Yesterday customer Bill Cox from Casselmonte Farm, came into the store to purchase a hive body. I started chatting with him and discovered he had found a swarm of bees that morning and captured them. He let me come and take pictures as they introduced the bees to their new home later that evening. It is a fascinating story that I am delighted to share with you.
Bill and India were taking their dogs on a walk down to the river when India spied a swarm of bees in an apple tree. They had never captured a swarm before so this quickly became a “learn as you go” experience. Bill consulted his bee book as to how to and what to do. He took a large cardboard box and cut a large hole out of the side and stapled screen wire over the hole for ventilation. While Bill held onto the branch above the swarm of bees, India took a pruner and cut off the branch below the bees and then they carefully and gently laid the apple branch in the box and closed it tight. (They did not get pictures of this process).
Swarming is normally a spring phenomenon (within a 2-3 week time in a particular locale) and part of the natural perpetuation or reproduction of a colony of bees, however, it can happen during the producing season. The colony divides with part of it leaving to form a new colony with the old queen. The bees prepare for the swarm by creating a large number of “queen cells or swarm cells”. Once the cells are sealed, they exit the hive as a swarm taking up to 60% of the workers with them. A swarm can contain thousands to tens of thousands of bees. The remaining workers continue at the original site with the newly emerged and later-mated queen.
Workers are female bees that have not developed their reproductive potential into a queen.
Secondary afterswarms may happen but they are rare. An afterswarm is smaller and accompanied by one of the virgin queens.
Usually a swarm attaches itself to a branch, fence post or other near-by object within a few feet of the original hive. They begin fanning with their scent glands exposed to attact the remainder of the swarm and the queen. Soon a “cluster” or swarm of bees form.
Scout bees will then dance on the cluster to communicate the location of a new homesite. Once one is agreed on, the swarm flies to the new site, guided by the scouting bees.
This is when Bill came to see me. He said, “I had my list of things to do today and this was not on it!” After purchasing the hive, he went home to put it together with the promise to call me when he was ready to move the swarm into the hive.
7 o’clock that evening I hopped into a vehicle with India and Bill, carefully, so as not to distrub the bees more than necessary, drove the pickup with the bees on the back to the newly situated hive. After suiting up, Bill opened the box and carefully dumped the bees onto a white sheet that he had laid on the ground in front of the hive and stapled to the entrance of the hive-literally laying out the “red carpet” for them!
It was instant bee mayheim! The air became thick with circling, humming, excited bees. At first they wanted to go back into the box, clung to Bill’s hat and jacket and formed a cluster on the ground.
Bill wasn’t sure what to do and decided to open the top of the hive and dumped some bees there. He kept pacing back and forth, trying to figure out ways to help the bees. He even readjusted the sheet to the hive.
(Notice the bees swarming around Bill’s head)
After maybe 20 minutes, the bees had themselves oriented and we noticed that they were starting to “march” up the sheet and enter the hive. We watched as thousands of bees marched into their new home. For some strange reason, they all went in the left side of the opening even though the whole entrance was open. We decided they were the “liberal left” bees and Harry Reid was taking the lead!!!!
Before bees swarm, they gorged themselves on honey. This helps to make them to be more docile as they have their bellies full!
India and I sat on the side maybe 20 feet away snapping pictures while mulling over the amazing feat unfolding before our eyes.
Which type of bee went into the hive first; scouts, queen?
Where did the bees come from? All of Bill’s hives seemed to be intact.
- What was happening inside the hive?
- What were the bees saying to each other?
We watched the other two hives sitting close by and noticed that they were calm and undistrubed by what was happening with the “big move in” at the hive next door!
Finally most of the bees had made there way into the hive and Bill decided to leave the sheet in place until morning.
The amazing thing was we did not get stung.
Next morning followup: When Bill checked the hive it was empty! All the bees had moved next door to an already occupied hive and were taking over. This is trouble and causes chaos in the hives. Intruders have invaded and they are called Robber Bees! It can cause another swarm to happen. The bees were not happy and had become much more aggressive with Bill getting stung several times. And so the bee saga continues….
4 days later: The bees are mixed in with the other two hives but have settled down some-not as aggressive. He moved the super from one hive over to the new hive hoping that it would encourage them to move back. There is no good solution as you can’t separate the bees. Just have to let nature take its course and hope for the best. One of life’s experiences-you live and learn!
2 weeks later: I asked Bill about his bees. He said the two old hives have settled down. He thinks the “swarm bees” left. One of the mysteries of life!
Comment from a fellow beekeeper: The hive should have been closed up for several days with sugar water inside. Then the bees would have accepted the hive.
Websites (and there are many more very interesting sites) where I found the information printed in italics about swarming bees:
Why do Bees Swarm? http://www.carusohoney.com/id12.html