What is swarming? Swarming is a natural “splitting” behavior for honeybees that allows them to divide a single colony into two colonies. Like any other animal, dividing or reproducing allows their species to survive. However, it is unfortunate for a beekeeper to lose half their bees and a productive queen in the process. Therefore, I like to control swarming by splitting hives myself, or using another technique. That way I get to keep my bees!
The first step in prevention swarming is to notice the signs. Below is a list of signs that can indicate that your honey bee hive, successfully out of winter, is looking to swarm:
- Highly populated. You notice a lot of activity near the entrance – lots bees flying in and out on a sunny day. During a hive inspection, you should see bees on top of your inner cover as soon as you remove the outer cover.
I know this hive is highly populated because when I removed the inner cover I found tons of bees covering the surface.
- Little to no frame space left. You’ll notice that most or all the hexagonal cells in the hive are claimed, either with honey, pollen, eggs, larvae, or capped brood. There is little to no empty space for more!
- Outstanding queen. She is laying eggs left and right! You’ll notice frames that have solid pattern of eggs, larvae, and/or brood, with few cells left empty.
This photo shows a solid pattern of larvae and brood. This tells me my queen is performing well!
- Bringing in resources. Your worker bees are bringing in pollen (bright colors, usually yellow and orange and storing them in cells). They are also bringing in nectar (glossy and liquid, also stored in cells).
This frame has pockets of brightly colored pollen and shiny cells of fresh nectar.
The list below are signs that a hive is about to swarm in the very near future and some sort of action is needed to prevent it:
- Many queen cups along the bottom bars. Queen cups look somewhat like drone cells, in that they pop out from the frame. However, the opening of a queen cup faces downward rather than directly outward. Many hives will create queen cups throughout the year, but seeing lots of them during March, April, and May tells you they are gearing up to swarm!
This picture shows the bottom bar of a frame. You can see the open queen cup cells from the bottom. This picture shows at least six, and I can tell at least one of them has an egg already laid inside.
- Eggs inside these queen cups. Shown in the above picture – eggs or larvae inside a queen cup tells you that your hive will swarm soon if no action is taken. They are creating a new queen inside this cell.
- A full queen cell. A full queen cell indicates that the hive is ready to swarm and has a new queen ready to take the place of the living queen that is about to leave the hive with half of the present bees.
This photo shows a full queen cell that is just about to be capped over. Some hives will swarm before the new queen emerges from the cell. So, seeing a sign like this requires immediate action.
What action should be taken when you see signs of imminent swarming? Stay tuned for my next blog where I will discuss your options for preventing swarming!
Keep your bees buzzin’ y’all!