When Honey Bees Swarm: A Comprehensive Guide to Swarming



The natural propagation forms of honey bee colonies occur in the form of swarming. Swarm is a reproductive behavior. When the colony needs proliferation, a number of changes occur in its physiology, reproduction, and metabolism. All these changes cover a certain period of time within a system. At the end of the period, a group of worker bees in the colony leaves the colony with the old or queen they raised during this process and form a family in a new shelter or nest. Honey bees show this behavior only when favorable conditions occur.

Honey bees swarm with the beginning of May and swarming continues to mid-June. Spring, when flowers bloom and there is plenty of food, is a season in which honey bees develop most. The rapid development of the larvae urges the queen to lay more eggs. This ensures the growth of honey bees and new bee populations must also be formed. A new honey bee community needs a queen. This is only possible with the swarming of honey bees.



When the young queen comes out, she needs to fight with the other queen, and two queen bees fight and dominate the prevailing hive at the end of the fight. But in this period when the bees work intensely, worker bees do not allow two queen bees to fight in this way. The old queen, on the other hand, gets angry and stops ovulation and starts to weaken, after taking some bees in the colony, she comes out in the form of a swarm and searches for a new hive. In other words, the bee that comes out of the hive with the swarm is the old queen. The newly born queen has the old hive.

How to understand the swarming of honey bees beforehand? Its most important feature is the accumulation in front of the beehive and at the same time the appearance of queen cell cups in the frames. If we look at the frames before they pile up in front of the hive, we can easily see the queen cell cups. Know that when two major bee factors appear in the hive, bees will swarm. Under normal conditions, the queen bee disrupts the other queen bee thimbles in the hive, but the worker bees do not allow this because the season is good. In this way, they allow the second queen to emerge.

What Is Swarming of Honey Bees?


Honey bees living as colonies multiply by dividing into colonies. This division occurs when some bees leave the hive together with the queen. This division of the colony is called swarming. The new colony that leaves the hive is called absconding swarm or cluster. Swarming season is one of the periods when the beekeeper works most intensely. During this period, the hives should be controlled well and it should be sure to be in the apiary at certain times of the day.

The honey bee colony, which is growing rapidly in the spring and can no longer fit in the hive, begins its swarming preparations. This event is very common especially in the years when there are many honey sources and the season is also available. The Swarming season usually lasts from early May to mid-June. The beginning and end of this period vary depending on climate, weather, and geographical conditions. The swarming season ends with the start of the big honey collection season, in which the nectar flow peaked.



The most important sign that the colony started to prepare for swarming is the queen cell cups seen on the hatching frames. Normally, there is a queen bee in each hive, and when this queen meets another queen, a war begins between them. The queen bee in the hive cannot tolerate and destroy the new queen cell cups made by worker bees. But during the swarming season, worker bees make queen cells in the form of thimbles in the lower parts of the honeycombs and prevent the queen from destroying these cells.

When young queen bee hatches, worker bees do not allow them to fight. The angry queen bee stops ovulation and feeding. It becomes weakened and ready to fly. On a day when the weather is available, she leaves the hive with some worker bees. The queen is placed on a suitable tree branch in the environment. Other bees following him are placed on top of each other and form a cluster-like swarm. The cluster-shaped swarm is duly taken by the beekeeper and put into a new hive. When the season is available, swarms may occur until the second, third, or even sixth.

However, each swarm coming out means that the population of the hive decreases, and the hive loses its power. The beekeeper who wants to keep the honey yield high must prevent the natural swarm output. At least, it should not be allowed to leave after the first swarm. Because as the number of swarms increases, the population of the resulting swarm decreases. The latest swarms often do not reach the number of foods and populations sufficient for them in winter. The beekeeper should look at these hives. The mother of the first swarm is fertilized because her mother is mated and immediately begins to ovulate. But since the young mothers of the later swarms do not mate, they go on a fertilization flight 5 or 6 days after their birth.

Natural Honey Bee Swarming


Honey bees are social insects and live in colonies. With the onset of honey extract in the flowers in spring, the young and healthy queen bee fills her honeycomb eyes with eggs. During this period, it lays between 1,500 and 2,000 eggs a day. With the emergence of adult bees, the presence of bees increases in the hive, and the congestion increases. It is not enough to raise new individuals to ensure the continuity of their own species. Worker bees make queen bee cells by expanding the eyes of the honeycomb, which lay eggs daily. These cells are usually not located in the middle of the bottom of the frames. Again, the preparation of the swarm begins with the addition of propolis prepared by the workers. We already said that honey bees live in colonies. Colonies continue their lives with swarming.

