A Tale of Two Swarms

Swarm #1

“The moment they swarm is when the bees are at their most docile,” I said. Bill and I looked up at the mass of bees clustered under the portico of his house. “While they are in transit from their old residence to a new one, they are not protecting anything – not home, not nectar, and not brood. All they are doing is waiting for the queen to get enough energy to fly off again.”

It had been a week of near misses. Two swarms, gone before I could get there. One performed the most beautiful vortex dance, and disappeared in the bole of a tree. The other took off for places unknown when the queen got rested up and ready to fly.

So when I got a call that there was a swarm at Bill’s house in a nearby neighborhood, I was in the truck right away, sliding into every curve, ready to be there this time.

And there it was. Big, fat, beautiful, kickball-sized cluster. Just waiting for me to grab them and dump them into the box.

While I grabbed the nuc box, I explained to Bill what was happening. He was a receptive audience, and asked questions to prompt me further.

“Yeah, this is the way that bees replicate in the spring,” I explained. “The queen lays a bunch of eggs in a crowded space, and then takes half of the hive to help her find a new spot. Once they have decided to swarm, they drink deeply of any nectar they have on hand, so that they can use it in the new space. And then they fly.

“The queen can only fly so far because she is pregn… what? Oh, yeah. You can always tell the queen from the others because she has a big ole’ booty. She’s half again bigger than any of the worker bees….”

Those of you who have heard me can imagine. Like the five-year old who has just learned everything there is to know about triceratops, I share EVERYTHING. I really can’t help it. It just bubbles out.

And so it was, that I was explaining why the bees were so docile – because they are not protecting anything, while I was setting up the ladder to take them away. I grabbed my box, and moved into place.

With swarms, you don’t have to be as careful. I was suited, but had not put on the veil, and I didn’t have my gloves on. I wanted to get some good pictures.

And I leaned in, and touched the ball of bees.

They parted to my touch, and showed a hint of light yellow behind.

“Huh.”

Yellow comb. Not a swarm.

“OK, so I was wrong.” I hopped down off the ladder, and walked over to Bill, who had now been joined by his daughter. “They have built comb here. One thing I have found that I can count on,” I explained, “is that whatever logic I come up with to explain what bees are doing, they almost always disagree with me. They clearly don’t read the same books I do.”

A few minutes later, I had hooded up and was removing comb from the wall side, removing one piece of comb at a time moving outward, so that the fleeing queen would be closer to me as I worked. After removing each piece of comb, I would shake the bees into the box, and close it back up.

(At this point, the bees were no longer docile at all, and provided me with some, um, pointed reminders about the importance of closing clothing gaps between sleeve and glove.)

After a few minutes, I had cut away enough comb to be able to see the corner. And sure enough, I watched as some bees disappeared into a small gap between the wall and the ceiling of the portico.

“OK, so I was wrong,” I said for the second time. I hopped down off the ladder, and walked over to Bill and his daughter, carrying a piece of the comb for them to try. After convincing them to try the treat, I explained further.

“If the bees are coming and going through the gap in the ceiling, then they are not a recent swarm. This might just be where they have expanded to. They could have been coming and going from there all last year. And just now started to expand, as the numbers have started to rise.”

At this point, Bill’s wife, who is teacher in one of the local schools, came out. She had just finished up a Zoom lesson with her students.

I explained my current way of thinking. “I am going to cut away all of the comb there, and I’ll gather as much of the bees as I can. Then Saturday, I will come back and review the situation. If there is a hive in that space there, I will give you an estimate and cut them out.

Later that same day, I went back, after Bill texted me. “Hey, Crorey. I think Queen Bee is moving to our door and the other hive is disappearing. I’m going to send you some pics.”

I went back, and sure enough, the bees were nicely clustered on the front door. (My infrared camera now comes into play.)

Now that the swarm was not defending anything, I went in and scooped them into the box. They attacked my hands with the vengeance of Nitocris and fought placement in the box with everything they had. I closed them up tight and took them home. By the time I arrived, they had found another exit, and worked to remind me how unimpressed they were with my protective gear.

Swarm #2

The next morning, I got a call about another swarm down near the river. I showed up and scooped them into a box, closed up the box, put it on the seat of my truck, and drove off. (Sean took pics and made a quick video).

It could NOT have been any easier. The swarm capture could not have been any more predictable or the bees any more docile.

And with no problem to solve, I found it to be a little bit of a letdown….

Back to Swarm #1

And then this weekend I went back, and the bees at Bill’s house were gone. No remaining bees. But there was a bzzzzz that I heard. I wandered around the front porch, trying to figure out where the sound was coming from.

“OK, so I was wrong.”

At least I am consistent.

There was no entrance to the interior space, and the straggler bees had moved on after the bulk had gone home with me. I hopped down off the ladder, and explained to Bill’s wife, who was there to watch as I pulled free a couple of pieces of molding to see what bees were beneath.

“No, ma’am. The bees disagreed with me again. They are not in your ceiling, like I thought. They just built a set of comb on the outside of the building. It is not really common, but sometimes they do that.

“But you are not bee-free.” I pointed up.

ANOTHER hive, way at the top of their enormous column.

A job for another day. Or, probably not.

Published by Company Bee

Novice beekeeper trying to help out.

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