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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6 comments on “December Swarm

  1. solarbeez says:

    I’m a relative newbie, so I’m probably wrong here, but I like feral bees and I think I would have kept that queen. But then you are down in Florida. You have to worry about Africanized bees. In my two year experience, I’ve always used swarms to populate my hives. The ‘heavies’ in my bee club recommend killing the queen from the swarm, and replacing her with a ‘known’ queen, but I like the idea of letting the hive mentality figure out what to do with the queen and replace her if necessary. Well, like I say, I could be wrong.

    • Tabitha says:

      We have tried that in the past (keeping the swarm queen) and it has never worked out well for us. Yes, we do have to worry about Africanized bees here. The times that we had kept wild queens, the hives usually turned aggressive on us and/or the queens were not producing well. Africanized bees swarm much more often than European honey bees, they can swarm more than 10 times per year, so those hives never become strong. Another sign that this could have been an Africanized swarm was the size of the swarm, it was a small cluster.

      The state of Florida also has a management program in place that we agreed to follow with our most recent hive registration which discourages keeping wild swarms and queens, and re-queening anytime you find that your marked queen is missing. This program is designed to dilute the Africanized population.

      If keeping wild queens works for you up north, then that is great. Trust me, I would keep them too if we didn’t have the risk of Africanized bees. I’m all for natural selection and letting nature run its course when possible. 🙂

  2. solarbeez says:

    I can see the rational. I haven’t been ‘tested’ by a mean hive yet…I might just change my tune if bees started chasing me out of my garden area. 🙂

  3. It was lucky you were around and spotted the swarm. I’m sorry about your hygienic queen. It is an interesting tactic for the wild bees to hijack a hive. I suppose they are attracted to the ready made store of honey rather than having to start form scratch in place of their own.

  4. Interesting post, thanks for sharing.

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