Swarm capture at Heathrow airport

What are Swarming Honeybees?

First and foremost, and as I ask students on my weekly honeybee experience course, what does it mean when bees are swarming, what is a swarm?

For those of us old enough to remember that ‘interesting’ but inaccurate film, ‘The Swarm’, and contrary to what Hollywood would have us believe, swarming bees are not a roaming bunch of reprobate bees seeking out humans for lunch! It consists of the old queen and up to half the colony of bees that have left the old beehive.

A swarm is the reproduction of honeybees at a colony level, if I were to anthropomorphize the scenario, it is similar to part of the family leaving home, to set up a new home elsewhere, it is propagation at a family level.

If you see a swarm in flight, you are very lucky, take a moment to watch and wonder. In my experience when honeybees are in swarm they are at their most placid. Indeed, from time to time, I have demonstrated their calm demeanor by placing my hand gently into the swarm cluster, the honeybees remain calm, they are not interested in us unless we pose a threat.

Low lying swarm (On a huge leaf) just having marched into a new beehive.

 

Anyhew! Back to the 2018 swarm season!
This year has been incredibly low in swarm numbers, put it this way! I personally collected over 25 swarm clusters in 2017, 2018 has only yielded 4 collections. This suggests colony losses may increase rapidly as it will have a knock-on effect for 2019.

Note: At Heathrow, we have also put measures in place that reduce wild swarming onto the airfield i.e. Artificial swarming.

 

The consensus is the same amongst the many beekeepers and beekeeping associations I have spoken too, numbers are very low indeed. 

 

So what can we do?

Keep planting forage friendly plants, ensure you select plants that provide nectar year-round.
Ensure any plants that you buy have not been treated with bee-harming pesticides.
Sew borders with pollinator-friendly seed mixes.
Avoid using pesticides or herbicides.

If you are a beekeeper, keep up the good work, it is also worth increasing your checks so you can pick up on problems earlier.

 

Let us do all we can to protect our honeybees throughout the Autumn and Winter.

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