May 17, 2010
Swarming is is an expansive, optimistic act, by which honeybees reproduce their colonies. When they feel prosperous, and the weather is set fair, and plentiful food is coming in, that is when the colony divides and half of it moves away to a new location. The laying queen, the mother of the colony - takes off with about half of the mature, flying bees, and they go off in search of a new home, usually a mile or two away from their current location, leaving behind them some special cells containing new queens, one of which will become the new mother of the old colony. Swarming is driven by the all-powerful urge to reproduce, present in all species. Swarming is the honeybees' most important survival strategy, and without it, I doubt they would have survived for the last 50 million years. It has enabled them to move quickly to avoid local disasters and climate change, and to cover promising, new territory quickly and efficiently. You can really feel the bees' excitement building up as swarming day approaches - and when they leave the hive, they stream out and whirl around in a cloud, like a bee tornado, and in a few minutes, settle on a nearby branch, gathered around their queen to protect her. Often, in an apiary with a number of hives, when one swarm emerges, another will come out from a nearby hive very soon after the first - as if the excitement has spread from one hive to the next. Swarming is far from being a spontaneous event, however. Preparations begin several weeks before it actually takes place, and there are several indicators to look out for that will tell you whether and approximately when your bees are going to swarm.