The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Attack of the Bees?

May 17th, 2009 · No Comments · Posted in Blog

Its in the nature of bees to swarm

It's in the nature of bees to swarm

It started just as groups of Leigh Hauter’s CSA subscribers were arriving at the farm for the Saturday tours. A distant, low buzzing noise at first. But then growing louder, and louder–nearer and nearer–turning into a roar.

Tens of thousands of bees were approaching, pouring out of their hive, circling in the air until they formed an angry looking cloud. It was, said Leigh, like something out of one of those old ’50s science fiction movies. Attack of the bees.

Some of the visitors hung back, ready to jump into their vehicles and roll up the windows. But Leigh knew there was nothing to fear. He stood, fascinated, as a rare bee ritual unfolded. A new queen had emerged in the hive. The old queen was leaving, and bees by the thousands were following her, ready to strike out in the wild and make a new home. These were swarming bees.

Bees have their reasons for producing a new queen. When it is just a larva–no different from all other baby bees–they feed it extra “royal jelly” to confer the queenly status. In fact, there may be more than one “virgin” queen who will try to kill each other for the top job. After a virgin queen emerges, the old queen  typically will pack her bags and leave, taking a good portion of the hive with her to form a new hive somewhere else.

“When bees swarm they have no interest in stinging,” Leigh said. “First of all, they have left their old hive with the honey stomach full of honey and probably feel much like you do after a huge meal. And second, they have little reason to sting anyone: They have no hive to protect.”

Leigh said it was a perfect day for swarming–warm, sunny and with the poplar trees in bloom, there was plenty of food for the bees to forage around Bull Run Mountain Farm, outside The Plains, Virginia. Typically what happens is the queen will find a tree branch to settle on for a temporary home and a swarm of worker bees will cluster around her, forming a big ball. Leigh was hoping that would be the case, because he could capture that ball of bees and make them a home in one of his own hives.

But not this time. The bees congregated way high up in a poplar tree where Leigh couldn’t reach them. The bees must have sent out scouts who found a suitable place for a new hive–a hollowed-out tree trunk, perhaps–because at one point the next day Leigh watched them peel off and fly into the woods, never to return.

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