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Thread: Swarm War!

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2004
    Location
    Sallisaw, Oklahoma, USA
    Posts
    24

    Question

    This evening was a confusing, frustrating mess!

    I went to fog my bees and when I got there, there was a war happening at one of the hives. There were at least 1000 to 1500 bees on the ground dead and fighting. All three hives are strong but this is one that started off with a real bang back in the spring and is still very strong.

    I assumed that this was a robbing frenzy, so I fogged them well and decided to confer with my sister and brother-in-law to see what they thought as well. We decided we would go smoke them to see if this helped.

    When we got back to the bee yard, there were bees all over the outside of the hive and, as we got closer, we noticed a small ball of bees, on the ground, about the size of an egg which was just outside the bee yard fence probably 10 feet from the hive at war. I pointed this out to my sister and we both instantly came to the conclusion that there must be a queen under there. A little smoke and, voila, there’s a brand new queen.

    This led us to our first thought that the hive was swarming and began discussing options of trying to capture this swarm and then recombine them a little later on.

    My brother-in-law arrived shortly and our discussion continued. We decided to hold the new queen for a bit and check the hive to see what was happening inside. We put an extra veil over the new queen to keep her in place and proceeded to open the hive.

    Inside, the hive was filled to capacity with bees. No fighting and no honey torn open (that we could find). Soon, the fighting began to slow but the skirmishes continued on the ground. Well, I now have my opinion about queen excluders and I can’t repeat all of it publicly except to say that I dislike them greatly. The hive was honey bound and the bees would not cross the excluder to build new comb for stores. We found brood comb only in the center 3-4 frames of the two lower mediums. There was plenty of capped brood and few drone cells. We could see no supercedure or swarm cells although we only did a cursory inspection.

    All the bees that were on the outside of the hive began to migrate back into the hive with no opposition so we assumed that these were not robbers and started to suspect a swarm. However, this did not jive with the whole fighting scenario and mass casualties. Also, there were very few bees in the air.

    We discussed it carefully and decided that the new queen would have to go and she was cursorily exterminated. We rotated the boxes with the empty hoping that it would solve the crowding problem.

    I don’t know if we did the right thing or not. Branman and I discussed it briefly and he pointed me to an article about AHB trying to take over a hive:

    www.earthlife.net/insects/afr-bees.html

    Now, while I do live in Eastern Oklahoma, where there have been no reported cases of AHB, I won’t say this is impossible just highly unlikely. However, the behavior in the article is eerily similar.

    I’m just not sure that we did the right thing killing the queen we found on the ground but it did restore peace shortly thereafter and the hive settled down greatly. We’ll really break down this hive over the weekend and see if there are any eggs present and, if not, I’ll have to come up with a queen somewhere.

    Here’s kind of how the thought process happened:

    Oh no, robbing.

    No, it must be a swarm.

    Wait, why all the fighting then?

    Virgin mating flight?

    Wait, why all the fighting then?

    Open the hive.

    No robbing apparent. No fighting inside the hive. Honey bound hive. Little area for brood but it’s filled entirely with little drone brood and no swarm or supercedure cells we can see.

    Kill the queen; it’ll at least buy us time.

    Fighting ceases.

    Fret. Worry. Fret.

    Anyone have any ideas on this one? Anyone ever encountered a swarm of EHB’s trying to enter a strong,healthy hive? I think we would have accepted this as a swarm if all the fighting had not been occurring. There were too many factors to reason everything out on this one and our choice may have not been the best. It’s live and learn time .

    Steve
    steve@vendexter.com

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Location
    Nehawka, Nebraska USA
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    45,481

    Post

    I don't have a simple model that would explain all the things you observed. Maybe something more complex than just one thing was happening.

    Like two swarms, (from different hives) workers confused over which is their queen, some robbing and, of course, you in the middle of it.

