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  • Writer's pictureLinda

Steady away!

Cliffe Castle Bee Blog #12 2023

When Mike and I checked our little colony yesterday, we found our new red queen was determined to keep those grubby old combs in use. She continues to lay over 4 frames in the hive, but is recycling the emptied cells on old comb, rather than using those drawn out by the house bees on the new frame of foundation we added last week!

Lee took a photo of her on the new frame last week. Perhaps she didn’t like the look of it?

Following the swarm...

Last week’s blog stopped at the cliff hanger of half a colony of bees tumbling out of their nest/hive entrance in a swarm. Let’s find out what happens next.

The queen is caught up in the rush to the entrance and leaves the old home amongst the other bees in the swarm. It is very important that she is with them, as they will not be able to survive without her. So, their first task is to make sure that she is.

To do this, they settle in a clump, or cluster, not too far from the old home they have left. This bivouac stage provides an opportunity to make sure that she is safely contained inside the cluster for protection. If the bees have mislaid her on the journey for any reason, or she has failed to leave the old nest, they will return and try to find her.

The classic swarm cluster looks rather like a bunch of grapes, hanging from a branch or other fixed point. This is the stage at which a beekeeper can most easily collect and remove a swarm of bees to rehome them elsewhere.

Of course, swarm collection is not always as straightforward as this. Steve found a swarm spread out over a greenhouse roof a few years ago, and took this picture.

You will remember that the bees have stocked up on honey supplies before leaving the nest. This allows them to survive in cluster for several days before leaving for their new home. But they are not just hanging out!'

The scout bees, that were looking for potential new homes for the colony before the swarm ever left the old nest, can now begin to explore all the options that seem most suitable. They advertise the location and merits of the site they have visited, by dancing on the outside of the cluster. The better the site, the longer and more vigorous the dance. Scouts will investigate the most appealing. If they find it is better than their own, they join the dance for the preferred location and, gradually, a consensus decision is reached.

This is the point at which the cluster is stirred to flight by the scout bees, who then steer the column of bees to their new home. Remember that the majority of bees in the cluster have never been to the chosen site. The scout bees guide them there by quickly flying over and under the column of bees, like energetic tour guides.

Isn’t this amazing?



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