Flora and fauna of the Athens County area, and occasionally habitats outside Ohio. Subject matter will consist of both interpretive material and taxonomic issues in plant and animal identification.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bee Swarm

While visiting an old friend in Aurora this summer, our discussion turned to insects. She was kind enough to share these photos with me on a honeybee incident that happened in her yard.

A bee keeper had to be called when a large swarm of Honey bees took roost on a tree.

Honey bees swarm when the hive has gotten too big to house them all. Either the old queen, or a virgin queen, will take 50-60% of the workers and look for a new location. They are vulnerable at this time, so all the workers concentrate on surrounding the queen to protect her.

While the swarm waits, scout bees are sent out to locate suitable habitat.

Before leaving the hive, the bees gorge on food, as this must sustain them until a new location is found. The picture appears as if the bees have surrounded the tree trunk, but there is no branch there, that is solid bees.

I found it amazing to see just how stretched out the colony had become. While there are native bees that pollinate plants, our mass production of fruits and vegetables today make the European Honeybee a vital pollinator.

The bee keepers put an empty box on the ground and would begin to shake the tree. The mass of bees would fall to the ground in large clumps. If these were Africanized honey bees, there might be a little more swarming on the bee keeper. But since the primary purpose of the workers at this point is to protect the queen, they remain calm and oblivious to the disturbance.

Being subject to predators on the ground, especially ants, bees immediately seek out the nearest protection they can find.

The first bees check out this new darkened area, after inspection they return, do a little dance, and notify the rest it is safe to enter. The missing scout bees can relocate the group using scent. All colonies have their own distinct smell.

The entire swarm will lead the queen into the box for the night. With the phenomenon known as Colony Collapse, it is better to relocate a hive rather than kill it. Colony Collapse is where bees suddenly abandon their hive for no apparent reason and disappear. A lot of causes have been put forth, none of which has shown any concrete evidence. It is probably a combination of many possibilities.

The bees will not move at night. The box is then sealed up and moved to a location away from people. These boxes are constructed to be "ready made" hives, and the bees usually take to them.

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