• Harry

What's in a honeybee swarm?

Updated: Jul 10

From April to July, honeybees are swarming - but why do they do it?.

A honeybee swarm gathered on a fence post

More and more people are keeping bees. There are hives in most cities - in back gardens, on balconies and on roof tops. And of course, people have always kept them in the country and on allotments. So, even in town, it's possible you might see a swarm.


Honeybees live as part of a complex colony that's made up of thousands of individuals. At its peak, there are perhaps 60,000 workers (all female), a few thousand males and just 1 queen.


To swarm, the colony first raises a second queen. At the same time, a small number of workers are scouting out new nest locations. When the new queen emerges from her cell, the old queen and about half the workforce leave the hive. They already know where they are heading - the new nest site that the scout bees found. There are thousands of them so they fly out and mass their forces on a nearby fence or tree.

When the weather is good, when there are plenty of workers and plenty of honey, the colony will reproduce - it does this by producing a swarm.

The swarming workers have gorged themselves on honey and, together with the old queen, they fly like a swirling comet to their chosen site. They use the honey they carry to make wax and begin building the comb for their new home. The new queen stays to head up the old colony and so, one colony has become two!


WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?

A swarm is an amazing sight and the bees are focused on getting to their new home. It's unlikely they'll sting you but it still pays to be cautious - keep out of their way. Generally, they'll be "passing through" but if they do come to rest, especially if they are near a foot path for instance or in a building, contact your local Bee Keeping Association. Every association has a swarm collector who can help.


Find out more about the amazing life of honeybees from our book section.

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