Why do honeybees swarm?

Why do honeybees swarm?

Hi, This is Adriana, the beekeeper from South Mountain Bees.

Everything is different this year. Even the swarm season is off to an early start. I've already seen five fellow beekeepers either collect a swarm, or see their precious bees perched up high on a tree. Even local neighbors are starting to post pictures of swarms in their homes on social media.

So I thought this would be a good time to talk about swarms and try to answer the question:

Why do bees swarm? 

When the hive gets really crowded the bees decide it's time for some of them to find a new home. So many bees get together with the queen and leave looking for a new home, and that's the swarm.

Swarms can look intimidating. There can be tens of thousands of bees in a Spring swarm.

But wait! There's only one queen...

If there were only one queen, the part of the colony left behind would be doomed. Without a queen there will be no eggs, so once those bees die, it will be the end of the colony. So in order for some of the bees to able to leave, there has to be two queens.

Therefore, when the hive gets crowded, the bees start making a new queen. How they make a new queen will be the topic of a different post. For now, take it from me.

The new queen hatches from a cocoon that looks like a peanut shell. Soon after the new virgin queen emerges the old queen leaves with most of the colony. Up to 75% of the bees leave with the old queen to try to find a new home.

That's why it is essential for beekeepers to try to control swarms. Loosing 75% of the bees just before the peak of the nectar flow means that there won't be much honey in that hive by the end of the season. 

Sometimes the old queen and the newly mated queen stay in the hive together for a while, and you can see them on the same frame laying eggs side by side. But once the daughter queen is ready, the old queen leaves with the swarm.


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