonies dead or missing almost overnight.

“There aren’t any signs pointing the hive’s death, which is why this is such a puzzling phenomenon,” Stiles said.

Much of the blame of the disorder is being put on the use of pesticides, especially neonicotinoids, a common pesticide in the agricultural industry, Stiles said.

“It’s a neural disrupter that interferes with the honeybees’ ability to think and weakens their immune systems,” Stiles said. “The bees take contaminated pollen and nectar back the hives where they feed it to their babies.”

Stiles said honeybees rely on each other in the colony.

“The honeybee hive is a collective organism and a single honeybee cannot survive on its own,” she said.

Stiles said honeybees are important from an environmental perspective, as most of the world’s flowering species depend on them, but also from an economic angle.

Stiles said swarm season is especially important, because the colony can only reproduce and survive through swarming.

“Whether or not you have bees, we’re all beekeepers because they are what make our world flower and blossom,” she said.

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