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A pair of early swarms

Yesterday broke crystalline and balmy after a week of frosty nights and wet days. It could only mean one thing: swarms would be on a rampage. So I said to my dog, “Dog, we’ve got to have a look at number 4. I sense trouble.”

A swarm in western Washington

So I gathered some equipment in case I had to do a split and walked the trail, dodging skunk cabbages and salmonberries, with my dog in tow. At the hive stand, I placed the equipment on the ground behind the hive and glanced at the front. For a moment all looked normal, then suddenly the spigot was turned. Bees poured like liquid from the front of the hive. All they had for an opening was a partially-reduced entrance, but that was obviously not a problem. It was hard to believe that so many bees could come out of such a small hole in such a short time.

As the last of the bees pulsed out, the swarm rose straight up. No lefts or rights, no bearing to the north or south, they just went up. Right next to the hive is a steep embankment—so steep I’ve never tried to climb it. About thirty feet above the hive stand, a fir tree pokes out of the rocks and goes up forever, or so it seems. The swarm decided the tree was perfect, far enough from the mother hive but with a perfect vantage of the surrounding countryside—a great place to huddle until a decision can be reached.

Later, when I climbed up that hill the long way—via switchbacks and scrambles—I could get level with the swarm, but I needed binoculars for a good look. It’s a nicely compact bunch with a gentle hum and lots of dancers on the surface. So much for advanced planning: I have never had a swarm this early, never saw a swarm in April. But the winter was warm, the spring was early, and the bees were ready before I was.

A swarm in northern Utah

This morning, I was out checking my swarm traps (empty, of course) when I got an e-mail about another swarm. Kris in Utah wrote:

I ran into a swarm today. Literally.

I was driving home from work through one of the canyons in northern Utah when I came across a swarm of insects. This is not unusual in the spring, but I had never seen one in the canyon. These were bigger than the usual mayfly swarms that are out. The splatters left by them were also very clear. A few of them were wedged up under my wiper blades and they were definitely honey bees.

Out of curiosity, I wiped some of the clear splatter left on the windshield with my finger and tasted it (I know gross). Honey. I ran home, grabbed a deep super and returned to the scene in hopes that most of the swarm was on a tree or bush nearby. The swarm was still flying in the area, but it was so disorganized and broken up I doubted it would be worth it.

I felt bad for that swarm, but the resulting mess was consistent with information I have always read that the bees gorge themselves on honey before swarming. It was as if my windshield had been pelted by hundreds of little balloons full of honey.

Time to keep an eye out for other swarms being thrown. With warmer than usual temperatures this spring, I am not surprised to see one out this early where I live.

I always admire scientific inquiry and a creative mind, but this time Kris has me mesmerized: When in doubt, just taste the goop on your windshield! Way to go, Kris.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Honey-bee-splatter-Kris-L
The windshield splats were sweet. © Kris L.

Comments

Wil
Reply

The windshield swarm episode happened to me a few weeks ago here in Portland on Interstate 5. So heartbreaking. I stopped at the very next exit and on the overpass there were several aimless bees wandering around in the air and on the road.I did have a nuc with me and put it on top of my truck and waited for about an hour but nothing happened except a few lost bees checking it out. Clearly the swarm and her queen were windshield splatter. I5 is no place for a swarm of bees.

Micah
Reply

The “goop on your windshield” has me smiling. I was riding my motorcycle one day and in some sunny state where helmet laws are merely a suggestion when I was hit incredibly hard in the face by some flying something or other. It hit me kinda between the nose and mouth and before I could do anything about it the bug juices were sliding down my mustache and on to my lips, kind of like a runny nose. Before I could think, I reacted by licking my lips, instantly horrified that I was licking bug guts. To my surprise they were deliciously sweet. After a moment’s hesitation I took another lick and sure enough, sweet goodness. I licked my lips for the next 20 minutes until I could pull over safely, wondering all the while what that delicious bug could have been. Whatever bug parts were left on my face were wind blown and gone by the time I could check a mirror and I was surprised to find myself a little disappointed. All that to say, I wonder if it was a honeybee or some other slightly larger honey laden bee? Which leads me to another mental wandering, I’ve always wondered if chocolate covered honeybees would be both sweet and crunchy? I bet they would if I caught a swarm…

Rusty
Reply

Nut case . . .

Kris
Reply

Honey is honey, right? It doesn’t get any fresher than straight from the bee!

Susan McElroy
Reply

My two hives began swarming at the end of March. One has thrown a lovely prime swarm. The other has thrown FIVE swarms in the first 11 days of April. Lucky for me, I managed to be here and hive them all. So very unexpected this early, but our weather (around Portland) has been stunningly “springy.”

Rusty
Reply

Susan,

You managed to hive five swarms from one hive? Amazing. I need to borrow you.

molemanna
Reply

“Yesterday broke crystalline and balmy…”

Such a splendid poetic beginning to a tale of the energy of a hive, to the bees’ version of swelling in warming soil and, like a teeming bulb, moving into the visible world. Spring has a clever way of asking forgiveness for the winter…

Evan
Reply

Hello Rusty,

I too am a beekeeper in western Washington and my hives have swarmed (twice) as well. After combining the first one with a smaller queen-less hive and placing the other swarm in a nuc, it appears I should have started much earlier as well. The quote “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry” comes to mind.

Carrie
Reply

I did my first two hives this year. I think the queen died in one of the hives (hive 2) and the bees all moved over to hive 1. So, I might have the potential for a swarm and have NO idea what to do about it.

I have made contact with a local bee producer and he is going to set me up with some more bees and a queen for my empty hive.

I will look through the archives to see what I can find on what to do about a swarm. I’m scared! Hold me……

Carrie

Rusty
Reply

Carrie,

If you split the large hive into two parts and give the queenless part the new queen, you will be good to go. Introduce the new queen using standard procedures, just make sure that half is queenless.

Carrie
Reply

Thank you! Can you point me in the direction of advice on how to go about doing that? Do I just take half the frames, put them in a new brood box and move that box to the empty hive stand, etc?

Rusty
Reply

Carrie,

Information on performing a variety of splits can be found here: Splits

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