Beekeeping: Artificial and natural swarming

Beekeeping: Artificial and natural swarming

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Swarming is the definitive departure, from a colony, of a queen followed by a part of the workers. Swarming represents the opportunity for bees to spread their species and is a hereditary characteristic common to all Apis species, more or less highlighted according to the breeds. Today the attitude to swarming is a negative trend for beekeepers who, therefore, select queens unwilling to swarm.

Swarm settled inside a shutter (photo Romeo Caruceru)

It is influenced by:

  • age of the queen (the tendency to swarm increases with increasing age)
  • available space (if limited, the greater the tendency to swarm)
  • health status (some diseases can cause swarming)
  • climatic trend
  • plenty of harvest
  • hive position
  • insolation

The role of drones in swarming has also recently been re-evaluated. In fact, with their presence they contribute to reducing the pheromone that circulates in the hive, both with crowding and by consuming it directly with their abundant nutrition. The greater the presence of drones and the greater the probability of swarming. The decision is also given by the brood through its pheromones.
During the period of greatest honey production, some exploratory bees perform another type of dance to induce the swarm to leave, the so-called "hum dance"; the hive bees are in this period completely occupied in maturing honey and therefore do not consider the possibility of swarming, the tendency of which disappears completely. Subsequently, when the production of honey decreases, but the resources of nectar and pollen are still present, it can occur because the workers who continue to be born find themselves unemployed.
At the end of the summer, resources gradually decrease until they are finished, resulting in less egg production until they stop completely. Older workers die and the population decreases.
If on the one hand natural swarming is of primary importance for the biology of bees, for the professional beekeeper it represents a real damage, in fact both the swarm and the family that has swarmed (strain) will not produce surplus honey and also the capture swarms reserve a considerable amount of time. For these reasons, we try to contain it within acceptable limits.
First of all, as a first selection, only those families that do not show a marked tendency to swarming must be reproduced by eliminating the queens that have extreme ease in swarming.
It is necessary to give space to families promptly by adding wax sheets or the melarium and keeping in mind that the tendency to swarm increases with age, therefore keeping the queens young is an effective preventive action of swarming. The appearance of real cells in the swarming period will therefore determine two choices: the destruction or their use.
In the event that it is chosen to destroy the real cells, this will not resign the bees in their construction; it is therefore deemed necessary to repeat the operation approximately every five days to destroy the new products. This method is very laborious and does not guarantee success.
If the beekeeper chooses to use them, the aim will be to replace the old queen. It is not necessary to orphan a family to prevent swarming, which could equally occur with a virgin queen, but it is necessary to eliminate all the royal cells except one being sure that only the latter remains, making frequent visits.
It should be noted that sometimes the stimulus to swarming is so strong that no system is able to completely repress it.

Swarm on an olive tree (photo Romeo Caruceru)

Artificial swarming is not a real swarming but it is carried out to increase families numerically, entails the possibility of choosing the most favorable moment and allows to prevent natural swarming. They divide those colonies that have proven resistant to diseases, excellent in honey yield and little inclined to natural swarming.
You can wait for the bees to raise a queen on their own but preferably fruitful queens are introduced a few hours after the organization, obtaining families ready to harvest more quickly.

Video: Swarming; Beekeeping explained by Bee Craft Magazine (August 2022).