Swarming

So, as I’ve been visiting with the different county associations, swarms have been a big topic of conversation. It’s natural for this to be a topic of conversation at this time of year but these conversations began back in February! I’ve heard from some of the participating beekeepers that their hive swarmed right before they were getting the scale under the hive, others who have gotten their hives for the project set up with a newly caught swarm and even some whose hives have swarmed while on the scale! With swarms on the mind, I wanted to provide some fun pictures and clear examples of what swarms look like in the weight data from scales that have been set up at the Bayer Bee Care Center (BBCC), and scales from the project.

Bee hive swarm.First off, Jessica Louque, a local bee researcher and columnist for Bee Culture magazine, has captured some phenomenal footage of swarming dynamics that is too good not so share! She has videos of swarms leaving the hive, queens emerging from swarm cells, queens piping and even battling queens! You can follower her on twitter @CheckmateApiary her and watch the videos on her youtube channel. However, I will warn you there is graphic bee murder content!

Now here at the Bee Care Center, we encountered our first swarm of the year on March 7th and collected 5 more after that. As I mentioned previously in Week 0, we have had scales out on the 6 hives at the Bee Bare Center since July 2016.



(Left) an established swarm with comb, I caught from a blackberry bramble around one of our apiary sites, (Center) Kim Huntzinger, a bee biologist at the Bayer Bee care center, holding her prize swarm, (Right) the “storm swarm” caught from a storm drain near the Bayer Bee Care Center.

My colleague, Morgan Scalici, started looking into the weight data around the times we saw swarming from two of our hives:

Bee swarming graph 1.

Bee swarming graph 2.

Now that others have gotten their scales set up, several participants have also been able to see swarming events with their scales:

Durham NC bee hive graph.

Wake County NC bee swarm graph.

So, with these four graphs there are three main things we have noticed:

  1. The timing: all of these swarms happened between 11 am and 1 pm, typically just before the hottest time of the day.
  2. The duration: all of the bees that have decided to leave with the old queen are out of that hive within 15 minutes. That takes a lot of coordination! Now in BBCC hive 1, you can see where the weight drops very quickly and then comes back up to half that weight. We were not in the hives at that time so we are thinking this may have to do with coordinating who stays and who goes!
  3. The weight: all of these swarms are around 10 pounds. It is important to note this weight is not just the weight of the bees, it also includes the weight of the honey they are taking with them. Nonetheless, that’s a lot more than a 3 pound package of bees!

We will continue to look into the weight data associated with swarm events in hopes of better understanding this exciting phenomenon! And if you’re interested in learning more about my fellow colleagues and bee wranglers Morgan and Kim, you can check out their backgrounds here.