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Beekeeper’s Notes: The Swarm That Decided To Leave

Published on: 1 Sep, 2021
Updated on: 31 Aug, 2021

Hugh Coakley keeps bees in Worplesdon

The “little surprise” that turned up on the allotment last month, a small swarm with a laying queen, decided that it wasn’t for them and have moved on. Pity.

The small swarm that left. The queen is in the bottom right corner of the photo.

We had popped by to prepare the colonies for honey extraction with no plans to look at the swarm but it looked very quiet. So we checked them out and there they were – completely gone.

I had been sufficiently confident they would stay to mark the queen, giving here a white dot on her thorax just behind her head. It meant she would have been more easily seen when the colony built up.

The swarm had been laying brood well so it was looking good. It was a surprise they left.

But no, they decided to go. Was it the marking of the queen that did it or something else? Small swarms, often with unmated queens, can be hard to keep, staying only overnight before they leave. This colony had been there for about a month with the queen laying well. It looked good.

It just goes to show that bees are wild creatures, whether they are in managed colonies in an apiary or up a tree. We house them, manipulate them to reduce the inconvenience of swarming, feed them sometimes and harvest their honey. But short of locking them in, and what would be the point in that, they are free to go.

And sometimes they do.

Honey bee and bumble bee on sunflower at the Bignor sunflower maze.

Honey harvests are said to be low this year. Mine will be after losing hives following the month of cold and wet weather in May.

My wife and I took the grandchildren to the sunflower maze at Bignor Roman Villa near Pulborough a couple of weeks ago. We had great fun amongst the eight foot high plants. Loads of pollinators feasting on the pollen. Mainly bumble bees of various type but honey bees as well were enjoying the 12-acre field, as were we. Happy days.

Bumble bee on sunflower. Click on the images to enlarge them.

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