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Discussion Starter #1
All:

I'd be interested to hear if anyone in the group has ever experienced an
usurpation swarm in action?

Upon coming home yesterday evening, I noted an extensive amount of dead bees at the entrance of one of my strongest colonies and several hundred bees
congregating under the lid of the hive which was propped-up for ventilation
(using a screened inner cover). Thinking it was robbing in action, I
stepped back and considered my next course of action.

While observing the bee behavior, I noticed what appeared to be classic
robbing confrontations occurring on the landing board, but now observed a
tell-tale swarm cloud coming in overhead. The swarm began congregating on
the ventilated inner cover before alighting and bearding on the stick propping-up an adjacent hive lid.

When the swarm settled down, there were approximately a half a pound of bees and I located the queen, boxed them up and shook them into a nuc I have that has been struggling to build-up.

Having no idea what had just occurred, I looked it up and the whole phenomenon fit Dr. Mangum's description to a tee:

https://americanbeejournal.com/summer-swarms-far-frequent-bees-changing/

https://americanbeejournal.com/usurpation-colony-take-summer-swarms/

The attempted usurping bees appear to be feral stock and fairly dark in color.

Has anyone experienced this and learned any lessons from it that have changed the way you manage your hives as a result?

Thank you for the input. I sincerely appreciate it.

Russ
 

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I have seen something weird - a swarm return to what I think was its original hive. Then they swarmed again the next day.

Cool that you caught this one - I think swarms are attracted to existing beeyards.

I would wager though that these bees will grow to be hot. Always interesting to have new genetics though!
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Trish:

Thank you for your input- I do appreciate it. While I cannot confirm this because I do not mark my queens, it appears likely that the attempted usurper swarm contained the queen (based on her unique coloring) from a hived feral swarm that I caught this Spring and that was in the process of supercedure early this week.

If this assumption is correct, it fits with Dr. Mangum's hypothesis that rather than eliminating the old queen in supercedure, the colony sends her out with a cadre of experienced foragers to attempt a "genetic takeover" of sorts of another established colony.

What makes it more curious (assuming I'm correct) is that this usurping swarm came from one of the weakest colonies in our apiary in terms of numbers and attempted to enter one of the strongest.

While discussing this in an e-mail group I am a part of, many are convinced this is an AHB trait and suggests that our feral population is being influenced by AHB genetics - might lend credence to your "hot" hive prediction!
 

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I had a swarm take over a queen less hive last year. It had been missing the queen for a couple of week and I was going to combine it with another hive. When I went to do the combine the "weak" hive that had been 2-3 frames of bees was overflowing with bees and had several frames of young larva. I had to add another box to it before winter. It survived the winter, expanded quickly in the spring and I split it during the summer. I even got a super of honey off it this summer. We don't have AHB as far as I know so I think it was just a feral swarm.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Gary: Thank you for sharing your story- that is really neat, and I am glad that the feral swarm helped make your hive queen-right. Have a great weekend.
 

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I have seen usurption swarms several times at my shop. Both times they moved into a weak hive with a funky queen. The one this year came in while I sat nearby eating lunch. The existing queen from a swarm had done nothing and the hive now is seven jumbo frames and thriving. Easy Money!
 

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i have had one.

i found the usurping queen in a wad of bees on the ground a few feet from the hive entrance.

it was late in the season and i didn't need an extra queen nor am i too interested in having that trait expressed in my stock, so i pinched her.

some of the usurping bees assimilated with the target colony, and some just hung out below the rim of the telescoping cover until they died.
 

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I've had three softball sized swarms moving through my apiary this week. I have one queenless hive in seven hives close to the small swarm today. I'd like to see it move into the queenless hive. I can requeen later. I'm attaching pictures of usurpation swarms I've seen in my apiary.



In the swarm shown below, I opened the hive and rescued the original queen and mashed the usurping queen.



More pics...


 

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walt once told me about one watching a usurpation swarm move into a queenless hive.

there was none to very little fighting, no bees killed.

his comment was, "it was like they were invited".
 

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Discussion Starter #10
OdFrank: Thank you for your helpful feedback. I sincerely appreciate it! You seem to be quite astute at swarm behavior- I read your posts this Spring from years ago about fighting at a bait hive and found you were exactly right- two potential swarms were fighting for location! Thank you for sharing your expertise- it has proven helpful more than once.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Lburou: Great information and helpful pictures! When you read the published literature it suggests that this is a rare occurance among EHB's, but the more beekeepers I talk to, it seems like it is more common than conventional wisdom suggests. Thank you again for the information, and have a great weekend. Russ
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Squarepeg: Great information- Walt seemed to have the rare ability to both identify and interpret hive dynamics in such an astute way. As of now, the swarm is successfully assimilated in a nuc and has provided a real shot in the arm. We'll see what the last month of flying brings.
 

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it sounds like the desperate swarm is blessed to have found you russ.

usurpation is especially prevalent with africanized honey bees, and they are known to attempt overthrow of even queenright and healthy colonies.

it's unlikely you have them in kentucky unless they hopped off a train or something.

is the target hive queenright and brooding properly?
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Squarepeg: Thank you for your feedback. Good information. The irony is that the target hive is the strongest hive in our apiary in terms of population and seems to be heading into winter in good stead. I am with you that I wouldn't suspect AHB based on the Colorado State models, but I asked our state apiarist and she has not yet responded. I suspect (though cannot confirm) that the attempted usurper came from a feral colony I hived this spring and was in the process of superseding based on the unique coloring of the usurper queen- and one of the weakest colonies in the yard.
 

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understood. in my case the target hive turned out to be the weakest in a line of 12 hives, it was #4.

it was a late split that was small in population compared to the other colonies in the yard but developing nicely. it made it to wintering strength, survived, and was productive the next year.

not too smart of yours to try to capture the strongest one in the yard. :)
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Squarepeg: The only other consideration is that the hive in question had the highest relative mite load and I wonder if the usurperers know something that I don't from a genetic perspective. Bees are simultaneously fascinating and frustrating 🙂.
 

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well that leads me to postulate that perhaps the target hive wasn't picky enough about letting in drifting bees.

that's one way a mite count can go up. perhaps the usurpers had already been doing some 'visiting'.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Squarepeg: Now that is an excellent suggestion that I hadn't considered! In fact, the feral swarm came "pre-mited" but seemed to clear the issue up as the summer progressed. Certainly plausible that they dropped several dozen off while scoping out potential new real estate. Thank you for your insight- it is most appreciated. Russ
 

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While discussing this in an e-mail group I am a part of, many are convinced this is an AHB trait and suggests that our feral population is being influenced by AHB genetics - might lend credence to your "hot" hive prediction!
This is exactly what I was thinking, before you even said it. AHB have a reputation for doing this and although it doesn't account for 100% of cases, is something you should keep an eye on as you continue to work the hive. I'm one of those keepers who feel a responsibility to keep gentle bees. As I produce all my own queens one can only hope everyone in my area is on the same page - considering temperament is passed on through the drones.
 
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