Who’s to Blame for a Bee Swarm? The Queen Bee!
When the queen bee decides she’s tired of the current hive, she doesn’t give a 30-day written notice to the current beehive owner (which is essentially her anyway). Instead, she embarks on her instinctive reproduction urge to form a new bee colony elsewhere — with a little help from others.
The queen bee likes company during the move, more commonly called a swarm. During the prime swarm, about 60% of the worker bees join the entourage to obediently follow the old queen. There may be many thousands of bees in the swarm. Such swarms usually occur in the spring (typically within a two- or three-week window). However, swarms can occur throughout the producing season. Typically, these secondary “afterswarms” are smaller, and they’ll have virgin queens in the swarm.
Swarming is the honey bee colonies’ natural means of reproduction. Swarms may sound scary and be frightening to some people, but the bees are usually not aggressive at this stage of their life cycle.
The Mission of the Scout Bees
Scout bees — the most experienced foragers in the cluster — are first sent out to find an intermediate stop for the swarm to “hang out” at, which is usually a tree or branch not too far from the eventual new location. From there, the scout bees cluster about the queen and then 20-50 scout bees are selected to find suitable new nest locations. Their job is to identify suitable cavities to construct the swarm’s new home. In the meantime,
Once a new location is decided, the scouts will then return to the swarm’s temporary home and share this location. (No, I don’t think they hand out maps.) The bees usually stay at their intermediate stop for only a few hours — although in unusual cases it could be more than three days. An individual scout returns to the cluster at the temporary location and promotes a location she’s found. She uses the “waggle dance” to indicate the direction, distance and quality of what she’s found to others in the cluster. The more excited she feels about the new home, the more excitedly she dances. (She probably saves her best dance moves for this moment.)
Help in Promoting New Nesting Site
If she wants help selling the new site, she tries to convince other scouts to go and check out the new location themselves. They may take off, check out her proposed site, and then if they agree, the may return to the cluster and show their endorsement of the original scout bee’s choice by doing their own excited dance.
To complicate matters, various sites may be promoted by different scouts at first. After several hours and sometimes days, a favorite location slowly emerges from this decision-making process. A final decision will often be made when approximately 80% of the scouts agree upon a single location, and/or when there’s a quorum of 20-30 scouts present at a potential nest site. Once this occurs, the entire cluster departs to it. This is really quite a remarkable decision-making process by the bees to keep the cluster intact.
A swarm may fly a kilometer or more to the new location. During this voyage, the scout bees guide the swarm by quickly flying overhead in the proper direction.
Time is of the Essence
During swarming, time is of the essence. The only nectar or honey the bees carry is what’s in their stomachs. They literally gouge themselves before departing the hive. If a new home is not decided upon in a timely manner, the swarm will starve.
In general, weak bee colonies will not swarm until the colony has produced a sufficient population of bees. There are three reasons a colony may be weak:
- Low food supply
- Disease (such as Foulbrood Disease)
- The queen bee produces low quantities of eggs.
Have You Been Swarmed?
If bees swarm to your yard to establish their new home in your attic or under your roof, they can do damage to your home and should be removed as soon as possible. Call The Beehive for live bee removal. We’ll find them a new home where their colony can continue to thrive. The bees will be able to do the work they’re meant to do: pollinating flowers and plants, as well as producing wholesome and healthy honey.