Saul Creek Apiary
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When Honey Bees Swarm
Small Swarm Large Swarm
The following is not only for Beekeepers both new and seasoned but also for home and or property owners that find themselves faced with several thousand uninvited insects known as Honey Bees. For those of us living anywhere from Florida through Texas to California we live in what is known as Africanized Honey Bee Infected States. This makes removing Swarms or removing established Colonies a little bit different than someone that lives further North in non Africanized infected States. For home and property owners this can be a very dangerous situation as Africanized Honey Bees are extremely unpredictable. Swarms such as the ones pictured above can seem extremely docile allowing the curious home owner to get very close without so much as a fly by and give Beekeepers the courage to work with little or no protective gear. The problems start when the Bees take up residence in either a wall, shed or other shelter that the Bees feel will make a good home or when the Beekeeper that removed the Swarm introduces the colony into a hive body and the colony establishes a Brood Chamber where the Queen can start laying eggs. With eggs being laid, the Colony now switches into defensive mode and will protect the hive with their lives sending out hundreds if not thousands of Bees to insure that the Colony lives on. Africanized Honey Bees are also known to throw small swarms such as the one in the picture above which insures that the Africanized Genes live on. These swarms can even over take weak or small weak managed Colonies therefore turning them into Africanized Colonies as the Africanized Queen starts laying eggs. Unfortunately most Beekeepers are not equipped to handle Africanized Honey Bees and can get deep in trouble very quickly. For those Beekeepers that wear protective suits, most are only rated as "Sting Resistant" and not "Sting Proof". Sting resistant means that Bees can if determined sting through the material. Sting Resistant Suits provide little to no protection from an Africanized Bee attack. If your a Beekeeper removing Swarms or established Colonies, make a plan on how you will deal with an Africanized Colony well before you become committed with the removal. Purchase a quality "Sting Proof" suit and be prepared to deal with aggressive Bees should the need arise, your life and others may depend on it!
Swarms: Swarms such as the ones pictured above are merely Colonies that are in transition. Normally these Swarms are found hanging from tree limbs, fence post or any place where the swarm can gather close to the Queen while scouts are sent out to look for a more permanent home. If left alone these swarms will only be in place from just a few minutes to a few hours and will disappear just a quick as they arrived. Generally these swarms are very docile and the swarming Bees usually will not sting. When Honey Bees swarm they gorge themselves with honey before leaving the hive which makes it very hard for them to double over and sting.
What Causes Honey Bees to Swarm: There is a variety of reasons why Bees will Swarm. The most common is poor hive management which includes crowding, disease and a lack of hive maintenance. Honey Bees also have a natural instinct to survive by sending out new colonies, this can often times be stopped by removing Queen cells when doing deep/full inspections. Honey Bees usually swarm in early spring just as the colony is building up it's numbers in anticipation of the upcoming honey flow but swarming can happen through late summer and depending on the weather in early fall if hive conditions are extremely poor. Late season swarms almost never fair well over winter and often times are better off being combined with an existing colony after the swarms Queen has been removed. The danger in doing this is that if the swarm has any disease they will pass it on to the host hive.
Indications a Colony may be getting ready to swarm: Some indications that a hive is getting ready to swarm is large numbers of Bees hanging in a clump around the entrance of the hive with other Bees flying aimlessly around the hive. The hive entrance may be blocked with Bees scrambling to get out and no or few workers will be seen returning to the hive from the field. On some occasions when the colony is extremely confused just before swarming one can observe what looks like a cloud of Bees leave the hive flying a few to several yards away them return to the hive and re-enter, this is often a prelude to a large swarming event. Often times when this behavior is observed in order to make the Bees think they have swarmed the Bees can be removed from the hive and shaken out a few yards away which simulates the hive having swarmed. The Bees will then return to the hive and if everything goes the Beekeepers way the colony will remain in the hive. If any of the conditions above are observed it's a good idea to do a deep inspection and look for Queen Cells. Any Queen cells that are found can be either destroyed or the frame with the queen cell can be removed and placed in a Nucleus hive along with a healthy quantity of workers. Frames of honey and pollen to start a new colony should also be added (see Hive Splitting). Extra equipment should always be kept ready to capture a swarm in the apiary should the need arise. Captured swarms from the Beekeepers own apiary can be considered safe and added to the apiary to increase numbers or given to someone that is interested in getting into Beekeeping.
Note: Bees first flight - New Beekeepers often times confuse swarming with young bees first flight. Young Bees take flight after the first week to ten days of emerging from their cell. Often times one can observe a few to a hundred or so new Bees taking first flight as the colony numbers increase. The big difference between the first flights and swarming is worker Bees will still be seen coming and going from the hive and clumping will not be present even though large numbers may be seen at the entrance of the hive.
Preventing Swarming: Preventing swarming is sometimes easier said than done. Even seasoned Beekeepers loose colonies from time to time due to the time of year when swarming generally takes place. For the Beekeeper spring is an extremely busy time of year and for those with larger numbers of hives checking each and every one for Queen Cells can be a daunting task. One of the worst things a new Beekeeper can do is over inspect a hive. Every time the hive is opened, the colony is set back days or even weeks from damage done to comb and smoking the hive before entering. Bees are not pets, they do not have names, they do not know who you are and most likely they do not even like you. If you had someone taking the roof off your house every few days you wouldn't stick around long either. Keep the inspections to a minimum. Learn to read what the Bees are doing from examining the entrance away from the flight path. Allot can be learned from observation.
Learning the signs of potential swarming:
Crowding: Probably the number one cause of swarming. Upon observation Bees will be crowding around the entrance, fanning their wings. Adding an additional Brood Chamber (Deep) may help to advert swarming by easing the crowding.
Disease/ Infestations: Mites, Small Hive Beetles (SHB), as well as common Honey Bee diseases can cause Bees to leave the hive (abscond).
Location: Hives in full sun in the South may help with SHB control but may also cause the colony to leave due to extreme high temps within the hive.
Dilapidated Hive Bodies: (woodenware) There's nothing worse in my book than seeing a dilapidated hive. Bees also do not thrive in dilapidated hives as moisture, mold and fungus become a major problem. Rotting woodenware can cause a colony to leave if conditions are poor.
We will be adding pictures as well as additional information as time goes on, feel free to email us with any questions or comments you may have. We hope the information we have provided may be of some use to you and your Bees.
Thank you for visiting and most of all Good Luck with your Beekeeping.
Saul Creek Apiary
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