The Swarm

Recently, I found myself in the middle of an insect apocalypse as honeybees swarmed into my neighborhood.

Mile by mile, city after city, it moves; leaving in its wake a path of destruction.

Well, the event wasn’t quite like that, but I was still fascinated.

Swarming is a normal behavior for honeybees. In spring, when food is abundant, a colony may outgrow its home. Workers begin to produce new queens and the old queen departs with up to two-thirds of the colony. These swarms can contain thousands of individuals.

The swarm departs the old hive before they’ve found a new home. While scouts search for a suitable site, much of the swarm forms a cluster around the queen. This is when honeybees clump en masse.

swarm of honeybees clumped together on a tree branch

A honeybee swarm clumped together on a tree branch in Arkansas. Photo courtesy of Mark Osgatharp and Wikipedia.

Scout bees dance after they return to the swarm to communicate the direction and distance of potential home sites. Based on the vigorousness of the dance, the swarm then decides collectively on where to make their new home.

Unfortunately, I missed my opportunity for a bee beard, as the swarm had already found its new home by the time I saw it. The bees were just beginning to settle on the tree and move into the cavity between the fused trunks of two western red-cedars. As if queuing up to enter a stadium for a sporting event, the bees landed on the tree trunk and crawled inside. After a half hour, almost no bees remained outside the cavity.

swarm of bees at narrow entrance to a tree cavity

The swarm moves into the tree cavity. At this time, most of the bees are still outside it.

a few dozen bees at the narrow entrance to a tree cavity

Fifteen minutes later, most of the bees had entered the their new hive site.

Standing near the tree in shorts and t-shirt, bees flew all around me, yet only one made a mistake and ran into me (I wasn’t stung). While swarming, honeybees aren’t concerned with protecting larvae or honey stores. They’re concerned with finding a new home. As long as I didn’t make any aggressive attempts to disturb them, I could watch them quite safely.

Now I have some new neighbors. Thankfully, I don’t think they pose a threat to nuclear power plants.

3 thoughts on “The Swarm

  1. I live in a community where many people consider the dandelion to be the enemy.
    I have seen their use over the years for bees and birds and I guess humans too.My grandmother made dandelion wine and I guess some parts are used for salad, etc.
    I have watched birds gather the white fluffy seed heads in their beaks. I suppose they take them to their nests to make them more comfortable for their babies.
    I know this is an article about bees but as a child I remember seeing the bees flying from dandelion to dandelion. I suppose at one time the dandelion was an invasive species but you can’t keep them down and the bees always seem to enjoy them.
    So bees, dandelions, salmon, etc. We are all joined.
    I enjoy your postings.


    • Dandelions are important food plants for bees, especially in spring. Certainly, there are places where dandelion populations should be controlled (in Katmai, for example, the common dandelions is not native and hasn’t yet gained a foothold), but in many other places they’re about the only plant on lawns that provides any food for bees. Around homes, dandelions are controlled mostly because of aesthetics. Given that we occupy a lot space that bees would use in our absence, we should consider leaving dandelions alone for the bees.


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