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  • Writer's pictureDeidra Ressler

Surprise Swarms

Growing up, I did not know much about bees, other than that my mother was terrified of them. We used to have feral bees living in a tree behind my house, and every now and then, they would swarm into my back yard. My parents would hear the roaring buzz of thousands of bees, and they would quickly usher me into the house, make sure all the windows and doors were locked, and stare outside in combined awe and terror.

As a research student now, I know swarming is a natural part of bees’ lives, and I also have learned swarms are nothing to be scared of. However, I did not expect to witness one this summer, even though our bees’ populations are booming. Overcrowding is one of the main reasons bees swarm, so the mature queen takes half of the worker bees and leaves to find a new colony elsewhere. Meanwhile, several new immature queens are developing in the old hive, and eventually, one of them will take over the colony. We had not been in the hives for a week and a half due to bad weather and other research commitments, so we had not been able to observe any swarm cells. On June 26th, Katerina and I walked to the apiary, and immediately we noticed larger amounts of bee activity than normal. When we got closer, we noticed a massive clump of bees on a nearby tree, and bees were pouring out of one of our hives. We had stumbled into the middle of a swarm as it was happening. I was in awe, but in a very different way than I was as a child. Seeing all the bees gave a better picture of how many bees are in one hive, and observing how docile the bees are was intriguing.

Once the swarm calmed down a bit and settled onto the tree branch, Dr. Farone and Katerina grabbed a box for the bees and shook them in. Meanwhile, I stood with my camera to document the process. Then, we allowed the rest of the bees to follow the queen into the box. Meanwhile, we worked with our other hives (and noticed we had missed a swarm in one of the other colonies). We thought everything was going to be fine, but at some point, the queen crawled out of the box and decided to move elsewhere. After about an hour, we noticed the bees streaming back out of the box, and they were swarming again. I decided to follow the massive cloud of bees, which was moving toward the college’s campus. Cars driving by could witness me half-walking/half-running while still in my bee jacket. I followed them for a while until eventually they disappeared behind a building. Defeated, I trudged back to the apiary.

Regardless of the fact we had lost the swarm, it was still educational and exciting to witness. We also learned how important it is to regularly check your hives for signs of swarm preparations.

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