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.
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.
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.