December Swarm

It was the afternoon of December 17th when I happened to glance outside and to my surprise I saw a swarm taking place in the backyard.  I couldn’t believe I was witnessing a swarm in mid-December, but here in Florida it has been rather warm this winter, so I guess it is possible.  I had to take a video of it happening.

The swarm decided to settle on one of our hives which caused me to worry about what was going on. Was this a swarm from my own hive? Was this a feral swarm trying to invade my hive? Lots of questions swirled in my head.  I approached the hive after things started to calm down and saw some bees fighting, not a good sign.

Swarm beginning to settle.

Swarm beginning to settle.

Swarm finally calmed down.

Swarm finally calmed down.

A few days later my husband and I opened up the hive to do an inspection.  The behavior of the hive had completely changed. They were no longer our quiet calm bees, but instead they were very antsy.  Not aggressive or trying to attack us, but moving around as if they were restless.  Our efforts to find our marked queen that day were useless, so we closed up the hive and decided to wait another week.

Finally on December 28th we opened the hive again to find the same restless behavior.  We also found eggs, but in a random laying pattern and then…there was a new unmarked queen!  Bad news for us.  This means that our hygienic queen was probably forced out of the hive or killed by this feral swarm and they moved into the hive.  So we took immediate action.  We killed the feral queen and combined the hive with another one of our stronger hives to save any of the remaining worker bees.  Combining hives has been a very successful tactic for us in this type of situation.  Once spring arrives we will be able to split this hive and give them a new hygienic queen.

Combined hives.

Combined hives.

If you are wondering why we have paper between the two hives, this is so the bees can smell each other and accept each other.  You put down a sheet of paper on top of the strong hive that has a queen, you cut small slits into the paper and then place the weak queenless hive on top.  The slits allow the bees to smell each other and then they begin chewing through the paper and become a single hive.  They eat through the paper pretty quick, usually within a day they are combined.

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Green Orchid Bee

When we are working with our beehives in the backyard, we sometimes have a pretty visitor – the green orchid bee.  This is mainly a solitary bee and the females gather pollen and propolis (plant resin) for nest building.  We see this behavior of gathering propolis firsthand when they come and steal from an open beehive.  To help, I usually gather excess propolis and place it on top of a hive just for the orchid bees to gather and make their nest.

Here are a few photos of a female gathering propolis and placing it in her pollen baskets on her hind legs.

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Plenty of propolis in her pollen baskets.

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She flies up and places propolis she has collected onto her hind legs.

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They have strong mandibles to gather resin.

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Placing propolis on her hind leg.