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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2016
    Almond, NY, USA

    Default Why would my swarm not cluster and instead just hover above ground level?

    Today while standing about 100 feet in front of my hives (in a rural location, far from my home) a small cloud of swarming bees suddenly and quietly appeared about 4 feet overhead. I never saw or heard it coming. The swarm was sphere shaped and about 10 feet in diameter, but not heavily populated. I've seen just about as many airborne bees orienting in front of my hives, just after winter ends.

    The swarm headed slowly back towards the hives, going to one shrub and then a second one, with the sphere passing slowly through each shrub's branches & leaves like smoke would. They did not stop to cluster. Fifteen feet behind the shrubs is my hives, so I thought they headed back to home. I walked around the shrubs and expected to find them clustered somewhere in that area and didn't see a trace of them anywhere. I expanded the search area and couldn't see them anywhere. I assumed it was them performing a dry run of swarming or that they went back to get the queen that may have stayed in the hive.

    My son decided to look around 30 minutes after I lost sight of them and he found them in 12" high grass & weeds in the opposite direction from where last seen heading, about 150 feet in front of the hives. Now the swarm cloud was about 12 inches high and 5 feet in diameter, with about 2/3 of the bees flying and weaving through the grass and weeds from ground level up to about knee high. The other 1/3 was crawling around on the ground between and under the tall grass blades, with no sense of direction or purpose, in about a 5 feet wide diameter area...again no clustering or balling was seen. I assumed they would surround and protect their queen by clustering around her, but they seemed clueless on what to do.

    I placed a covered 5 frame nuc with new plastic medium foundation (I had recently put extra wax on them) on the ground next to the group and a few curious bees immediately went in and out of it. Within 15 minutes many more were inspecting it and 15 minutes later most were entering it and very few were seen leaving it. A few were at the entrance fanning. 15 minutes later only a few bees were still flying in and above the grass and weeds, so I believe they accepted it, moved in, and had a queen with them.

    So here I was searching all the area bushes, shrubs and trees for a cluster and never considered looking at ground level in tall grass. I was focused on spotting a cluster on a branch above the ground, not a loosely spread out group down at ground level.

    The kicker is I installed a 40 liter swarm trap a month ago about 25 feet away and 7 feet up in an apple tree from where they were found. It had the same undrawn & extra waxed foundation as the nuc, but it also had a cotton swab with some drops of lemongrass oil in it. It was successful last year catching a feral swarm in that same spot with the same setup, until a bunch of mice moved into the trap 2 weeks later and forced the bees to abscond. I evicted the mice when I discovered them the next week.

    I'm guessing this was an afterswarm with a virgin queen, because of its small size. Since I'm not there more than once or twice a week because of the driving distance from my home I could have easily missed seeing a larger, earlier swarm. I checked my hives and they still seem to be as packed with bees as they were 2 weeks ago when I inspected for swarm cells (I found none), so I see no evidence of a larger, earlier swarm draining the population.

    Has anyone got an idea why would they not cluster, ignore the swarm trap, and choose the ground & grass area instead?
    Last edited by NY14804; 05-22-2017 at 04:24 AM.
    Zone 5A 2,200 ft.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2014
    Lamar Co. Alabama, USA

    Default Re: Why would my swarm not cluster and instead just hover above ground level?

    My guess would be the queen got tired and landed in the grass and the swarm settled where she was. I've caught swarms that were on the ground or only one or two feet off the ground on small trees/bushes or wild rose bushes/briars. All had at least one queen in them.
    "Sometimes the best action, with bees, is no action at all."


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