Healthy honey bee colonies swarm. Swarming is the honey bee’s way of reproducing on a colony-wide basis. Honey bees typically swarm in the spring, and this season has been exceptionally “swarmy.” The Mid-South experienced a warm winter, and springtime weather arrived early. Warm weather and frequent rains brought plenty of wildflowers into bloom. Mild weather allowed the bees to take advantage of red maple and other early-blooming plants. Early-season pollen flows stimulated the queens to rapidly increase egg-laying in late winter and spring. Unless beekeepers expand the capacity of their hives in the spring by rearranging hive bodies and adding extra boxes of frames, hives tend to get congested with honey. Brood nest congestion, where the queen doesn’t have adequate numbers of cells to lay eggs, leads to swarming.
Beekeepers don’t like for their hives to swarm. The smaller resulting colonies don’t have enough bees to produce a surplus of honey. The effect of a hive’s swarming is that this year’s honey crop just flew away! However, beekeepers are often able to capture swarms of bees where they rest, often on a tree limb or structure like the wall of a house, before they fly away to a permanent nesting location. These captured bee colonies make for good replacements of winter hive losses. Captured swarms are particularly useful because the bees are especially capable of drawing out beeswax honeycombs. If the beekeeper feeds sugar syrup to a newly hived swarm, it will rapidly fill the hive with honeycombs. Captured bee swarms are a source of genetic diversity, and they may bring in desirable traits. Beekeepers should evaluate their swarm colonies and replace the queen if the bees show undesirable traits, such as excessive defensiveness. Today’s photo: young workers make orientation flights at the entrance to a hive of swarming bees captured in early April. Swarm catching can be quite exciting. A beekeeping friend, an avid outdoorsman, proclaims that he would rather catch a swarm of bees than a five-pound bass!--Richard