By raising offspring, they reproduce their presence in the colony. Meanwhile, there was an increase in the presence of drones in the colony. After a week, queen bee thimbles are closed. Before that, before the thimbles close, the existing queen beings tend to recognize and destroy new queen cells and are repeatedly attempted. Worker bees always prevent this action of the queen bee. The queen bee, who cannot have her own wish, gets angry that the worker bees prevent her and refuses to be fed by the workers, and stops feeding. It automatically stops ovulation when there is no feeding.



The queen bee, which leaves 1,500 – 2,000 eggs a day in the active period, starts to lose weight when it stops feeding and laying eggs. During this time, she loses two-thirds of his normal weight and is ready for flight. The existing queen bee, which cannot destroy its new mothers while in its cells, collects 30% -70% of the colony, that is, more than half of the colony, and they gather in front of the flying hole of the hive. In this swarming movement, which is often attended by field bees, a large part of the existing swarm rush into the honey-filled packages of the bucket and fill their stomachs with honey. Swarm bees that cluster to the front of the hive and the flight board for a while, leave the hive suddenly and rapidly. Swarm bees that float in the air like a cloud in a collective generally gather on a tree branch, tree trunk, garden wall, bush, or even ground.

If there is a tree near the apiary, it will be placed on a branch and form a bunch. Swarm bees cling to each other while forming a cluster and stand without weight. This event usually occurs between 11:00 and 16:00, but it may be earlier or later. It is also seen that honey bees put on the branch stay in the same branch for hours or even days and weave honeycomb between the tree branches they are in. Wherever the Swarm bee lands, some scout bees fly out of a search for a new place. If Swarm cannot be noticed by the beekeeper, he goes to the place where the scout bees find. Scout bees report the empty hives, tree hollows, rocks, and similar places they find with various body movements and communication dances on the swarm cluster. So they take the swarm to the place where they find it.

Artificial Honey Bee Swarming


When the swarming season approaches, the swarm received by the beekeeper without waiting for the natural swarm output is called an artificial swarm. An artificial swarm is taken for two reasons. The first is to reduce the speed of development of the hive, which develops rapidly during the big swarming season, to prevent the release of the natural swarm. The second is to increase the number of hives. For whatever reason, artificial swarms should be taken from benign, hard-working, non-stinging, easily swarming hives and other superior-quality hives.

The biggest advantage of artificial swarm over natural swarm is that the beekeeper himself decides the swarming time. Naturally, the swarming bee can not be predicted in time, and sometimes if the beekeeper is not in the apiary, this bee runs away. Or it may take many hours of effort to get the natural swarm placed at a very high place. If we take the artificial swarm when the cold ends and the natural swarm season is about 15-20 days, we will get the most efficient result. Special attention should be paid to the feeding of artificially swarmed hives.



In general, there are two main methods in the application of artificial swarming:

1) Division Swarm: In the division swarm, the power of a beehive is divided in half. In the days when the swarming season is approaching, the artificial swarm is taken from a hive full of brooding and having a good breed. On a hot day, the hive is opened towards the afternoon and 4-5 of the frames with offspring, honey, and pollen are placed with the bees to be divided into “swarms”. When an artificial swarm is taken in this way, the queen is left in the main hive or in the hive separated as a swarm. Meanwhile, the beekeeper should pay attention to the hive in which the mother is left and start the efforts to get the hive out of the hive as soon as possible. The main hive, if there are suitable eggs and larvae, will have queen cells by making queen cells in a short time. If available, a spare queen may be given or a queen cell cup can be cut from another beehive to be given to the motherless beehive. If fed well, both divided hives will develop in a short time.

2) Collection Swarm: In this application, a new hive is made with bees and honeycombs taken from more than one hive. The advantage of this method is that it does not weaken the main hive because few frames are taken. The collection swarm can be taken from two or more hives.



Collection swarms can be taken in several ways:

a) Two honey, pollen, brood and bee frames are taken from two or more hives and placed in an empty hive. Bees fight is prevented by using bee combining essence. In this application, it is necessary to be careful to keep the queen bee in the main hive. New queen bees are given to the new hive using known methods.

b) A honeycomb is taken from a beehive, but the bees are removed. The honeycombs are placed in an empty sleeve. The second main hive is taken to another location and replaced with a new hive in which we put the honeycombs. Thus, the bees of the main hive going to work outside start working in the new hive. In this method, it is not possible to accidentally give the queen to swarm. In this method, the offspring are taken from one hive and the bees from another hive. It is necessary to give queen bees in a short time with known methods.

c) Frames with artificial honeycomb are placed in the empty beehive. The main hive is lifted and replaced with an empty beehive. 4-5 frame bees are shaken together with the queen. The worker bees outside the main hive are also subject to the swarm hive as they are displaced. The queen is given to the main hive in a short time, and it is necessary to feed the swarming bee well.

