By Southside Beekeepers Club Inc.
If you get down to it, a swarm is a form of reproduction a colony, as opposed to the reproduction of individuals.
This planned move is made by the whole hive. No boss, leading hand or Overseer; but as a group, a colony as one.
First there is a build-up of younger bees in the colony, so the hive will consist mainly of nurse bees, some field bees and even some drones. Secondly Queen Cells are made by the worker bees, quite often 6 or more cells are made. This may be a problem, later with swarms, but most will be killed by a new queen and/or the old queen. As time moves on, the old queen in the hive is put on a diet and slimmed down in preparation for flight. The swarm season is not that long, only 6 weeks or so. Hives start at different times and in Victoria, it is generally from the very end of September to the end of December.
During the swarm season you will find lots of queen cells in the brood nest area, most will not be used and stay as ‘play cells’, however the ones being used will have egg or larvae in a pool of royal jelly. If using light from the sun over your shoulder on an upside-down brood frame, it can be seen easily, but please note that UV light will kill brood so don’t stay too long on brood frames.
The old queen’s abdomen gets smaller and the same goes for her ovaries along with weight loss. Now is the time that the hive is in active swarm mode. New queens maturing in their cells can hear ‘tooting’ or ‘piping’ by the old queen, they will call back. Before emerging, the new queens will stay in their cells until the swarm with the old queen has gone.
About 2 days before the swarm leaves the hive, a large number of bees may be seen resting on the bottom comb’s performing waggle-tail dances with scout bees and copycat bees, alerting to potential new hive sites. The dance moves over the comb lasting a few days, and traces the position of the sun in the sky, even at night. WOW
Before the swarm departs the bees will engorge themselves with honey, which is the only thing they take from their old home.
Thousands bees are very excited, going in and out during this time. Bees will pushing and shoving the old queen as she doesn’t wish to leave but she is made to go. Building with the ‘whit’ dance with wings, sounds of thousands of bees take off to the sky in a frenzy of bee in flight.
The queen is not used to flying especially for extended flights. It may have been years since her mating flight. The queen will land on a nearby bow or bush to rest and a ball will form over her, this cluster we now call a swarm. Scouts are sent out to look for a new home for the swarm. They may have even found a new home before they left the old one or they may be still looking. As soon as the scouts find a suitable home the whole swarm will take off 20,000 to 30,000 bees on the wing. It looks like a moving cloud in the sky, this is something of wonder to see.
Time has not stopped at the old hive where there is how emerging queens, the workers will try to prevent them killing each other if they can by keeping them apart. After 5 to 6 days on a sunny day, weather being fine, only the strongest queens go on a mating flight.
The first Queen mated returning to the hive will claim it as her own, stamping the hives and bees with her pheromones. From now on the worker bees will defending her smell from Queens and other bees.
If you have not read ’What’s a Nuc’ read it! This article will tell you what you can do with a Nuc to catch a swarm.
There can be other Swarms! Like an “after swarm” from a unmated Queen or a “secondary swarm” from a mated Queen.