It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no, it’s honey bees. Yes, honey bees and native bees alike are on the move in June. Not only are they foraging for nectar and pollen, but if you are lucky you may actually catch the sight of a swarm of bees moving to a new home. Why would bees move? Well, like most queens they want bigger houses come springtime. The queen bee actually decides she wants to move to a new neighborhood for a number of reasons.
Overcrowding in the hive, the hive’s under threat, or a loss of food to forage. Whatever her reason, it is quite a show when 10,000-20,000 bees take flight clustered around their queen. Before the queen takes off with the swarm, the house workers in the hive have prepared for her departure. In the case of overcrowding, several pupas (baby bees) still in growing in their cells will be fed royal jelly. This jelly actually creates the next queen. Once the royal bees are born, the strongest is chosen and the rest go the way of King Henry VIII wives. As the young queen grows she will take over the new hive. The older queen signals that it is time to leave and she moves out. Right before that happens, the loyal followers will first gorge themselves with lots and lots of food for the trip. Next the swarm launches out in search of a new home leaving just enough bees behind to help the new queen. These bees do get tired along the way and will rest on low branches, in bushes or eaves of houses. This sight and sound can be disconcerting for some folks, but if left alone they will move on as they rarely stay more than a couple hours or overnight.
Once the queen finds her new home, the forager bees are sent out for pollen and nectar. Pollen is very important as it is used to build the wax walls we call comb. These hexagon-shaped cells house the young and are storage vessel for honey. Nectar feeds adult bees, but it is also deposited into those honeycomb cells, fanned, and allowed to evaporate into honey, then capped with wax. This honey will be used as food in the winter when bees cannot forage outside. This is why most bee keepers only harvest honey in the summer. Ensuring their bees will have enough food for the winter months.
How can you help our bees? If you see a bee swarm, leave it alone and enjoy the show. Provide lots of native flowers, water in bird baths with rocks (bees don’t swim), and don’t use chemicals on your lawns.