Yesterday I walked by the tree with the swarm of honeybees. I was worried because we’ve had some chilly nights. Did the honeybees fly somewhere else? Did they survive the cold nights?
Lo and behold, they were still on the tree! But there were significantly fewer bees, though. So many less bees, in fact, that it was rather alarming. Where did the others go? Are they going to come back?
But a most amazing thing is happening: They are starting to build honeycombs! Are they building a nest? Are they calling the tree home?
I still can’t see whether there is a hollow in the tree. If there is, maybe that’s where the other honeybees are. But then why are they building combs on the outside?
I read that when honeybees swarm they first form what is called a bivouac: they clump together on an object, such as a tree, while “scout bees” search out for a new nest site. After the scout bees return with a new location, everyone flies there and begin to build a nest.
I thought maybe these bees had formed a bivouac on the tree. But looks like they might be putting down more permanent roots. The bright yellow wax is quite fascinating.
I did some reading on swarming behaviour and it’s pretty complex: Honeybees start preparing to swarm, or leave the nest, almost two weeks before it happens. Yet when they leave the nest it only takes seconds. Communication between the thousands of swarming bees about where to go is a complex combination of pheromones, waggle dances, buzz-running, and bees vibrating other bees.
We’re only starting to understand how thousands of swarming bees can stay coordinated, and how they can all decide on one place to hang their hats.
I hope our friends survive the weekend!
Grozinger, C., Richards, J., & Mattila, H. (2014). From molecules to societies: Mechanisms regulating swarming behaviour in honey bees (Apis spp). Apidologie, 45, 327-346.