So, what exactly is swarming?
To better understand swarming, it helps to understand bees not only as an organism, but also as a super-organism. Each individual bee is an organism, and reproduction of the organism is accomplished when the queen bee lays an egg in a cell and then the larva, and later the pupa, is cared for by the worker bees until a new bee emerges.
The entire bee colony is a super-organism, as no one bee can survive for very long on it’s own. In this way, think of the bee colony as a single living thing which will also reproduce. Because, each year, a number of bee colonies succumb to disease, bad weather, attacks by pests and predators, etc., bees would eventually become extinct if they were not continuously creating new colonies. The reproduction of a bee colony begins when the bees prepare to swarm.
Once the decision has been made to swarm, the queen lays eggs in several swarm cells that the workers have built at the bottom of one or more combs within the nest. The larvae in these large, peanut shaped cells are fed a strict diet of only royal jelly in order to cause them to develop into queen bees. The swarm typically occurs after these swarm cells are capped.
The queen bee and approximately 60% of the worker bees leave the existing colony and set off to create a new colony elsewhere. When the new queens emerge from their cells, they will usually fight each other to the death. Sometimes, a newly emerged queen may kill several of the others while they are still in their cells. Only one young queen will survive and take over egg laying duty for the colony.
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Inside the hive…