As beekeepers, most of us have heard of cases where we might need to make use of an artificial swarm. However, when it comes to artificial swarming, things could get difficult and tricky. When would you use an artificial swarm, what exactly is it, and how should we go about it with our honeybees?
Many beekeepers use artificial swarms, which is seen as one of the most popular and effective methods of swarm control. Swarming happens as bees increase their population, so they need a larger space. The purpose of an artificial swarm is to separate the flying bees and queen from the brood.
Artificial swarms can be a lifesaver, especially if you’re a small-scale beekeeper with all their hives nearby, such as myself. Continue reading as I go through the basics of artificial swarming, when you need to use it, and why!
When To Use An Artificial Swarm
Like every other living thing on our earth, our honeybees also have the urge to reproduce. Swarming involves the current queen of the hive, along with a large percentage of the existing colony leaving their original hive, which is usually between 50 and 60% of the worker bees.
Swarming will happen when the current colony outgrows its current hive, which will result in them having to build and establish a new hive elsewhere. Swarming is not only a huge risk to the current colony but swarming means they are well-populated and healthy enough to find great amounts of pollen and nectar.
Once a colony feels the urge to swarm, there is not much one can do that will stop them.
This is where an artificial swarm would become handy, where the beekeeper will separate the queen as well as the flying bees from the nurse bees and brood.
But when would you know when it’s time to use an artificial swarm?
Like everything else that comes with beekeeping, it’s all about understanding the specific behaviors of your bees and then trying to help them along as best as possible.
Let’s have a look at early swarming behavior, so you can get everything you need for your artificial swarm:
- Your bees are storing much larger amounts of honey both above and in the brood frames, along with any other open spaces in their hive. If this is left unattended by the beekeeper, this will lead to the colony inside the hive becoming honey logged, which will greatly reduce the colony’s brood space.
- There’s an unusually high population of bees inside the hive.
- The brood frames are fully packed with resources, such as uncapped, capped brood, honey, nectar, and pollen.
- The entire hive entrance contains forager bees.
- Regardless of the temperatures in your area, the bees are consistently bearding. This will be because of the lack of room in the beehive.
- All the frames in the hive are fully drawn.
- There is an unusually high population of drones and evidence of larvae of capped drone cells in the hive. The drones are made as a way to prepare and mate with a new queen. This also indicates that the colony is rich with resources, so they can easily afford to take the extra time to find resources to care for the new drones.
- If there is limited availability of nectar in your area paired with a high pollen flow.
Keep in mind that common orientation flights are often mistaken for swarming behavior.
Note that the primary difference between the two is during orientation flights, lots of bees will fly in a figure of 8, which will usually increase n size. This is a way to understand exactly where their home is.
What Will An Artificial Swarm Achieve?
An artificial swarm works to separate the queen from almost the entire population of nurse bees, along with the brood. The queen will be placed in the original location in the new hives, while all the flying bees will then return to their original location.
This is because these bees have already orientated themselves. The new hive would be perfect as it already contains a mature and mated queen and enough bees to support her.
The hive will provide them with more than enough empty space for the queen to lay all her eggs. The old hive will also remain fit for the rest of the bees, but only when they have a new queen.
Since there will be open queen cells already present, they have to be sealed in order to allow pupation and metamorphosis, which will take about seven days.
Why Should You Use An Artificial Swarm?
While your honeybees’ urge to reproduce and swarm is a natural behavior, allowing them to get to the point of swarming is never a good beekeeping practice, as it could pose some complications.
Let’s take a look at why making use of an artificial swarm is considered crucial:
An Artificial Swarm Means You Will Be Keeping Your Bees
If you allow your honeybees to swarm, it means you will be losing about half of your bee colony. This could also result in you potentially missing honey flows in your area, as your honeybees will have to work twice as hard to build their colony again.
An Artificial Swarm Reduces The Risk Of Honeybee Biosecurity
When you allow your honeybees to swarm, it could greatly increase the risk of honeybee biosecurity in your area as well as surrounding areas. If a bee colony is affected by diseases and pests, it could cause these problems to multiply greatly.
Due to this risk, beekeepers often have to implement hive barriers and place any swarms they may catch into quarantine before they can merge them with the main apiary. To be sure of their colony’s genetics, some beekeepers will also replace the current queen.
An Artificial Swarm Will Prevent Any Infestations
If a honeybee swarm is large enough, they could find themselves in backyard gardens, on or inside homes, as well as bushes. This could shock some people as bees are considered dangerous, stinging insects.
This may result in people calling an exterminator, which means the bees will often die. However, most people don’t know that swarming bees are much less threatening as the swarming behavior is natural and will only sting if provoked.
By using an artificial swarm, you may be saving your honeybees.
Knowing when your bees are getting ready to swarm by picking up on their behaviors could be a lifesaver to know when the perfect time would be to use an artificial swarm. Using an artificial swarm will prevent negative consequences, and you may even save your honeybees along the way!