April 29, 2014

Now That's a Lot of Bees: Swarms at Kailash

I was going to write about something completely different (and less exciting...about laundry) but we had an exciting day and I wanted to share! If you just want to see cool videos of swarming bees, just scroll to the bottom of this page.

Today at the Kailash Ecovillage we had not one, but two honeybee swarms. We have four honeybee boxes here at Kailash and today two of the colonies decided to find new homes. I have spent a good part of the day just going outside and watching the bees. It also inspired me to do some research about what swarming actually is.

Swarming is the European honey bee’s method of colony reproduction. A queen and about half of the worker bees leave their former hive and seek a new home. Most commonly swarms will land between 1-20 feet off the ground on a tree branch or other solid surface within 50-100 feet of their hive. At this point they will wait patiently at this transitional camp as the scout bees search the area for a new home suitable for the swarm to move into. Within a few hours to a few days, the swarm’s scouts usually reach a consensus about the best available site. Then the swarm takes to the air one last time to move to the new home such as hollowed-out trees; inside the walls of houses; in or around chimneys; or in outbuildings, fences, shrubs, barbecue grills, and the underside of decks.

A departing swarm generally consists of a 5,000-20,000 bees flying in a cloud. Generally these swarms are very docile and the swarming bees usually will not sting unless provoked. When Honey Bees swarm they gorge themselves with honey before leaving the hive which makes it very hard for them to double over and sting.  

It is also possible to "capture" swarms. This essentially entails intercepting the colony before it can find a new home and transferring it to your own bee box. Here is a link to an article explaining how to go about it. The Ecovillage's bee team has been busy all day trying to find an open box to take the bees... hopefully we will get to capture it before they leave!

It was fascinating watching the bees. They would go from a seemingly chaotic cloud that would give those afraid of stinging insects a heart attack, to a calm and consolidated mass. Pictures don't quite do it justice so here are some videos I took that give a better sense of what was going on.

Here was the first swarm which happened around noon on the bike shed. The first video shows them when they were at their craziest and the second video shows how they ended up.

This was the second swarm which occurred maybe two hours after the first one on a fountain in someone's individual garden plot. The videos are in the same type of sequence as those above.

Thanks for reading and I hope this was as informative as it could be. Here are some of the helpful sites I used in my research:




1 comment:

  1. Neat videos! It's ironic that while a swarm is hanging on something (like that birdbath), the bees are the most docile they'll ever be and very easy to capture. Looks intimidating though!


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