Bee Swarms

All About Bee Swarms

As any entomologist will tell you, different species of insect exhibit different kinds of behavior, from the mating and cannibalism rituals of mantids to the aggressive violence of fire ants and killer bees. Perhaps the quintessential insect behavioral pattern is that of swarming, which is found all over the animal kingdom and in some forms of high technology research, even instead of robots. Insects, however, produce what might be the most impressive swarms, such as the majesty of a mountain full of monarch butterflies to entire forests filled with the same species of insect working in tandem. It’s a fairly impressive sight. Yet, it behooves all insect lovers to also contemplate more mundane swarms. Bee swarms in particular of note as they are not only glorious in their own right, but are also a vital element of the process by which human beings harvest honey for both culinary and economic reasons.

Honey bee swarming behavior is basically the process by which a new colony of honey bees comes into being. It begins when a newly matured queen bee leaves the colony, bringing with her a large group of worker bees, sometimes as much as 60 percent of a hive’s worker bees, which can amount to thousands or even tens of thousands of honey bees leaving a hive and flying towards a new location with their young queen. This process happens maintain in spring, with the most common time of swarming usually varying depending on the hive’s location, usually inside the same two or three week period, but sometimes a swarm will emerge at other times during the producing season. Swarms that occur outside the producing season are usually much smaller and lead only by one or more virgin queen bees. At times, swarming will happen so often in a season that a hive will see almost all of its worker bees leaving the hive to establish new ones.

In much the same way that bees reproduce and propagate their species, swarming is how honey bee colonies reproduce. Through this swarming behavior, one colony can spawn one or two, occasionally more, new colonies of honey bee, all of them generating honey in greater amounts and spreading pollen ever further. Honey bees have certain criteria for establishing hives in suitable places. Honey bee scouts seek out dry, unoccupied areas that enjoy a degree of protection from hot winds and cold temperatures. Hollowed out trees are a popular long term hive location in nature, but sometimes bees choose to move into human built places as well, usually non-insulated walls and floor joists. Honey bee colonies as a whole are most vulnerable during swarming seasons. Bee swarms starve if they don’t find a good place to lair as they can only carry the nectar and honey they can contain their stomachs. The new honey bee queen can be lost or eaten during the flight to the new hive location, while less than desirable weather conditions can also hinder her trip. If enough queens are lost and a hive does not have any more queens, it will eventually die off.

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