The word, ‘swarm’ is used somewhat colloquially. You’ll hear people describe a swarm of bees to describe a few bees buzzing about, or a ‘swarm’ of flies, or mosquitoes, or the anything else of the sort. But, let’s be certain. In beekeeping, a swarm is something very specific.
When a honey bee colony is at its peak population, usually sometime between May and June, and nectar and pollen are in abundance, it will begin the process of reproduction. Since a colony has only one queen, when it reproduces it must make a new queen. Workers will select a few eggs and feed them a special diet of royal jelly as they develop into larvae. This special diet will raise new queens. In the meantime, the old queen must prepare for flight. The worker bees chase her around the hive and reduce her feeding so that she loses weight, making it easier for her to fly. Around the time that the new queen cells are capped, the mother queen and about 30-70% of the worker bees leave the hive. This is a swarm, and the process is called ‘swarming’. Before they leave, the worker bees gorge themselves with honey.
The bees pour out of the hive and fly around in a tornado of chaos, but soon they stop. They alight on a nearby branch and form a cluster with the queen at the center. The swarm will send out scouts to find suitable homes where they will form their new hive. These new homes typically look like the hollow of a tree. Unfortunately, sometimes suitable homes are inside the wall of your shed, or worse, your house.
Remember that honey that the worker bees took with them before they left? They did that for a very specific reason. They will use that honey to secrete new wax with which they will build new comb. Over the coming days, new comb is built and the queen will begin laying. It’ll be nearly three weeks before new worker bees emerge, so its crucial that resources be in abundance during this process. As the worker bees use their existing resources to build new comb, the foragers will have to provide nectar and pollen in abundance to raise new brood which will further support the new colony.
In the meantime, the parent colony will hatch new queens. The new queens will typically fight until one emerges victorious. Soon, the new queen will fly out for her mating flight and begin to lay new eggs that will develop into new brood to support the colony. That is, if she doesn’t get picked-off by a bird.
So why do bees swarm? That’s a topic for another post. Until then, Gangsta, out!