The children had no sooner left the building for spring break when some of our bees started to swarm. Both fascinated and a little cautious, we immediately contacted our bee expert, Jeff Miller at DC Honeybees, who assured us that this was a perfectly normal state of affairs. He pointed us to this article that explains that swarming is “the natural means of reproduction of honey bee colonies. A new honey bee colony is formed when the queen bee leaves the colony with a large group of worker bees, a process called swarming. In the prime swarm, about 60% of the worker bees leave the original hive location with the old queen. This swarm can contain thousands to tens of thousands of bees. Swarming is mainly a spring phenomenon, usually within a two- or three-week period depending on the locale.”
The bees on the branch in the first pictures were the first swarm. The queen from one of the hives left the hive with followers and they settled temporarily on the branch while scouts went out to look for a suitable space for their new colony. Jeff interrupted this process by placing them gently into a new temporary hive (the white box) They eventually took to it, and he left it there while they got settled and picked it up at the end of the day. He will relocate it to a permanent hive somewhere else.
Sometime later we noticed new bees swarming in the air above us, thousands of them. A second swarm. The group dissipated and eventually we found them on another bush. They were soon gone, having probably found a suitable place far away to set up a new colony. See our Flickr photostream here for all the photos.
When the kids come back to school tomorrow, all in the bee yard will be at peace as you see here, but the stories of the swarm will be important to share as we continue to demystify the lives of bees for the students, making sure they understand the natural order of things without fear.