Swarming vs. Absconding: What Do We Need to Know?

Anyone who lost a hive for the first time has this question on the top of their head. The thought of the bees moving out is hard to understand at first, the reason behind it and why they were not happy to the hive that we bought and prepared for them. However, bees do have a good reason for moving out. Usually, it’s due to some conditions that they cannot bear and that they fear if they can even survive to stay there for longer.

Swarming

What is swarming exactly? It is basically the bees’ natural means to reproduce and propagate their species. In this process, the colony will split into two or more colonies and create a new hive in a new location. This doesn’t mean that all of your bees will leave the hive, although they will raise a new queen and continue to thrive. This usually occurs during spring, but occasional swarms can happen throughout the producing season.

Most beekeepers try to prevent swarming as it can result in low honey yield, however, swarming is not a sign of a weak colony. When your colony swarms, ensure that they have a new queen either by letting them raise their own or breeding one for them. Sometimes after swarming, the new queen may fail and your colony will end up queenless. They can also dislike the new queen and not accept her that may end up them killing her.

Absconding

Absconding is when all of your bees, including the queen, completely moved out of their hive. They may leave behind the brood that hasn’t hatched and pollen. Absconding is usually a sign that there is something wrong in an established hive. Bees can abscond for many reasons: overcrowding, lack of forage, ant invasion or heavy infestations of the small hive beetle. A swarm that is recently caught can also abscond as they are not an established hive. It seems that newly installed swarms have a greater tendency to abscond than well-established colonies. They can just leave if they dislike their new home.

Process of Absconding

As bees are hard workers, they will prepare in advance before they move out. The queen will stop laying eggs and slims down in preparation for flying. Foraging stops and scouts begin searching for a new location and honey stores are used up.

How to Prevent Absconding?

Absconding can be prevented by monitoring your hives’ health and diagnosing if there are possible infestations or diseases. You can do this by implementing regular hive inspections and observing any unusual behaviour. It is recommended that inspections are done every 2-4 weeks. If there are existing pest warnings, try and inspect the hives at least every 7 days for early intervention. Too many inspections can cause stress to the bees which can lead to health problems.

To properly inspect your hives, you must know what to assess and look for. For new beekeepers, it is best to attend to any beginner beekeeping workshop or have a beekeeping book handy that has information on what to check. It is also good to take notes of your inspection and what you have observed. These are a few things that may be a sign of bees that may abscond:

  • Spotted brood pattern
  • Decreasing population
  • Bees with deformed wings
  • Lack of honey stores
  • Empty combs
  • Small hive beetles
  • Wax moth
  • Ant invasion
  • Wasps

Usually, weak hives can display one or more of these signs. It’s also common that one of the signs can lead to another problem. If you find any of the signs above, it is good to take notes and photos and research to find out what may be causing your bees to weaken. If they have already absconded, it is also good to inspect the hive that they moved out from and identify any of the reasons why they left. This can help you rectify what went wrong and prevent that from the future. Hope this article gives you a little bit of clarity. Maybe a swarm isn’t such a bad thing after all? Let us know your thoughts!