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Spring time means swarm time.

Things are still a little cool in the Southern Highlands at the moment but as the weather warms up bees will start to swarm.

When we get calls for bee swarms in the Southern Highlands people often dont

Spring Blossoms also means swarm season
Spring Blossoms also means swarm season

understand what they actually are so I thought I would try to explain what it happen here.

During the cold months of winter the bees dont produce may young as food is scarce and they need to use what they have sparingly. When the weather warms up and spring flowers start to bloom pollen and nectar are suddenly in abundance and there is a sudden population explosion in hive population.

As the population increases there will be a point where the bees feel the hive has enough population for them to establish a new hive. This will trigger the hive to prepare to swarm.

Swarming isnt just the hive looking for a new bigger home. It is actaully making two hives from the old hive. When they swarm only about 50% of the bees in the hive will leave. The rest will stay to continue the old hive.

When the bees are preparing for a swarm they make queen cells to produce new queens. These are not to make a queen for the new hive, but are to produce a queen for the existing hive. The hive will generally make between 4 to 6 queen cells and sometimes more. Before they swarm the bees that will swarm gorge themselvs on honey to take with them to the new hive so they can start building honey comb right away. This of course does take quite a lot of honey from the existing hive but the swarm would find it hard to initially set the new hive without it.

A typical cluster of bees
A typical cluster of bees


When the queen cells are a day or two from hatching the old queen will leave the hive with about 50% of the population of the hive and they will find a branch or some other place to cluster. This cluster is just a temporary location for the new hive while scout bees look for a permanent space for the new hive. This cluster is what people call up about when they are concerned about bees building a hive in their yard. In fact this cluster will normally only hang around for a day or two. This can however be quite an inconvenience and often a bit of a danger. Even if the location of the cluster isnt an inconvenience it is still worth calling a beekeeper to collect them and the reason why is simple. The new home that the bees find could be in a wall cavity in someones home or their favourite summer shade tree or some other inconvenient place. A beekeeper can collect the swarm and give them safe home, for the bees and people, where they can be quite happy.

Now to continue with the swarm story.

Once the scouts find a place to set up a new hive they come back to the cluster and do a dance that some call the wiggle dance. They do this dance to tell the other scouts about the place they found. The location and how good they think the possible new is are all communicated in this little dance. Based upon the quality of this dance, more socuts will go and check the location for themselves and will return and if they like the place they will do their own dance. If they dont like they will not dance.

This goes on until there is an overall weight of opinion in favour of one location. That is most of the scouts are dance for the one hive. Once this new location has been decided, the old queen and all the workers and often some drones, will fly off and set up a new hive.

At the same time the queen cells are hatching in the old hive. The forst queen to hatch will go around to the other queen cells and attempt to kill them by chewing a hole in the side of the queen cell and sting the unhatched queen to kill her. once she has killed them all her place as the queen is confirmed.

A cluster on a shade sail
A cluster on a shade sail

Sometimes two and and possibly more queens will emerge at about the same time. In this case one of two things can happen. The queens will fight to the death with the winner becoming the new queen or one fo the queens will fly off with about 50% of the remaining population and set up another hive. How the hives makes this decision is not really known but it could rely a lot on the amount of resources in the area and if the hive thinks there is enought to support another swarm.

Once each queen is established in their respective hives they will once again build up their population so that they can collect enough honey and pollen to store for winter and then in the following spring it will be time to start the process again.

I hope this has been interesting and spread a bit of light on what is happening behind the scenes when a swarm arrives in your yard.

If you do have a bee swarm in your yard in the Southern Highlands feel free to call John on 0410590044. If he cant get them he can get in touch with someone who can and the bees will find a home where they can be safe and not a danger to anyone else.