honey bee behavior swarming

A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon

For swarm prevention, I had done everything by the book. I had reversed brood boxes, re-queened, cut swarm cells, split hives, and provided extra supers. Still, since I had come through winter with large populations of clamorous bees, I was expecting swarms.

But bees were not on my mind Monday morning when I headed outside to trim some branches. Halfway through the door I stopped short: the air was full of bees. A full-blown swarm commanded the entire front yard—darting, swirling and dashing in every direction.

To my left I could see the top-bar hive belching bees like a steam locomotive. Clouds of bees spewed through the holes as if they were under pressure. Less than three weeks earlier I had split this hive and taken the queen, assuming they would recover on their own. Apparently, they had.

Mesmerized, I dropped the pruners and walked into the swarm. Bees bounced off my face and arms, thumped into my shirt, and grazed my hair. Like bumper cars, they crashed and changed course. No retribution. No stings. Swarming bees are so damn lovable.

The air was heavy with their bodies. I could smell the humidness of them. Like a kid playing in snowflakes, I extended my arms to the side, looked to the sky and twirled in a circle, flying with the bees. Up to the heavens, down to the ground, the whole compass around, bees were everywhere. Although no one wants to lose a swarm, once it’s airborne, you may as well enjoy it.

Suddenly, the swarm did something I’d never seen before. It split. Like the Red Sea, it parted in two. As in an intricate dance where the Corps de Ballet suddenly sorts itself out, each bee seemed to know exactly where to go. With choreographic precision, one group headed back to the hive. The other hovered around a tall Leyland cypress next to the driveway.

I could tell they would coalesce in the cypress, but it was several minutes before I saw a knot forming on one of the highest branches. First the size of a walnut, it soon grew into a baseball, and then a loaf of bread. What had been a frenzy only moments before was now an orderly structure, each bee hanging on another, the whole gently swaying on the summer breeze.

My camera, I remembered, was in the shed, so I corned the house to get it. But as I entered the backyard I heard an all-too-familiar sound. I couldn’t believe it. Two swarms within five minutes? Really? But there could be no doubt. I followed the cacophony up the hill.

To be continued . . .


Swarm in a Leyland cypress


  • What a magical image of you twirling with the bees. Makes me think of the end of Edward Scissorhands, that scene where he and Winona Ryder’s character are twirling together and the beautiful music is playing.

  • The problem with the “by the book” things you listed, those being “reversed brood boxes, re-queened, cut swarm cells, split hives, and provided extra supers” is that none of those, other than a swarm split when you remove the queen and a fair number of bees and more space, will actually fully interrupt the reproductive swarm impulse. At best they might set the colony back a just a little, but it does not change the colonies plotted course to a reproductive swarm. This is especially true for cutting out queen cells in which the colony has already committed to swarm. Extra supers will help a congestive swarm, but not a reproductive one that is just before or during a reasonable nectar flow. All the supers in the world won’t stop a reproductive swarm.

    To mike it up a little, you might want to consider broodnest expansion (inserting empty frames, preferably foundationless, directly into the broodnest) or even try Walt Wright’s checkerboarding ideas. I have found both of these to be exceptionally functional swarm minimizing actions. I would say “prevention” but I wouldn’t want to jinks my lack of swarms for the last 3 years.


  • We moved to the country from the city about five years ago. A beekeeping friend of my better half passed and we got his bees! Wow, I had no idea how much work went into keeping bees! My aunts kept bees when I was a little girl and they made it look soooo easy… Well to make a long story short, we were very busy trying to get settled on our ten acre dream so the bees had to fend for themselves. Oh we got honey but it was a real chore! I read books on bees but didn’t retain much, I was just too darn busy. After the only hive I had survived the winter, I made it my goal to become a beekeeper. I’ve got a lot to learn and I’m hungry for the knowledge.

    Now, I have a question for you. I took three frames of honey from my hive two weeks ago, I got nearly five quarts from three frames which I thought was a lot for only three frames. I had another beekeeper give me a hand in taking the frames so I wouldn’t mess up. Ever since that day my bees have been hanging around the entrance like they’re gonna swarm but they haven’t left yet. I began feeding sugar water and I keep checking the hive to see if they’re okay and everything seems to be normal. Why are they acting this way? I vented the hive thinking they might be too hot, so what have I done wrong? I caught a small swarm earlier in the year and I feed them too. They act normal and they’re filling up those frames. I have a lot to learn about bees and I’ve been reading books and surfing the internet but there’s nothing like hands on experience. I need a mentor!!!

    • Marilyn,

      I don’t think taking the honey and seeing the bees hanging around the entrance are related. Heat and humidity can both make the bees do that. They try to cool the hive by moving some of the bees out of the nest and fanning the entrance. It sounds to me like there is nothing to worry about; that is just normal bee behavior.

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