What are the Signs a Hive is Going to Swarm?
As Perfect Bee notes, a bee swarm is often viewed as counter-productive for the beekeeper when honey is the goal. However, swarming is in fact a sign that the colony is healthy and flourishing. So what are the signs a hive is going to swarm? In order of increasing significance, signs your colony is about to swarm are as follows:
- An abundance of food stored in the hive, with little space for more
- A lack of comb space for brood rearing
- A high worker and drone population and/or ‘idle’ worker bees
- The construction of queen cell cups (the foundation of queen cells), which will be on the lower and side edges of brood combs
- Queen cell caps containing eggs or larvae – from this point your hive is definitely preparing to swarm
- Capped queen cells on the lower and side edges of combs (aka swarm cells) – your hive could swarm any time now!
- The removal of wax from the tip of queen cells exposing the cocoon – take urgent action to manage the swarm
Workers sometimes build queen cell cups then later remove them. But if these cups contain eggs or larvae than this is a sure sign that swarming could occur very soon.
It takes nine days after capping for the new queen to emerge. The old queen always leaves with the swarm before the new queen emerges. So, swarming occurs between 1- 9 days after capping of the first queen cell.
Recognising Swarm Cells
Workers build swarm cells along the bottom or side edge of the frame. Do not confuse these with the emergency queen cells constructed by workers after the loss of a queen.
When a hive is queenless workers modify worker cells on the surface of the brood comb to raise queens. If you have already searched for the queen to no avail, these cells generally confirm she is not there. Only remove these queen cells if you are requeening the hive yourself.
In our next post, we look at the methods used by beekeepers to help prevent swarming.