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Bees In your Garden. Part 3

Observing Bees Behavioural Patterns

The Arrival of a Swarm

One of the most eagerly anticipated moments as a bee host is the arrival of a swarm. A correctly scented and positioned nest has as high as a 90% chance of being populated during its first season. However, when dealing with the wonders of nature, nothing is a certainty and always expect the unexpected.

The First Signs

In the UK swarming typically takes place between the months of April to July. It is very easy to assume that the sight of a handful of bees around the hive entrance means that a swarm has sneaked in unnoticed. More often than not they are scout bees scoping out the tree hive as a potential new home. We have witnessed this activity days before a swarm actually arrives.

One can get an idea that they are scout bees by their behaviour. They fly around the hive in an inquisitive manner, hovering, darting here and there, in and out of the entrance, as they assess the potential good home.

The Arrival

The arrival of the swarm is a spectacular event, one which can be a bit intimidating to the uninitiated. A mass of bees, sometimes described as a 'buzzing black cloud' descends onto their new home in spectacular fashion but within 45 minutes it can have all calmed down, with most of the bees having made their way into the hive to start building their new nest.

Bearding

Bearding - a term referring to bees accumulating on the front of a hive, sometimes in the shape of a beard.

To the onlooker, the sight of a bunch of bees accumulating at the front of a hive or cavity often sets alarm bells ringing, usually with the notion that the colony is about to swarm. 

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However, there can be a number of other reasons for this behaviour. Some of the most common reasons are :

Pre Swarming

In the UK swarming typically takes place during the months of April / May / June. Swarming is the honeybees' way of perpetuating the species, in that one becomes two. Half of the colony flies off with the resident queen to set up a new nest, leaving the remaining half to raise a new queen and continue on with their existence. There is often a period of activity at the hive entrance while they prepare to take flight. Find out more about this amazing phenomenon - Swarming

Defensive

Common predators of the bees will be wasps and hornets. The bees will accumulate outside the hive to defend the entrance. Sometimes they can be seen displaying a shimmering effect to ward off invaders. If you see wasps or hornets in the vicinity at the time then there is a good chance that this is the reason for such behaviour. Commonly witnessed in mid to late summer

Over Heating

During prolonged spells of hot weather, the bees may need to create space in the nest area to allow air circulation of air to help maintain the ambient temperature.

Processing Nectar

Again the bees may need to increase the circulation of air within the nest space to help evaporate the nectar. They need to reduce the water content to 20% to prevent it from fermenting. They may be seen fanning at the entrance to help this process.

An Over Crowded Colony

As the bees go about their daily duties they will generate a certain amount of heat within the nest area. If it’s overcrowded they will need to make room to help control the temperature. If it gets to this stage, then the colony may be thinking about swarming

There are probably other reasons unbeknown to us why the bees resort to the act of bearding. What's important to remember is that the bees will be doing it for a very good reason and we shouldn’t worry too much, after all the bees know best!

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