by HoneyLover Susan Rudnicki
When I began beekeeping and reading about it, I was informed that the primary swarm emerging from a hive has the old queen with it. Afterswarms— the secondary or even tertiary smaller swarms that may leave later—are smaller and contain a virgin queen; or as it turns out, MORE THAN ONE VIRGIN! I was rescuing a swarm this summer that was on the tire of a car and it was was in two obvious lobes. Crawling in and out of the two parts were at least three queens. Surprise!
Josip Benko says these swarms with virgins are often a response to stress in the available food supply and occur in the Fall. One wonders how the bees manage this apparent lack of fealty to a particular queen, but Josip says they form something like “political parties,” guarding and surrounding the virgin they have attached themselves to. When the swarm takes flight, all leave together but travel with a factional group and when they come to rest, the factions stay somewhat apart. Regarding the swarm on the tire, by the time I actually came back in the evening to take the swarm, it had coalesced into one group and two dead virgins were lying on the ground. They must have taken to fighting for supremacy.
Another thing I am seeing and being called to rescue (and other beeks are reporting) is the arrival of VERY small swarms, often no bigger than an orange or a lemon. These little groups have such a bad chance of making it unless they can get hived with capped brood and capped honey in a container no larger than a 3 frame nuc. Again, these tiny swarms are a sign of colony stress and I have seen more than one clinging to a dead queen in a pathetic little bunch having lost the race. Our urban bees have a pretty rich source of nectar and pollen all year, but this time of year is still lean and so we beekeepers say it is a “dearth.”