The Swarm of Queens

I have caught many swarms in my days as a beekeeper but I have never encountered anything like I did today!

clustering swarm of honey bees
The swarm. Photo by Kassie Pirkle©

Generally when I catch a swarm, I do it in one of two ways:

1) I either shake the bees into a deep hive body, fill it with frames, stick a cover on it and let them settle in for the night OR

2) I shake a swarm onto a flat surface, quickly locate and cage the queen, stick her inside of a deep hive body between two frames, pop a cover on them and let them settle in.

However, this day was different and this swarm was unlike any other.

*Catching a swarm is a great way to get bees for yourself and increase the number of hives you have.

I first noticed the swarm by hearing it from quite a distance away. Once I tracked them down using my super-sonic hearing, they were just beginning to gather on a low branch of some privet.

This was a great spot because it meant that I didn’t need a ladder and it was right in front of my apiary. The equipment I needed to catch them was right there on hand.

But before I could shake the swarm, I had to clear some brush and make a path to get to it. At this point I called one of my friends to tell her about the swarm.

Being a new beekeeper herself, she had never experienced a swarm before and came over to help.

By the time she showed up, I had gathered a top bar nuc box to shake the swarm into and I had also cleared the path needed to reach it.

The swarm had fully gathered on the privet branch and you could see from its size that it was kind of dinky. One of the smallest swarms I’ve seen, about the size of two grapefruit.

With the nuc box in one hand and the branch in the other, I shook the bees into the box and then quickly set it down.

Immediately the bees began billowing out of the front entrance and when they did I saw her.

The queen, crumpled up and barely moving her antennae.

Dead honey bee queen
The first dead queen from the swarm. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

Well that sucked. What in the world? I didn’t know if I had damaged her or not but I was pretty careful about everything.

I picked her up and showed my friend. We both looked carefully, not sure what to think. That’s when she asked, “Do swarms have more than one queen?

The answer was yes, but very rarely in my experience. So just to make sure, I poked my face into the top of the top bar nuc and scanned for another queen. Sure enough, there was another one running around!

So we left them alone so that they could settle into the box and decided to check on them about 20 minutes later to see if they stayed or swarmed again.

Swarms are often picky about where they choose to make their new home and as a result they don’t always stay even after you catch them.

When we got back to check on this one, they were partly in the box and partly swarming in the air again.

So I took the box and brought it to a flat surface to shake the bees out. I was going to find the queen and cage her.

swarm of honey bees
Swarm was shaken onto a flat surface to more easily find the queen. Photo by Kassie Pirkle©

I soon found the queen, caught her and caged her. Then placed the cage in the swarm box for the bees to gather inside and tend to her.

After another 10 minutes or so we came back to check again. The bees had all clustered on the bottom of the top bars, completely ignoring the queen in the cage!

And on the outside of the hive, a few inches from the entrance was another dead queen!

dead honey bee queen
Second queen to be assassinated. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

So now we had a caged queen and two dead queens.

Not really sure what was going on we gave them a little more time and left them alone. My friend went home and I occasionally checked on the swarm throughout the day.

That evening right before dark I checked on the bees one last time; the swarm had vanished! And they left their caged queen behind. She was still alive so I took the cage and placed her in another hive that needed a queen.

Another thing I’ve noticed about bees throughout the years is that they never ever swarm without a queen.

Without having a queen, they will just hang around and slowly dwindle to nothing as they slowly die.

Meaning since the bees had swarmed, they did indeed have yet another queen. So my count is at least four queens in one dinky swarm.

And that is the tale of the swarm I didn’t catch. The End.

~Weeds are Wildflowers, let them Bee!~

Jonathan Hargus/…didn’t catch the swarm.

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