Three in Three
Two weeks ago, our swarm season went into full swing in Harford County. I retrieved three swarms in three days, two of them just from one hive!
Every year, I complete with my bees to see if I can create an artificial swarm by splitting hives before they swarm on their own. This year, I started early using the OTS (On the Spot) queen rearing method, and thought I might finally have a system that works. Ha! once again, Mother Nature and the bees reminded me who really is in charge...
An unusual late spring polar vortex (with daytime temperatures in the high 40s and low fifties for well over a seven-day period) put a halt to hive inspections and conducting OTS. I made the incorrect assumption that the cold weather would also slow down the colonies' efforts to build swarm cells. WRONG!
As I waited for warmer weather, many of my hives were busy building swarm cells and placing their queen on a swarm flight diet. As soon as the vortex finally passed, the swarming started. Unfortunately for me, I couldn't inspect all my colonies before they started to swarm. Not only did a number of them swarm, I had numerous hives that had two or three "after swarms."
What is an "after swarm?" It's when the workers decide there are too many bees in the colony to for the hive to thrive, so they will keep the virgin queen from killing her unhatched sister queens. They do this by guarding the unhatched queen cells, preventing the virgin queen from killing her sisters. They also ensure the unhatched queens don't emerge until after the swarm has left. After swarms are usually smaller in size so, the likelihood of the swarm to survive the season is greatly lessoned.
The bottom left photo shows a collected swarm informing other bees that there colony has relocated to this hive box and the queen is present. The worker bees attract the attention of fellow colony bees flying back to the swarm that they have settled their swarm in a new location by emitting a particular type of pheromone. They achieve this by flapping their wings and emitting the pheromone from the Nasonov gland, which is located on their abdomens. This chemical signal informs the bees to return to their home. Beekeepers often say this pheromone has a metallic smell.
Capturing a swarm or preventing swarming in your hives isn't easy. There are telltale signs when a colony is preparing to swarm. Being vigilant as you inspect your colonies will increase the likelihood that you don't lose a portion of your hives to a swarm.
Our next blog post will talk about swarm prevention. Stay tuned!