Swarming

Swarming is the honey bees way expanding and reproducing. Swarming bees are not dangerous unless provoked. They can however make some members of the general public threatened. As the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy says on its cover ‘DONT PANIC’. Contact a local beekeeper, the police or fire department.

Honey bees have facinating and complex social behaviours. Swarming is a good example of how amazing bees are. Lets go through the process:

The Swarming Process:

New queens are reared in special queen cells. Before the new queens emerge the current queen communicates with them through the cell walls with vibration. Scientists dont yet know what the communications relate too.

Once a new queen emerges swarming will ensue. Normally the swarm will collect on a nearby tree branch or similar. They will stay here for upto five days while they investigate the surrounding area.

A number of scouts are sent out from the swarm to investigate the surrounding area for new hive sites. The returning scouts perform a dance which indicates where an appropriate site is. The scouts then visit the sites their counterparts have found. The scouts will change their dance if they encouter a more suitable site. Eventually every scout will be performing the same dance to the best of the new possible hive locales.

Once all the scouts are in agreement this initiates the swarm to relocate to the new hive location.

Capturing a swarm:

Presuming that you are a beekeeper and that you have stumbled upon or been told about a swarm of bees, here is how to capture them and re-hive them:

Generally swarms are docile so it is not usually necessary to wear a complete bee suit but wearing protective clothing is advised.

The first thing to do is have a good look at the bees, if there are a lot of mites and the swarm looks unhealthy then best to leave it or if it is in a populated area remove it to a more secluded location.

Once it has been determined that the swarm is worth keeping check for any obstacles directly below the swarm. Complete clearnace below the swarm is ideal but not always available. Where possible build a platform underneath the swarm and place a cardboard box (large enough to hold the swarm) on it.

Try and use one good, sharp jerk to dislodge the majority of the bees. Swarms on branches are ideal for this as the branch can be sharply jerked in a downward motion but bees will land on anything and sometimes will have to be scooped or scraped. The key is dislodge the majority of the swarm including the queen (normally in the middle of the swarm). Seal the box with tape and transport it to the apiary or a lot of beekeepers like to have a nuc box (5 framed super) readily accessable at this point to transfer the newly captured swarm into.

If catching your own swarm, you can often re-introduce them into the hive they came from by adding additional 10 frame hive supers on top of the colony. Remember, swarming is caused by over population and giving the colonies more room is a great way to prevent swarming. It’s much cheaper to go upwards then to go outwards.

Either way, once the bees have been transported to the apiary remove a few of the frames from the super in an empty hive and dump the bees in (if using a nuc box take the 5 frames from it and replace 5 which inhabit the hive already then dump the reamining bees in). Carefully replace the frames and cover with the inner cover and lid.

Leave the cardboard box or nuc by the hive and the rest of the bees should make their way into the hive. Or shake the rest out the cardboard box near the hive.

By nightfall all the bees will be in the hive and hopefully they stay. This can be encouraged by providing food.