When honey bees swarm, it is truly a fascinating and memorable event. Thousands of bees suddenly exit their hive and fly, circling in what appears to be complete disorder. After a few minutes, the bees converge in a loose ball of bees hanging from a nearby structure, often a tree limb. Honey bees festoon, or “hold hands,” with each other in the swarm; each bee’s six limbs is equipped with two hooks, well suited to grasp a tree limb or another bee’s hooks. The swarm remains in this unsupported state for a few hours or, sometimes, for a few days while scout worker bees search for a suitable cavity to serve as a permanent home for bees. Once a desirable cavity is found, the bees fly in mass to their new nest.
I had the pleasure of assisting Jeremy and Emily Bemis set-up a scene involving swarming honey bees for filming on a movie set. Jeremy and I opened a strong hive, and Emily spotted the queen. We placed the queen inside a small queen cage and carried it along with the hive and bees to the movie set, leaving behind one hive body to accept returning foragers. We wired the caged queen onto a cedar tree limb selected for the appropriate camera shot. Next, we shook and brushed all of the bees onto the queen cage. Natural swarms are held together by the pheromones of the queen and some of the workers. Soon, the bees festooned into a typical swarm shape around the caged queen. To keep the bees hydrated and lessen their flying, we periodically sprayed the man-made swarm with sugar water syrup. The bees performed their part in the movie as directed. Afterward, we returned the bees to their hive by placing the caged queen inside the hive and brushing in a large number of workers as well. Workers fanned their Nasanov gland pheromones to call the remaining bees. The photogenic bees returned home after dark.