Swarming: The Natural Reproductive Process of a Honey Bee Colony

One of the world’s most prolific species of pollinators, the honey bee, is arguably the most important insect species known to mankind​. However, despite their immeasurable importance in the role of food production, they often have a negative connotation in the minds of many homeowners and the general public due to their “swarming” behavior around this time of year.

Swarming is the natural reproductive process of a honey bee colony. It is the process that allows the honey bee to increase its chances of survival as a species. Essentially, this could be thought of as the colony giving birth. Swarming usually occurs during the springtime which is also their reproductive season. This process is initiated by an abundance of springtime flowers which produce pollen and nectar – coupled together, these serve as a food source for the growing colony. Days begin to grow longer, and the temperature begins to warm up – prompting an 8 AM – 5 PM working schedule for the honey bee (kind of like us).

The process of swarming can occur about two to four weeks before the nectar flow, and/or about two weeks into the nectar flow. This is directly related to the fact that the bees can forage enough pollen and nectar to boost the mother colony in preparation for the birth of the new colony. Up north where the winters can be very harsh, the honey bee will nearly seal off the entrance to their hive with a substance known as propolis that protects them from the elements until the first sign of spring. Once spring has arrived, an outburst of honey bees heads towards the nectar flow where they can refuel and prepare to swarm. When observing the process of a honey bee colony swarming, don’t be afraid! Instead, smile and be glad we have such amazing creatures here on earth that pollinate our plants for free, asking for nothing in return.

Oftentimes, bee swarms are thought to be an attack or an act of aggression, which is a complete fallacy​. ​Historically, the media exaggerates instances of bee swarming, but in reality, when bees swarm, you run the lowest risk of actually being stung! There are many different acts a bee colony will conduct while swarming – rest assured, going on a stinging rampage is not one of them. One reason a beehive may swarm is directly related to the congestion within the hive itself. Sometimes the capacity of the hive may reach a breaking point, triggering the queen to signal worker bees to begin to swarm. This signal initiates the construction of new queen cells, sparking the swarming process​, which will relieve some congestion once the swarm has left the mother colony. The congestion of the hive shows the queen that the colony has become strong, which relays that it is time to separate and split into another colony.

When bees swarm, it is not to increase the chances of survival for each individual bee, but to increase the chances of survival for the whole organism known as the “colony”. A bee colony is considered one organism because of the symbiotic relationships within the colony – it is proven that the colony breathes in and out in unison like a lung in a process known as respiration. This is about the same amount of respiration produced by an average-sized house cat! Ultimately, without every single component of the colony working together, the natural reproductive process could not occur, and the species would not exist.

In the end, the act of swarming is the honey bee’s natural process of reproduction and is a process we are lucky to see in our lifetimes. Without honey bees, we would not exist merely because 70% of the world’s agriculture depends exclusively on bees.

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Posted: March 9, 2022


Category: 4-H & Youth, Agribusiness, Agriculture, Clubs & Volunteers, Events, Farm Management, Florida-Friendly Landscaping, Fruits & Vegetables, Home Landscapes, Horticulture, Livestock, Natural Resources, UF/IFAS, UF/IFAS Extension, UF/IFAS Research, UF/IFAS Teaching, Wildlife
Tags: Agriculture, Bee, Bee Info, Beekeeping, Bees, Colonies, Colony, Hive, Hives, Honey, Honey Bee, Livestock, Nectar, Organism, Pollen, Pollinators, Reproduction, Spring, Swarm, Swarming, Swarms


Comments:

Donna Castro
March 10, 2022

Thank you for this thoughtful post! I am a registered beekeeper and love the analogy of swarming as "giving birth". So true! Also, I have actually stood in the midst of a swarming hive and there is nothing more exciting and magical. They are truly NOT aggressive when they swarm and even when they are clustered together on a branch looking for that next home. I always tell folks that if you just let them bee, they will be gone within the week. I didn't know that tidbit about how they breathe; that was fascinating!

Barbara McAdam

June 30, 2020

Pollinators are some of nature's most fascinating creatures. They are the reason the beauty and fragrance of flowers evolved. Meet some of our local pollinators and learn how to provide an environment to support them, protect them and bring them into your life.

lavasquez

March 2, 2018

Hi Adam! It would be best to contact your local UF IFAS Extension Office here is the link to their page. http://www.broward.org/Parks/Extension/Pages/Default.aspx Best Regards.

Adam Farber
February 28, 2018

Hi, I live in Cooper City in Broward and have some tough weeds I can't seem to get rid of in my ST. Augustine grass. I have used Bonus S from Scotts and spot sprayed Weed B Gone for Northern and Southern lawns right on the weeds but no luck. I am attaching a couple of pictures in case you cn identify the weeds and suggest a remedy. Thanks for any help. Adam Farber Cooper City, FL Phone: 954-494-3432

Alvaro
November 2, 2017

URGENTE Tengo en el patio de mi casa un enjambre de abejas ,pero mis vecinos las están envenenando y están muriendo por miles . Pregunta puede alguien del gremio ayudarme para que las ubiquen en un sitio productivo sin temor al exterminio ? Entiendo que es una especie protegida y en proceso de extinción . Solicito ayuda .

Soil Testing Services
April 29, 2015

Thanks Vanessa Campoverde. As Soil testing is very important process by which elements like phosphorus, potassium, sodium, sulphur, manganese, calcium, magnesium, copper and zinc are chemically removed from the soil, Using Grid Soil Sampling Manure Application we also can make soil more fertile.

evcampoverde
June 13, 2012

Clarence: You are more than welcome to send a picture with the short description and what is happening in any nursery. This works for for us to communicate. Thanks for the suggestion!

Clarence A Chamorro
June 12, 2012

I love your Blog. This is fantastic. Can we post pictures and ask question base on the pictures? Can we talk in spanish?

Frank Fornari
May 31, 2012

Great job Vanessa! Thank you for everything you do for horticuture in south Florida.

evcampoverde
May 31, 2012

Ray: I will try my best to keep up with this blog. Thanks and I hope to see you at the workshop on June 26th!!!

Ray Rueda
May 30, 2012

Congratulations Vanessa. I hope we get lots of inputs from you and from all nurseries.

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