We all know the queen is the center of hive activity and sometimes when you see thousands of bees moving, you wonder if they are swarming without the queen.
Bee swarming is an important aspect of the bee life cycle and as a beekeeper or just someone who is fascinated by bees knowing when bees swarming behavior is important in the beekeeping process.
Bees will usually swarm with a queen in their midst as she is the head and they look up to her for directions. But most times it has been known for bees without to swarm without a queen as this happens in extreme situations
Bee swarming is an unavoidable aspect of beekeeping and an inexperienced might lose half of his colony to swarming, ending up with a weaker hive.
We will proceed to explain what swarming is, when and why bees swarm and what happens to bees when they finally swarm and how to make the best of swarming as a beekeeper.
Can A Queenless Colony Swarm?
Swarming is an event that occurs when the honeybee population in a colony has grown to the extent that they begin to feel overcrowded.
Swarms are nature’s way for honey bees to reproduce and expand.
A new colony is founded when the old queen takes half of the colony and absconds. This helps to make the hive feel less cramped and the new colony also begins to flourish.
A queenless colony however cannot swarm.
Bees always have a queen in the colony and in the case the hive loses its can, the worker will pick a replacement who will go ahead to gain superiority by killing off all the other potential queens.
However some beekeepers have reported finding queenless swarms and these could happen as a result of a few reasons such as the queen bee getting lost during the swarm, some worker bees got lost or its an after swarm of a virgin queen who is about to start mating.
Related: Here is an article I wrote on do bees make hives in the ground
Does A Bee Swarm Always Have A Queen
When bees swarm they leave the colony with a queen and about 80% of the time, they have a queen amongst them.
The swarm would include thousands of worker bees, drones and one queen.
There have been occasions where beekeepers have found a queenless swarm and they usually ask questions about how to replace the queen.
Once the old queen has swarmed, the new virgin queen needs to mate to start laying eggs and she also takes a few bees and leaves the hive to do that.
The queen is usually distinguished by her mating and egg laying activity and if a bee keeper captures a swarm around this period, it might look like its queenless.
However, after a few days, the queen will start laying eggs.
Also the queen bee might get lost or separated from the swarm.
As much as the worker bees try to cluster around the queen and protect her, they are still very much vulnerable out in the open. A bird could prey on them and eat the queen.
Some beekeepers could also lose the queen while capturing the swarm thereby ending up with a queenless swarm.
Another instance of finding a swarm without a queen is when the swarm was captured while some of the bees were out foraging.
Such bees will come back to the spot to find their queen is gone, however such bees do not stay queenless for long as they usually return to the old hive.
What Time Of Year Do Bees Swarm
A strong knowledge of bee swarming behavior including what time of year the honeybees swarm is important to beekeepers as this will help them predict when the bees are likely to swarm and be able to collect them for a new hive.
Swarming usually occurs during late spring from April and can extend till June depending on weather conditions each year.
You know it’s swarm season when you see thousands of bees hanging about on trees and houses.
They hover on trees for a while to scout the best location for a new home and during that period is the best time to capture them and introduce them to a new hive.
How Do You Know If A Swarm Is Queenless
It is not possible to know if a swarm is queenless except you have captured them and studied them for a few days.
Once you have captured them, put them in a beehive box and ensure there are some extra combs.
Observe the hive to see if their activities are in line with the usual.
Bees who have lost their queen are usually grumpy and act disorganized. Keep observing and watch if there are eggs in the hive after one week.
If this happens that means you captured a swarm with a virgin queen and after another week you should be able to see brood behavior.
If however you find unusual egg laying behavior especially having more than on egg in the comb cells that means the brood is queenless and the female worker behaviors have started laying eggs.
This worker bee laying behavior is detrimental to the colony as female bees lay unfertilized eggs and produce drones.
Female bees and queens are however the most vital for colony survival and if the pattern continues the colony will die out.
At this stage the beekeeper needs to introduce a new queen immediately or give the workers a brood from another hive of good blood in the meantime.
What Happens To Bees When The Queen Is Removed?
Queen bees are pivotal in the lifecycle of the honeybees.
If the queen bee is removed or killed from predators, diseases or an error from the beekeeper, the worker bees immediately start the process of replacing the old queen.
When the queen bee is alive she continually releases a pheromone that inhibits the female workers from laying.
Once she is dead or removed, the worker bees immediately notice the absence of the queen’s scent and start rearing a new queen from the available female larvae.
The worker bees place about 10-20 female larvae into larger cells and feed them with the special royal jelly.
This helps the larvae to grow bigger and become fertile rather than hatching as sterile workers.
Once the new potential queens surface from their cells, they sting the others to death in their cells and if more than one emerges at the same time, there will be a battle to the death.
The winner goes on to mate the drones and becomes the new queen.
Unfortunately at times, the colony does not have a brood at the time of the queen’s loss and when this happens the worker bees start laying unfertilized eggs which will grow up to be drones.
This is detrimental to the colony and the beekeeper needs to introduce a new queen or brood immediately this activity is noted.
Will Bees Swarm With A Virgin Queen?
It is not an unusual activity for bees to swarm with a virgin queen.
After the old and mated queen takes a large part of the colony on the prime swarm there can be further swarms from the same colony depending on the strength.
Once the first of the new queens emerges from the cell, she takes a smaller number of bees with some drones to mate in the air anf returns only when the mating activities have been completed to start laying eggs.
Other potential queens emerging from the cells can also take a smaller number of bees and begin finding a new nest.
This can only happen when the hive has a large population that can support castoffs.
The new queens go through the mating ritual with the drones and find the best location to found their colonies.
The old colony will continue with the superseding new queen.
However if castoffs are too much within a short time, it might lead to a potentially weaker colony that might have low honey reserves and might not survive the coming winter.
What Happens If There Are 2 Queen Bees
It is unusual for a honeybee hive to have more than one queen at a time.
Usually the old queen swarms and finds a new colony before the new set of larvae are hatched.
Once the first of the queens emerges from the cell, she kills her unhatched rivals by stinging them to death in their cells, remaining the only queen in the hive.
However, on a few occasions, the mother bee has delayed swarming and the virgin daughter bee emerges and starts hatching, she lays her eggs alongside her mother’s.
This situation might continue for a few weeks but its temporary as the mother bee will finally have to swarm.
How Long Will Bees Stay In A Hive Without A Queen
The lifespan of a female worker bee is about three to six weeks. If the hive continues without a queen over this period of time, the colony will begin dying off.
Naturally once the queen dies the female bees begin the process of installing a new queen bee from the old queen’s brood.
However on occasions where there is no brood, the female bees start laying unfertilized eggs and these eggs will hatch to become drones who do not contribute in any way to the hive’s activities except to mate the queen.
Once the female workers start dying off then that is the end of such a colony except the beekeeper brings in a new queen.
Bee swarming is an annual event for bees and when they swarm they always go with a queen.
As a beekeeper, having many castoffs from your colony can affect your honey harvest and the whole colony overtime.
You can prepare new hives so once the bees start swarming, you can capture those who land close to you and let them get adjusted to their new home.