Honey bees reproduce on a colony-wide basis by swarming. Strong, healthy colonies divide to increase the number of colonies and expand into new territory. Swarming is not a safe move for honey bee colonies; it is often not successful. Swarms resting on an exposed tree limb while scout bees search for a suitable permanent nesting cavity may perish in a springtime thunderstorm. The cavity that the bees choose may prove to be unsuitable. However, reproduction on a colony-wide basis must be worth the cost. One benefit is surely the bees’ abandoning old nests and their combs that hold disease spores and environmental chemical toxins. Swarming keeps bees from being completely dependent upon cavities of old, rotting trees for testing places. While reproductive swarming is risky, honey bee colonies stand a chance of effectively doubling their numbers with each swarm. Before swarming, colonies produce a new queen to lay eggs in the old nest, giving the existing colony a fresh start with a productive egg layer to produce young. Beekeepers attempt to reduce swarming because it usually means a loss of honey production for the year or insufficient numbers of bees for pollination service rental fees. Most swarm reduction measures change the conditions that cause swarming or give the bees the impression that the colony has already swarmed.
Today’s photo shows a swarm emitting from a Peace Bee Farm hive. The queen with her wasp-like abdomen is in the center of the mass of bees. If the swarm lights on a tree limb where I am able to catch it, I will have a tidy, though unscheduled, colony expansion. If it flies away, I will have increased the drones with good genetics in surrounding drone concentration areas. My beekeeping friend, The Luddite, caught a large swarm of over-wintered Russian bees from her Maine bee yard, effectively increasing her colony of winter-hearty bees. For honey bees, swarming may be their purpose in life; for the beekeeper, swarming should be a welcomed event.--Richard