The Glories of June – Swarming
Posted by borderglider on July 11, 2009
May and June are wonderful months for the beekeeper, when the colonies are expanding fast, queens are laying between 1 -3000 eggs a day and the colony is expanding rapidly. It is also the time when bees reproduce by swarming – the colony divides and the old queen leaves to found a new colony – taking about half of the hive’s bees with her. The swarming impulse is usally triggered by a large population increase within the hive.
The queen produces many different pheromones within the hive, which govern and control the behaviour of the worker bees. Pheromones are often referred to as ‘Queen Substance’ – but in reality there are many pheromones being distributed by the queen when she is in contact with her workers. In the early part of the season the population is small and the queen is able to distribute her pheromones alla round the hive bees and they all receive a sufficient doseage to control their behaviour. In particular, one pheromone inhibits the production of queen cells – i.e. it stops the workers instinctively creating new queens. However, as the population in the hive expands, there is less and less pheromone to go around, or alternatively, the queen herself is growing old, and is producing less and less pheromone. Eventually the levels of pheromone drop below a certain level where the queen-cell-building-impulse is no longer able to be suppressed, and the workers start to build new queen cells and to raise new queens.
The old queen does not ‘want’ the workers to raise new queens but she cannot prevent them – and as soon as the new queen larvae are growing in their cells, they also start to produce queen pheromones, which in a sense ‘compete’ with the existing queen’s pheromones. After nine days of growing in their cells, the new queens are sealed into their cells to pupate and emerge 8 days later as a new queen. On the day that the queen larvae are sealed in their cells, the old queen leaves the hive, taking roughly half of the bees with her.
New beekeepers tend to regard swarming as a ‘bad thing’ but in fact it is the annual renewal of the colony and a golden opportunity to create new colonies in the apiary.