In early spring, Montanans may come into contact with bee swarms that have gone off in search of a new hive. These swarms may look intimidating, but they are a great opportunity for local bee keepers.

"A big swarm will be 20,000, maybe 25,000 bees and a small swarm might be five to ten." said Department of Agriculture Entomologist Cam Lay.

If you happen to see one of these swarms (pictured above) there's an easy step you can take to help Montana's bee keepers

"There's a list on our website, at the Department of Ag., of  beekeepers who have expressed an interest in coming and picking up those swarms," Lay said. "For them, it is free bees and an established queen."

Often these swarms can be found on bushes, homes and fences. Lay says the bees will likely have larger swarms in spring, but are rarely dangerous at this point in their life-cycle.

"They protect their home and children just like anyone else would," Lay said. "Well, a swarm has no home, they have very limited supplies, just what they can hold in their stomachs, and they have no brood, no offspring, no children to protect. So they tend to be very, very docile and very, very gentle. I've seen people work swarms with their bare hands."

According to Lay, Montana has a healthy bee culture. Many of the bees swarming through Montana now will complete a route that takes them down to pollinate almonds in California, and back up to pollinate Washington apples before they return next spring.

To learn more about bees, visit the Montana Department of Agriculture's website for a great article on the topic.

Cam Lay