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Swarm Season


When the hive is getting ready to swarm, the queen lays eggs into queen cups. New queens are raised and the hive may swarm as soon as the queen cells are capped and before the new virgin queens emerge from their queen cells. A laying queen is too heavy to fly long distances. Therefore, the workers will stop feeding her before the anticipated swarm and the queen will stop laying eggs. Swarming creates an interruption in the brood cycle of the original colony. During the swarm preparation, scout bees will simply find a nearby location for the swarm to cluster. When a honey bee swarm emerges from a hive they do not fly far at first. They may gather in a tree or on a branch only a few feet from the hive. There, they cluster about the queen and they send 20 - 50 scout bees out to find suitable new nest locations. This intermediate stop is not for permanent habitation and they will normally leave within a few hours to a suitable location. It is from this temporary location that the cluster will determine the final nest site based on the level of excitement of the dances of the scout bees. It is unusual if a swarm clusters for more than three days at an intermediate stop.

Swarming creates a vulnerable time in the life of honey bees. Swarms are provisioned only with the nectar or honey they carry in their stomachs. A swarm will starve if it does not quickly find a home and more nectar stores. This happens most often with early swarms that leave on a warm day that is followed by cold or rainy weather in spring. The remnant colony, after having produced one or more swarms, is usually well provisioned with food. But, the new queen can be lost or eaten by predators during her mating flight, or poor weather can prevent her mating flight. In this case the hive has no further young brood to raise additional queens, and it will not survive. A cast swarm will usually contain a young virgin queen.



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