Beekeepers Friend

Peaches' Beekeeping Blog

February 25, 2013

Swarms, Splits, and Absconds

Why do bees swarm? Why do beekeepers split their colonies? Why do bees abscond (leave in total) a new or used box?

Bees die for various reasons due to old? age (naw! they work themselves to death), Frogs (amphibians), birds (fowls), other insects (insectoids), spiders (arachnids), and beekeepers (homo sapiens) . In order for the bees to remain at status quo, the queen has to lay enough eggs to off set the death rate. Example: 3000 bees go out today and only about 1500 to 2000 come back. That means that 500 to 1000 either died, got eaten, or squashed by the beekeeper. The queen has to lay enough eggs to replace them, so she will lay 2000 to 2500 eggs each day. Suppose that the death rate is not as high this day as was expected, then there will be a surplus amount of bees living in the hive.

Soon the  congestion is felt in the hive. There is not enough room for the eggs, larvae, pollen, nectar, and honey. No room,! No room! The cry goes out and the queen give the command via her pheromones to make some swarm queens for replacement. Why? Because the workers will put the queen on a diet to loose weight. She cannot fly while she is fat! Why does she need to fly? Because she will leave and take 50-60% of the bees with her. This relieves the congestion in the hive and if she goes, then the bees that are left have to have a queen to continue on.

The queen cells will be down at the bottom of the frame. (This is a sign for the beekeepers to know that the colony is getting ready to swarm or has already swarmed.) About 15-16 days later the new queens will start piping (singing) to announce to the world that they are fixin’ to come out for all the other queens to beware!

Side note: The first queen to emerge will go and tank up on honey for much need nourishment and quick energy because she is getting ready for war. She enlists the help of some worker bees to help her tear out the side of the queen cell so she can sting the queen before she can get out to defend herself. The only way the new queen can defend herself is to be able to come out the end of the cell. She cannot bend in the cell to come out the side that is torn open.

The new queen will then go on her mating flight and get impregnated and go home and continue the original colony.

Back to swarming; The old queen takes to the air upon hearing the piping and the bees that are going with her follows and makes a scary sound and sight to one who has never seen that phenomenon. The queen lands on a branch or any surface that she can cling to and the rest of the bees will land around her to protect her from the world. Scouts are sent out at that time to see if there is a suitable place to set up housekeeping. If after a while no place is found, then the swarm will take to the air once more and again, scare anyone that happens to see it. They will stop again and again until they find a place or will decide to start building comb and make an open-air hive. (That is a subject for another time.)

The above is the way honey bees propagate (expand) their colonies.

Stay tuned for the continued Swarms – Splits-And Obsconds

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