Methods to Prevent Honey Bee Swarming


If the reasons for the swarming desire of a bee colony are known, methods of preventing it also arise spontaneously. These reasons are briefly:

1) When the bee population gets very stuck in the hive, it wants to get rid of this congestion by swarming. The biggest indicator of congestion inside is the fact that bees hang down by forming clusters below the flying board, especially during the hot hours of the day. This is the first sign of the swarming trend of that bucket.



2) If the beehive ventilation is not very good or if the beehive is under the hot sun, the bees get overwhelmed and tend to swarm.

3) End of spawning areas of the queen bee. If the queen bee cannot find empty cells to lay eggs on the honeycombs, the hive again tends to be swarming.

4) Swarming tendency may be an inherited feature of that bee breed. The bee breed with such a feature easily tends to be swarming.

The precautions to be taken to prevent the swarming tendency of the bee colony are:

1) As the population increases as a result of the rapid incubation activity in the spring, honeycombs should be placed before the bees are stuck in the hatchery.

2) The hive entrance holes are opened to the end in order to allow the bees to enter and exit the hive comfortably with the warming of the air and to assist the bees entering and exiting the hive. If it is not possible to put the hive under the hot sun and not put it under the shade, it is covered with a branch, bush, grass, etc.

3) From the hives that develop very fast and appear to have a tendency to swarm, closed-eyed offspring frames are taken and given to weak hives, thus the very rapid development of the colony is slowed down.

4) The queen is provided with free space to lay eggs. If the frames in the hatching are blocked by excessive offspring or excessive honey storage, they are removed and replaced with empty frames. Thus, the areas where the queen bee can lay its eggs easily are provided. If the frames are blocked by honey, it should not be replaced by a raised honeycomb frame. Because bees do not allow the queen to lay eggs by filling these frames with honey immediately. If the frame with the basic honeycomb is attached, it will have the opportunity to put the queen bee egg as the honeycombs are embossed.



In order to create a large spawning area for queen bees, 4-5 of the glazed eyed frames in the hatchery are taken and a frame with basic honeycomb is replaced. The young honeycombs are placed in the middle of the honey chamber. Thus, a large area to spawn the queen is created in hatching. If the mainframe is placed between the hatching and the honey chamber, the bees start to fill the honeycombs on the upper floor immediately after the offspring starts to hatch, since the queen can not go up and lay eggs.

5) Frames in hatching are checked once a week and queen bee thimbles, if any, are destroyed. The fact that the queen bee thimbles are made does not mean that the hive will necessarily produce swarms. Therefore, no time should be spent to disrupt cells that do not contain eggs. If eggs and royal jelly are left in these thimbles, this is the most important sign of swarming preparation.

One of the most important points to be considered when destroying these thimbles is whether they are closed or not. Open thimbles that are not yet closed can be easily destroyed. But if there is a closed queen thimble, it means that the hive swarms. Therefore, destroying all the thimbles means leaving the beehive without a mother. When closed thimbles are seen, it is necessary to select 1-2 of them without leaving them. Main cell cups with large, flashy, and lumpy tops should be preferred.



The number of queen bee thimbles made for swarming is generally 10-15. The thimbles made for replacing queen bees are around 2-4. Thimbles made for swarm are located at the bottom of the frames, hidden corners to hide from the queen bee. The thimbles made for replacing queen bees are located in the middle of the frame, in areas where there is plenty of brood. If the first swarm came out of which hive was seen, the most practical way to prevent other swarms is the following: Swarm bees are put in place of the main hive by removing the main hive and moving it to another place in the apiary. Thus, bees outside the field make the colony very strong, including the swarm hive. The main hive, whose population has decreased due to the loss of its bees, gives up swarming.

6) Some bees tend to swarm more easily due to their racial characteristics. So it is necessary to work with races with a lower tendency to swarm. Each beekeeper should identify the hives with a low swarming tendency in his own bees and by giving the queen bees he produces from these hives to other hives, he should minimize the swarming tendency of his own bees. Bees and drones of hives with a high tendency to swarming should be destroyed whenever possible.

