Honey bees are the only type of bee that swarms. It is a reproductive strategy of the bees, creating two or more new colonies from the original one. Swarming occurs mostly in the spring to enable the newly established colony sufficient time to gather sufficient food (nectar/honey) to survive the coming winter. The swarmed bees form a temporary cluster or bivouac prior to moving into more permanent housing. While the bees bivouac, scout bees are searching the area looking for an optimal new home. Thomas Seeley’s book Honey Bee Democracy tells the fascinating story of how he determined what a honey bee’s criterion is for selecting a new home and how they make a decentralized, collective decision.

Optimal criteria for a bee home includes:
  • a dry, sheltered volume of approximately 40 litres
  • an entrance 10 feet above ground
  • an entrance small enough to reduce drafts and to defend
  • an entrance large enough for bees to come and go

  • That optimal home often ends up being inside the walls or joists of somebody’s house…which results in an expensive extraction. Homes should be carefully inspected periodically, and all openings, even very small ones, should be repaired, and either screened or sealed. Beekeepers try to control swarming in their own hives because a hive can lose nearly half of its workforce when it swarms. Fewer bees, less honey. However, beekeepers also like to collect swarms because they are free bees and they increase honey production.