Stingless Bee Basics – Swarms
Swarms are something you can expect when you own a hive of stingless bees. While swarms can be a nuisance they have a role to play in the life cycle of the Australian native stingless bee.
Check out this brief run through of 4 different types of swarms both Dean and I have come to recognize over time.
Notes on Swarms
4 types covered in the video are:
Drone swarm – Ten to a couple of hundred bees in density. Floaty behavior with bees sitting on branches and hives near the hive. Gentle figure 8 flight pattern is common. Drones sit in a certain way with their antennae poking up like bunny ears. Under the sunlight Drones can be seen to have brown antenna as apposed to black. Drone swarms usually last from 3-10 days.
Colonizing swarm– Couple of hundred to thousands of bees. Start off with a few bees and grow over time. Bees fly in all different directions with searching behavior. Often flying up and down objects (This changes to all bees facing the same way when a target is decided such as a box). Colonizing swarms can last a few weeks to a few months.
Fighting swarm – Usually contain thousands of bees. They start off with a small cluster of a few hundred bees searching the face of another hive and/or hives. They grow seemingly fast, often more bees being added each day. Bees can be seen and sometimes audibly heard near the hive they are attacking. Bees can bee seen dropping from the swarm when viewed from the side of the swarm. Usually a dark cluster of dead bees can be found at the face of the hive that is under attack. Flight pattern appears to be a vortex when they really get going. Usually last a few weeks maximum.
Defensive swarm- Couple of hundred is most common but can be very big depending on how threatened they feel. Starts with a few bees flying in zigzagging/Figure 8 pattern in front of hive and as the day heats up more are added. Tend to be more open swarm then fighting swarm and more spread out. Usually last a few weeks until they feel safe.
Swarms in the wild
While swarms in the wild are uncommon they do happen. In southern climates we are less likely to see native bees swarming in the wild because our winters keep the bees busy. Further north where things get tropical the bees can gather stores for longer and build their hive numbers much larger. When this happens the opportunity to make a new hive or take over a weaker hive becomes more viable. South of Harvey Bay we are most likely to see bees leaving a natural hive with their legs covered in wax heading to a new nest site. Natural tree hives being attacked does not happen very often but it does happen.
Why do native bees swarm?
There are various reasons why native bees swarm. A few observations Dean and I have noted are.
Dean- “when a colony has had the numbers of bees reduced but the stores remain the same they become attractive to takeover swarms. When a colony is made from brood only they are less attractive to takeovers”
Me- ” when a new small colony is moved to the territory of an established hive, a takeover can be expected” While this can be sad, the positive is it is a great way to end up with a really strong hive from word go.” Hives that have been taken over tend to be stronger and build much faster in their infancy.