Why Honey Bees Swarm

It’s spring, it’s honeybee swarming time. This is when hives of bees seek to expand by splitting the original hive in half and making an entire new hive.

If you are one of the rare people who has seen a swarm, count your blessings. You’re seeing a miracle of nature.

Swarms are nature’s way of increasing hives. Bees create more hives by splitting and moving. When they have everything perfect in the hive — plenty of brood eggs laid, pollen and honey stored in the comb, the hive neat and busy — word goes out it’s time to move on. Look at this lovely swarm in our upper field.

The departing hive leaves behind food, brood, nurse bees to care for the hatchlings and a few nascent queen eggs, one who will become the new queen of the hive.

About 70% of the hive, including the old queen, leaves in search of a new home. Before they depart, each bee fills her belly with a few days’ worth of honey. Swarming bees are at their wooziest, nearly drunk with honey. An elder beekeeper once told me, “They’re so full of honey they couldn’t bend their fat little bellies to sting if they wanted to.”

True. I’ve scooped up swarmed bees in my bare hands with nary a cautionary buzz and placed them into a hive box. Once I got the queen inside, the rest of the bees marched in on their own and immediately began creating wax and building comb for tomorrow’s nectar.

If you see a swarm clustered somewhere, leave them alone. Everything’s fine. The scout bees are looking and the rest of the bees are simply waiting for them to return and tell them where the new home is. It may take a day or two, even three sometimes, but they’ll move on soon as the scouts approve the new location. 

Give them wide berth and don’t bother them. They only have enough food to last a short while and it’s important they don’t waste their energy. If you’re really lucky, you’ll get to see them lift up in a cloud and fly off. When we find them, people like me bring wild swarms home and offer them a new hive which we then take care of organically — no chemicals for our bees!

Given the rarity of bees these days, you may want to call your friends over to see the swarm before they leave. Who knows how much longer we’ll be able to do that?

This entry was posted on June 18, 2010, in Bees. Bookmark the permalink.