Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Gathering the Swarm

Strong and healthy honey bee colonies divide to create new colonies, find new homes, and expand their range in a process that we call swarming. The spring of the year is the time when swarming occurs most often. When a swarm of bees leaves its hive, it is the result of about a month of preparation. The actual timing of the swarming event often follows a period of rainy days. Wet springs, like the Mid-South is experiencing this year, seem to produce more swarms than dryer seasons. One reason for the increase in swarming may be the abundance of available nectar from certain plants during rainy seasons. If the bees have plenty of nectar to forage, they may fill their hive’s brood nest with honey leaving the queen few cells to lay eggs. The resulting brood nest congestion is the principal trigger to swarm.

Typically, when a honey bee colony swarms, about half of the bees rapidly exit the hive along with the old queen. The individual bees fly in circles for a few minutes, and then they gather in a resting place on a tree limb or structure. The swarm remains in this location for a few hours or, sometimes, a few days. During this waiting period, scout bees leave the clustered swarm and search for a suitable cavity to serve as the colony’s new hive. The entire swarming event is controlled by the combined pheromones of the queen and worker bees. These pheromones are used to gather the swarm together at a resting point, and they also help the swarm of bees fly together to their new hive. Once the swarm arrives at their new hive, workers raise their abdomens and fan their wings to emit a plume of Nasanov gland pheromone to direct bees to their new home. In today’s photo, Jeremy Bemis and I capture a swarm. With the queen inside, workers are fanning Nasanov gland pheromone to call bees into the hive.

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