Thursday, July 11, 2013

Black clouds do not always bring rain! The swarm that wasn't!

Black clouds do not always bring rain!  The swarm that wasn't!

I've been reflecting on a small bee swarm event that occurred in my backyard two weeks ago...the bees always keep me guessing and I guess that's why I find them so interesting to keep.

Bee Journal entry: Thurs. June 27, 2013  7:30 pm

I was just in the second hive.  My co-beekeeper has been busy with a move and work and a family wedding and has not been able to get out to check on that hive.  It is day 13 since it was last checked, and it takes 14 days for a queen to form per the textbooks, so I'm a bit nervous that they could swarm and impact my neighbors if I don't get in to do something. I've got his permission.  In fact, he has agreed that maybe with his busy summer schedule, it's best if I just buy those bees back from him and care for them from here on out.  So, I'm in the hive after work in my backyard on a Thursday night;... kind of late to be doing this, but it's supposed to storm tomorrow and I need to see what's going on in there.

I find immediately that I'm glad I came!  I see there are 21  swarm cells; 5 of them are fully formed! (Swarm cells are the newly forming queens made by a hive that has outgrown it's space or that detects the queen is not up to par.  These cells hang down like peanuts from the bottom of a frame in a super.)  They are on the frames in the middle 2 supers of this 4 super hive. 

I see that in one of the swarm cells, the presumptive queen has already started to nibble her way out, so she would likely have precipitated a swarm tonight or tomorrow as she emerged and kicked out the current queen and half of the hive. 

I knock down all of the swarm cells including hers.  ( I know this will make some beekeepers cringe. You didn't save that queen?)  I also see 2 small hive beetles (a pest) in the top super. There are very few drones as compared with my other hive. There is however lots of nice brood (eggs, larvae and pupae) in the bottom 2 supers and some in the 3rd. Only some honey is capped throughout, and mostly in the 3rd super. The top (4th) super seems really slow to develop-maybe two weeks behind my other hive, so I debate taking it off, especially since the nectar flow is slowing down. 

I see her royal majesty in the bottom (1st) super. She surprises me and actually walks up on my glove and poses; I've never had a queen do this before. She looks pretty healthy. She flies off of my gloved hand and ...into the hive?  (or so I think!, ...little do I know!)

But, there are so many bees in the mix, I assume she flew down into the hive super.  But, in retrospect, I think she must have flown up into the maple trees above.  And, because I’d been knocking down so many queen swarm cells, most of which were ready or almost ready to emerge, I think I must have released a swarm pheromone in so doing.  She flew up, and older worker bees must have gone with her.  (But, I still didn't know this; I'm just happy to be done and out of the beesuit in this hot 95F plus degree and 100% RH weather.  It's like a sauna!)  

I close up the hive still unawares.  And, I pour myself an adult beverage and sit down under the apple tree in a lounge chair with my pup Clifford at my feet. Boyfriend Walt is at a church council meeting.  The sun has already set, but there is still lots of light yet in the sky.  There is also  the slightest hint of a late thunderstorm approaching.  I am relaxed.

Then I suddenly heard a loud humming or buzzing noise. It sounds natural, not synthetic or mechanical.  It seems to be approaching and growing louder.  Not obnoxiously loud, but an ever steady humming.

I looked up toward the sound, and there above my neighbor's roof is a slow moving black cloud-of bees! Oh my!  They are moving slowly up high and headed into my yard.  (The black humming moving cloud reminds me of a childhood cartoon with Bugs bunny.)  

The black  buzzing cloud makes its way to hover right over the 2nd hive that I had just closed up.  As they get closer, the humming noise grows slightly louder.   It is now about 7:50 pm and getting a bit darker in the sky.  

The black cloud hovers over the hive for a few seconds and then moves way up high into the tops of the maple trees which are very tall above the hives.  Now realizing these are most likely my girls with my queen up there,  I beg them, Please please do not leave my yard! I hastily look around to see if any neighbors are watching.  Nope, thank goodness! It's too late in the evening.  All is quiet. Good.  I have great neighbors and I cultivate these relationships with jars of fresh honey and other hive products and education.  But, you just don't want to push it, you know what I mean?

So there they are, up high; all swirling and flying and buzzing around, a small group of about 500 workers.  I could not see where the queen had or was landing.  I saw no cluster of bees forming and hanging down anywhere.  I kept scanning the tops of the maple crowns and thinking, man I don't have a ladder that tall if they do cluster up there!  How will I collect them?  Then, I briefly wondered if maybe she would fly back down into the hive? Around 8:10 pm the black cloud seemed to be slowly settling back down-less flying around the tops of the maples.  Were they going back into the hive or clustering somewhere up high? 

Then, I looked down and saw an amazing sight!  The bees still in the hive were lined up at the front porch entry door of the second hive fanning with all their might!  (Fanning is flapping of wings rapidly to release a pheromone from the abdomen in a plume directing wayward bees that can no longer use sunlight to navigate to get back to the hive.) They were trying to call the queen and 500 workers back into the original hive.  Come back, come back, dear queen!  

It was getting darker still.  Storm was now approaching.  Had someones of them figured out there was no new queen in the hive remaining, and that they would all die if she didn't come back? Maybe they detected the low pressure approaching. Any clustered swarm hanging exposed from a tree limb at night would be killed in a downpour of rain. 

Interestingly, by 8:30 pm there was suddenly no more activity at all- flying, buzzing or fanning.  And, it was dark.  Everyone who had been on the front porch entry was now inside.  I wondered, is she back in there?

Bee Journal entry: Fri., June 28, 2013 7:00am

11 hours later, next morning, I went out to scan the tops of the maples and surrounding structures  and neighbor’s homes, etc.  No clusters of hanging bees.  So,…I think and hope and pray, she is inside the hive where she belongs!  Otherwise, I have no idea where she is.  But, i dare not open the hive as they need no disturbance for a bit.

Bee Journal entry: Mon., July 1st, 2013 6:00pm

I just opened the 2nd hive; it's been three nights since the "swarm." I went through all of the supers. I see no queen, but I see brood and I think I see newly laid eggs.  I think??? Is she in here? I really don't know for sure I sure hope so.  I checker board the hive to prevent further notions of swarming.  Then, i knock down any newly forming swarm cells. 

Bee Journal entry: Mon., July 4th, 2013 2:00pm

I just opened the 2nd hive;  I went through all of the supers. In the bottom super I see her.  The queen is here!  She looks healthy as she walks around dipping her abdomen into each cell and laying a new egg.  I tell her, "Your royal highness, you gave me a scare and it's good to have you back!"  I see brood and newly laid eggs and very few swarm cells. The true swarm seems to have been successfully averted.  And, from an entomology standpoint, it was a little exciting to boot!  


Brad Whitley Sr, ACE said...

Dr Kathy...that was awesome. Bees are so great. It's amazing to me how much people do not know about these or any other insect or small animal out in there own back yards. As a Pest Management Professional I try to be very specific in my treatment to the animal that is infesting the home of the master animal...Human. I ,however, call a bee keeper when dealing with honey bees. Anyway...thanks for the great blog.

Ermon said...

Thank you for that story. Fascinating! I first looked at the length and considered not reading it, but I'm glad I did.