A swarm is a natural occurrence in the honey bee world, and it is often mistaken for a wasp or hornets nest. A swam is actually a portion of a honey bee colony which is relocating to a new home. It is considered a sign of health for their colonies, and is a way in which honey bees repopulate. Late spring and throughout the summer when colonies tend to have more individuals, a consensus is reached among the bees that the colony must become 2 or sometimes even more. When the bees decide to swarm, the original queen and many of her worker daughters will be the ones to leave, making room for a new queen to start the honey bee cycle all over. Beekeepers have learned to split their colonies prior to this happening, but it takes experience to know how to beat the bees to it. This entire process begins long before the swarm is visible.
Inside the hive, wax comb cells are filled with either an egg by the queen, or food by the worker bees. Most of the cells are similar in size as the colony will need many workers and lots of food stores. Occasionally the worker bees will make one or several larger elongated wax cells or cups, and these are identified as queen cells or queen cups. The egg laid in these particular cells will develop into a queen instead of a worker bee as not only are these comb cells larger than worker bee cells, but nurse bees will feed these larva differently than the larva in the average comb cell. Once the virgin queen emerges by chewing her way through a wax capping on her cell, she will take a mating flight or two and become the new queen of the hive. A small portion of worker bees will stay with her to build a whole new colony of bees. While the new queen is developing, the original queen is put on a diet as her nurse bees begin to ration her food and she is chased about the hive. This causes her to stop laying eggs and loose a bit of weight. At the same time, worker bees termed “scout bees” begin taking flights looking for a new place to call home. These returning scout bees will pass their message to others in the hive and the most enthusiastic messengers convince the others to visit the best options. When the timing is right, the soon to depart worker bees gather as much honey as they can, and the queen will emerge from the hive with her nurse bees typically flying a short distance. Queen bees fly only for two reasons; to mate and to find a new home. That short first flight is the optimal time for beekeepers to catch a swarm. As 1/3 to 3/4 of the colony of worker bees gathers around the queen and her nurse bees, the loud buzzing settles and the cluster of bees remains with their queen until she is ready and there is a new location agreed upon. This cluster of bees is often found in a tree, or on a standing object like a fence post and can remain in that cluster anywhere from hours to days. Check out this video of a swarm my mentor and I caught on the farm a couple years ago. IMG_4663 (1) (1)Sometimes the swarms form too high up in trees, or they fly off before someone has time to attempt to capture them. Watching the swarm fly off in a massive cloud to their new residence can be a heart breaking site for beekeepers. If you think you have encountered a swarm and would like some help identifying, and possibly removing it, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A couple years ago I was contacted about a swarm that was located in rural Two Harbors up in a pine tree near an intersection. Local citizens were concerned that someone would be stung, and so the City of Two Harbors Police Department and the City of Two Harbors Electric Department helped accompany me to retrieve the swarm. The colony of bees was safely removed and brought to the farm to live in a new hive. A big thanks to all involved in helping!