26 June 2014
The Short Answer (TSA)
In a “swarm,” sometimes, as many as half of the bees in a honey bee colony will leave in one giant group (or “swarm”). This departing swarm of bees will establish a new colony in a new location.
A colony of honey bees has many worker bees, a few drones, but only one reproductive queen. The queen is the only reproductive female in the hive and is, or will be, the mother of all of the hive’s worker bees and drones.
A honey bee colony may reach a certain size ideal for breeding and raising as many young bees as possible. But, with good weather and a lot of available food, the number of bees in a colony can grow until there are too many bees for a hive and its queen to handle.
When the number of bees becomes too large, the queen bee, together with a large group of worker bees, may leave the hive. This large group of departing bees is called a swarm.
Swarms are natural in the spring. Often the “old” queen will leave with half or more of the old colony’s population to form a new colony in a new location. The old colony will be the scene of, what is sometimes, a violent combat among newly hatched queen bees (called “virgin queens”). Finally, the single surviving young queen will become the new queen of the colony.
Though rare, if the colony is large enough, there may be “afterswarms” later in the season. In an afterswarm, one or a small number of virgin queens will leave the hive with a large enough number of the colony’s bees to establish yet another colony in yet another location. If more than one virgin queen leaves with a single afterswarm, the young queens will “get along” until a new location is found. But, after the new colony is started, the young queens will engage in a cut-throat competition until only one surviving queen bee is left. She will become the reproductive queen of the new colony.