7) Applying artificial swarming in rapidly developing colonies is one of the most important applications that prevent natural swarming.

Honey Bee Swarm Catching


Although natural swarming from the hive is against modern beekeeping techniques, natural swarming cannot be prevented from time to time for various reasons. Swarm usually occurs between 9 and 12 o’clock. It is also seen that it comes out later in the hot days of summer. The first swarm mothers coming out of the hive cannot fly away because they are old, so they settle relatively close to the apiary and in low places. The second, third, and later swarms tend to fly farther and settle higher because their mothers are young. Sometimes these swarms can fly directly into their new home, with no settling.

When swarming starts, various methods are applied to ensure that the bees settle. Like hitting tins, hitting two stones together, or throwing soil on bees. There are those who claim that these methods are correct, as well as those who claim to be objectionable. The method we apply and get successful results is to sprinkle water on the bees. Bees sprinkling water on it begin to gather in a short time, assuming it is raining. If the emerging bee cannot find a place to cluster, it flies away. To prevent this, if there is no tree around and the apiary, it is necessary to plant tree branches on the ground as a precaution.



To ensure that the Swarm cluster is placed in low, more comfortable places, it is useful to apply lemon balm where we want it to be placed. It is necessary to prepare the hive, which we intend to put Swarm, in advance. Basic honeycomb frames are placed in the hive, which has the characteristics that the bee colony can live healthily. If possible, it would be nice if 1-2 frames are swollen honeycombs. 2 cm space is left between the frames. If honey or sugar sorbet is applied to these swollen honeycombs, it will be easier for the bee to enter the hive and accept it as a nest.

After the swarm comes out and settles somewhere, it is necessary to start the hive work without delay. Because the bees, which are not displaced at a certain time, fly to their new nest and go. If the place where Swarm is placed is under the direct sun, it is absolutely necessary to shade by covering it with a clean cloth. If the place where Swarm is located is low, the hive is taken directly to the bees, a cloth is laid between the bees and the hive, smoke is given from the back, allowing the bees to walk through the cloth and enter the hive. Bees are swept gently against the hive with a goose feather or beekeeper brush to facilitate routing the bees. The bees that smell the honey or wax in the hive begin to enter the hive like a flock.

If the bees are placed at a height of several meters, a wide cloth is laid on the ground. The hive of bees brought under the table or placed on a height such as scaffolding. Or, if possible, a person holds the hive up. The branch is shaken hard and bees are collectively dropped into the hive. The hive is placed on the ground, on the cloth, and other bees flying in the air are expected to enter the hive. When the queen bee enters the hive, other bees enter their new nests easily. The beekeeper can see if the queen entered or not by following the movements of the bees around the hive. If the bees start to cluster on the branch in flocks again, it is understood from here that the queen is not in the hive. Also, when the queen bee enters the hive, the bees around the hive begin to buzz by turning their stings into the sky and flapping the wings. When the bees flying in the air see this movement, they begin to enter the hive.



If the branch where the swarm settled is a high tree branch, the branch is cut slowly without shaking the bees. A wide cloth is laid in front of the bucket, one edge of the cloth is placed on the entrance board of the bucket. The branch is gently shaken on the cloth and left on the cloth. Bees begin to enter the hive in the form of flocks. If the branch is such that it cannot be cut, a can is attached to the tip of a long pole. A piece of honeycomb with honey is placed inside the can. The tin is extended and brought under the bees, the tree is shaken vigorously, with the help of another pole or climbing the tree by the ladder. The can is lowered and emptied into the hive. If all the bees could not be taken, this movement is repeated several times. When it is understood that its queen enters the hive, the hive is covered.

Another practical method of catching a swarm is the following: An old stalkless basket is carefully placed over the swarm, slowly blowing smoke from the bottom. Since bees tend to enter closed and dark places, bees gather in the basket placed on them. After all the bees have entered the basket, taking care not to shake it, the basket is covered and the bees are put in their new hives. This method is especially practical for capturing and retrieving swarms that are placed at a great distance from the apiary. Bees fill their crops with honey as they swarm from the hive, so swarm bees are calm and do not sting easily. In this way, the beekeeper can work comfortably. The swarm hive is put in its place permanently and, if possible, is covered to ensure it remains cool. The next day, the lath is brought to its normal state. The frames that the bees do not capture are taken and the hive is divided by a dividing board.

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Savaş Ateş

I like eating honey a lot. We have a huge interest in bees and how they make honey. I have visited honey farms. I have talked to a lot of honey sellers. I read a lot of books about them. I want to share my knowledge with you.

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