Honeybees, in a sense, reproduce on two levels. There is the actual reproduction of single bees; the mating of the queen, egg laying and rearing of young. This is one kind of reproduction. But there is also the reproduction of the hive itself. Without swarming, the first beehive in the history of time would still be growing larger and larger. I can picture in my mind a hive the size of a sky scraper!
In reality, more than likely, without swarming, something would have attacked that first hive, disease, parasites or something larger like a human or bear, and that would have been the end of bees all at once. Or that huge hive wouldn’t have had enough food in the area to sustain an ever growing colony.
Thank goodness for swarming!
Swarming ensures that the colony doesn’t outgrow itself. It also is the splitting and distribution process that spreads honeybees around the world. The presence of hives throughout the planet ensures the pollination of plants and is responsible for the continuance of many life systems.
But in the mind of the bee, how do they know when it’s time to swarm? I doubt it’s a conscientious decision, driven by humanitarian efforts to spread the service of pollination to every corner of the world.
Instead, it starts with one bee.
Of the thousands and thousands of bees that make up a hive, I find it incredible that one single bee has so much bearing on the activity of each member. The queen of course is the hub of the ongoing goal of colony continuance.
She organizes and encourages her workers to build comb, make honey and protect the hive with the use of pheromones. These pheromones act much like a broadcast system or a loudspeaker. She casts out her orders and the bees pick up on these clues and act accordingly. This is the centralized communication of the hive. Each bee relies on this communication to know its place within the hive.
A successful hive will eventually become so large that some areas of the hive will no longer “hear” the loudspeaker of queen pheromones. The bees assume that if they can’t hear the queen, she must be gone. So they begin the process of creating a new queen.
A hive can only function properly with one queen. The bees rely on a single source of direction. With two queens, there would be conflicting orders coming from two sources, and like a company with poor upper management, nothing would get done.
The old queen will detect that a new queen is being reared and learn that the hive is planning on replacing her. With this, she packs up about half the bees and heads out to find a new home. Sort of a bum deal when you think about it. Throughout her life she works with her hive to store up loads of honey comb and brood and then must leave it behind for a new queen to benefit from, and start over in her older days.
Once she leaves the hive, she finds a temporary resting spot and sets up camp. Scouting bees head out to find a suitable, permanent hive location. When they find a good place, they return to the swarm to communicate its location and the hive heads out to its new home.
So. .. how do you prevent the hive by swarming? I have had to capture several swarms and return to the hive or make a new hive. I thought it was something to do with leaving too much or too little space in the brood box(s)
The most recent MOTHER EARTH NEWS and FRIENDS podcast has great advice on this. In essence, she recommends rearranging their brood to leave open frames in the middle. https://www.motherearthnews.com/podcast/catch-a-swarm-zepz1804zcbru
The older the queen, the more likely she is to swarm. One of the only sure ways to prevent swarming is to replace the queen. first year queens tend not to swarm, no matter how crowded they become. I have also used the demaree(sp?) method, where I rotated boxes, mostly because the queen is likely to be in the top box and there is usually some additional room to lay in the bottom box. Plus, the queen keeps moving up, so she believes there is room. Obviously labor intensive because you should rotate every two weeks or so.
I also make sure there is plenty of expansion room in honey supers during this spring swarm time. I tend to put on foundation supers at this time because of the high percentage of worker bees who have active wax glands, which may also generate swarm pressure.
I opened my small compost container last night and found a hive starting. While I love bees, I do not have the equipment and worry about them stinging my dogs and cats (and me). Do you have contacts for beekeepers in the Los Angeles County area that would take them? I’m pretty positive they are honey bees.