Capturing a swarm of bees: follow-up

Last week after writing a bit about capturing a swarm of bees, my old friend Hal M. wrote:

Jim, very interesting, but how do you “put” them in a box. And don’t say “very carefully.”

So, I decided I should say a bit more about swarms.

Actually, “very carefully” would not be a good answer in any event. What you do is shake the limb and make them fall into the box. I have even put my hands (gloved, of course) on the swarm and tried to guide them down into the box. Getting the bees into the box is a bit tricky since you want to try to get the queen in there, and she’s usually at the center of the swarm.

Honeybees live in colonies; they do not exist individually. Like any other living thing, their main reason for a bee colony’s existence is to reproduce and continue the species. That makes the birth of an individual bee — worker or queen — irrelevant. What is important is that the colony itself reproduces. Honeybee colonies reproduce by “casting swarms.”

When a colony reaches a certain point, it will develop a new queen. Since there is normally only one queen to a colony, the old queen will leave, but she will take a portion of the colony with her. That’s called a swarm.

The swarm hangs together, literally, usually around a tree limb or something similar. On the outside of the swarm, individual bees peel off and look for a new home — usually some kind of protected cavity such as the hollow of a tree. Within 24 hours, the bees process the information they have received from their scouts, and they take off for their new home. Exactly how they make this decision is one of the great mysteries of the bee science.

When a beekeeper captures a swarm, he or she makes that decision for the bees, and the beekeeper hopes the bees will agree. If they do and other conditions are right, the bees can grow into a healthy colony and might even produce honey for the beekeeper during the next season.

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About Jim Stovall

Jim Stovall, (JPROF.com) a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self-publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker, and beekeeper -- among other things. Subscribe to his weekly newsletter at http://www.jprof.com .
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