Swarming is an instinctive part of the annual lifecycle of the honey bee. The tendency is usually the greatest in the spring, when the bees increase their population rapidly before the major honey flow. Between April 15th - June 15, swarming is undesirable from the beekeeper’s standpoint and every effort should be made to understand the conditions in the colony which lead to swarming. The necessary steps should be taken to avoid and stop it from happening.
Difference Between Swarm Cell and Supersedure
Before a colony begins to swarm, they will begin to create queen cells to raise a new queen for when the old queen leaves with the swarm. The bees create swarms cells and supersedure cells to raise the queen. In their haste to create a queen quickly, sometimes the bees will raise a queen that will not be adequate to support the new colony which is why you will want to destroy the cells and add your own queen.
- Swarm Cell - On the bottom of the frame, should be destroyed
- Supersedure Cell - On face of combs near or next to regular cells. Should be destroyed only if you are going to replace the queen.
Time of Day for Swarming
A swarm usually leaves during the middle of the day from 10am to about 2pm. If weather is sultry, they will leave earlier or later in the day.
What Actually Happens
The swarm of bees which leave the hive take off with the old queen. Before the swarm occurs, though, the hive will begin breeding new queens. The prime swarm can be as many as half of the bees from the hive. Usually the swarming bees are older and they all fill their stomachs with honey before leaving so they are prepared for a new start.
Where Does the Swarm Land?
The swarm will usually land on a nearby limb or branch. Sometimes they will land on a post, or on trunks of trees or in a shrub. After they land, scout bees are sent out to find a permanent home. When they return, they will do a dance that indicates the direction of the new home.
HIVING A SWARM
- As a rule, a swarm is easy to hive.
- The Bees are in a good mood.
- If you need to transport the swarm from a location to your hive, use a burlap sack that has good ventilation to move them.
- Place the hive in front of the swarm, and if necessary, use a smoker to drive them in. The best method is to move your hive as close to the swarm as possible, and use a bee brush to brush the bees into the hive. Once bees start going into the hive, the rest will follow like ants marching to the ant hill.
Problems can arise when trying to hive a swarm. The swarm could be in a difficult place to access or they may have already entered a tree or building. Other problems include not being able to capture the queen or the queen doesn’t accept the new hive. Overall though, catching a swarm can be very beneficial to the beekeeper and is worth the effort.
What Happens to the Old Hive
Remember we said that before the swarm happens, the hive had already built up queen cells and begun breeding a new queen? When the swarm leaves with the old queen, the new virgin queen will emerge from her cell. She will then mate with a drone in flight and return to the hive. At this point, the worker bees will destroy all the remaining queen cells and inhabitants, so there will only be one queen and no more swarming. In some cases, the new queen that has just emerged will mate and then form a second swarm and leave the hive also. In this case, the workers do not destroy the queen cells and will let another queen emerge and mate.
If you are worried about your bees swarming, you can purchase decoy hives and place them around your apiary site. The decoys will draw the bees to them when they swarm and will make it easy to hive them later.