Swarming is a natural process in any beehive, as it’s necessary for bees to reproduce and expand their colonies. That said, swarming bees can also be a major setback for all the hard work you’ve put into your beehives, which is why it is considered one of the biggest setbacks in commercial beekeeping. So, what’s a savvy beekeeper to do?
In Australia, swarm season typically begins in August and lasts through the summer. If your bees are beginning to swarm, you’ve encountered a swarm from a different hive, or you’d like to prevent swarming in your hives from occurring in the first place, here are some suggestions.
Why do bees swarm?
Bees swarm when their hive population exceeds the hive’s capacity. This most frequently occurs in spring and early summer, when flowers are blooming and trees are budding. During this time, hives are collecting the most pollen, storing the most honey, and raising the most brood. Bees are one of very few animal species that are like humans in that they will continue to produce beyond what they need. Whereas a lion only eats when it’s hungry, bees will make honey and breed until they’ve overloaded their hive and need to divide.
During this period of heavy brood, when the queen is laying the most eggs, the colonies will produce new queens. Queen bees typically exterminate other queens before they hatch to prevent competition, but in these busy and fertile times, new queens often escape detection and hatch, drawing the colony to them and forcing the old queen to take her small cadre of loyal field bees and flee in search of a different location to begin her hive anew. This group of fleeing bees is called a swarm, and this is what is likely occurring if you suddenly encounter bees on your property.
Preventing Bee Swarms
If you are a beekeeper maintaining your own hives, you’ll want to prevent your bees from swarming. When a large chunk of your bee population packs up and leaves, you’ll be left with significantly reduced honey production. Fortunately, some simple precautions and beekeeper accessories can greatly reduce the risk of swarming in your hive.
- Use extra honey supers so that your hive has room to expand.
- Remove frames that are full of honey and replace them with empty frames so that your bees can continue drawing comb and your queen can continue laying eggs.
- Position your hive near natural shade and a water supply so that they have a reprieve from the summer heat.
- Remove swarm cells. Also called supersedure cells, these are the result of larvae being fed royal jelly to yield a new queen. Remember: once a new queen is born, the old one will likely be forced out.
- Colonies with older queens are more likely to swarm. Keep your colony’s queen young by replacing her every other autumn.
What to do when your bees swarm
Swarms can be dealt with professionally in ways that both benefit the property owner and save the bees. First, remember that bees will leave you alone if you leave them alone. If you suddenly encounter a swarm on your property, you can call professional services like Bec’s BeeHive, Ben’s Bees, or SwarmPatrol who respond quickly for convenient and friendly removal.
Contact Nuplas Apiarist Supplies today to learn more!