    I've never seen anything like it. So I'm speculating it's not a simple straightforward event with one cause, but multiple events that complicated each other that happened simultaneously.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2002
    Location
    San Mateo, CA
    Posts
    4,805

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    I feel that killing the queen was a mistake. Maybe she was the only viable queen the hive has. For some reason they were balling her. Maybe it was a virgin out on a mating flight. I have seen similar fall activities in the past. Recently, I had an introduced queen take out and return with a swarm twice. I would have run her back in the entrance and let the bees figure it out.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2004
    Location
    Sallisaw, Oklahoma, USA
    Posts
    24

    Post

    I think that was the most frustrating part. There was no straightforward explanation for any of the behavior we observed other than a new queen meant some type of swarming behavior but we had just inspected all three hives Sunday with no sign of a swarm in the works.

    I agree that killing the new queen may not have been the right decision but once she was secluded away, the fighting began to diminish greatly which is why we didn’t just toss her back into the hive and also led us to decide to be rid of her. I wouldn’t have been so concerned if there weren’t so many dead bees all over the place already and more dying by the minute.

    I’m going to inspect all three hives carefully over the weekend and try to find the queen in each one. If I can’t find her and there’s no sign of eggs, then I’ll be looking for a new queen.

    I presume all this goes toward proving that they can be unpredictable and that some things they do can go without explanation. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

    Steve
    steve@vendexter.com

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Location
    Nehawka, Nebraska USA
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    It is very possible that the queen was a supercedure queen that was on a mating flight, as ODFrank has suggested.

    I would have been tempted to just wait and see what happens, but it is scary when you already have a lot of dead bees on the ground and fighting going on.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Apr 2003
    Location
    Rochester, Washington, USA
    Posts
    973

    Wink

    OR maybe an Okie and an Arkie got into an argument w/one from Texas??????
    Kinda like the co-signers for XXX rootbeer.

    ------------------
    'WHEN WE CLOSE OUR EYES WE ALL LOOK THE SAME' GWPW 03

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2003
    Location
    napoleon ohio
    Posts
    769

    Post

    Now i am glad im not the only one scratching my head over your bees.It seems we all were on chat the other night.I agree with the idea that it is not just one thing happening.Hope things look good for them in a few days.Good luck and let us know what you see.
    Bob

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan 2004
    Location
    Sallisaw, Oklahoma, USA
    Posts
    24

    Big Grin

    Well, we spent about 3 hours going over all the hives with a fine tooth comb.

    Rotating the supers helped a great deal as they are no longer honey bound and have begun to move stores around as well. They are still bringing in loads of goldenrod and are packing away plenty of honey for the winter.

    As far as the queens…drum roll please…

    THEY ARE ALL PRESENT!

    Yes Virginia, all of our original marked queens are present. It is apparent that they have started to slow their brood rearing but all three hives are right as rain.

    Gauging by the population of the hives, we can see no evidence of a swarm from any of them.

    I honestly doubted what we had done earlier this week and was resigned to the fact that at least one of our hives was queenless. I even called Wilbank’s to make sure that they were still shipping queens should I need them. I am relieved that this is no longer a concern.

    Had the new queen actually had a swarm with her, we would have hived the swarm, but it looks as though the war killed off almost all the bees that were with her (??). There were only 50 or so bees still with her when we found her.

    I am carefully documenting all of this in our records and hopefully, someday, we’ll be able to sort out what happened. If not, we can at least share what we did with others if it ever happens to them.

    I appreciate all of your input.

    Thanks,
    Steve
    steve@vendexter.com

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Location
    Nehawka, Nebraska USA
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    A new queen never swarms until AFTER the old queen leaves, unless the old queen is clipped. Are you queens clipped? If not, then I'd say there was a swarm from somewhere, probably not youre hives and somehow they all ended up fighting.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jan 2004
    Location
    Sallisaw, Oklahoma, USA
    Posts
    24

    Post

    No, our queens are not clipped.

    The fact that it was a new queen and we were relatively sure up to that point that the old queen was still present was yet one more confusing piece of this strange puzzle.

    The more I think about it, the more I am tending to lean towards the foreign swarm theory as well but I can’t figure out where they would have come from. I know of no beekeepers within 20 miles of us and we have not seen feral bees in years but I won’t discount either as a possibility. Also, how strange is it that they wound up at our hives?

    Weird, odd, strange, inexplicable – just a few words I can think of.

    Steve
    steve@vendexter.com

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Jul 2003
    Location
    napoleon ohio
    Posts
    769

    Post

    Steve
    Great to hear all looks well.It could be alot of things but we may never know .
    Bob

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