- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 24, 2016

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - The swarms that are being talked about by Bloomington area folks have nothing to do with the mobile app that shares users’ locations on social networks, even though a lot of the posts have been on Facebook.

These swarms are bees - honeybees - that can be seen in large clumps in trees, bushes and elsewhere as they fly en masse to find new homes. This year in the Bloomington area, there seem to be a lot of swarms.

One Bloomington area person who knows a lot about honeybee swarms is Roger Lee, a member of both Bee Town Bee Club and White River Beekeepers. “My bees and my hive swarm all the time,” Lee said, only half joking. Because of his hives’ swarms, he’s learned a lot about the phenomenon.

“That’s their natural form of reproduction,” Lee said. “If the hive gets too crowded, and there’s too many bees and the queen doesn’t have any more room to lay, they swarm.”

Although some people’s first reaction to seeing a large mass of honeybees suspended in a tree, bush or even on a vehicle may be to kill them with insecticide, that’s the wrong approach. There are area beekeepers who are eager to help deal with swarms this time of year. Lee is one of them.

“It seems like there’s been a ton of swarm calls and swarm reports,” Lee said. “Every other day, someone is reporting they’ve seen a swarm or report a swarm.”

When honeybees swarm, they leave their current home with the queen bee and about half the hive’s honeybees. Before leaving, the queen bee will lay between two and 20 queen cells in the hive so there will be a new queen to continue laying eggs at the hive. Usually seven to eight days after the swarm leaves the hive, one or more of the new queens will hatch.

“Typically, what happens is the queen that hatches will find the other cells and kill them all,” Lee said, adding that if two or three queen bees hatch about the same time, they will fight and the dominant one will kill the others and survive to serve the hive. The queen will often rest for a couple of days and then take off for her mating flight with 10 to 20 male, or drone, bees.

The queen only mates once in her lifetime. Afterward, she comes back to the hive and begins laying eggs.

Area beekeepers like getting honeybees from swarms because it adds to the bees they have and it also usually means those bees have survived the past winter and are more acclimated to the local weather than honeybees that are from queen bees purchased from mostly more southern climes, Lee said. Those queens and their offspring are less likely to survive some of Indiana’s winters.

One of the reasons there may be more swarms this year is because this past winter was warmer than normal and there were warm temperatures earlier this year than most, said Jill Curry, a member of the White River Beekeepers club.

Curry knows a lot about honeybees, having spent time in Paraguay with the Peace Corps teaching people about beekeeping.

“A swarm is better off if a beekeeper can capture it, because they can help ensure the success of that hive,” Curry said. In Indiana, that’s due in large part to providing the honeybees with enough food to make it through cold winters and also sugar water when there’s a drought.

When honeybees swarm, they usually find a new location four to 20 feet off the ground. Then between 20 and 100 scout bees go out and begin searching for a new home within a 3- to 5-mile radius. All the scouts come back and communicate with the other bees about the various locations they’ve found, Lee said. “They kind of vote or whatever and get a consensus of what site is best.”

Only then will the swarm leave for its new home. That process can take a few hours or a few days, Lee said.

This year’s swarms are likely to continue until the rainy weather stops and it starts to dry out a little more. Lee expects that could last for another month. “I just had a swarm yesterday out of one of my hives,” he said earlier this week.

Besides allowing honeybees more room to expand, swarms are a way honeybees naturally combat varroa mites, which can weaken bees and make them more susceptible to viruses and other diseases.

Varroa mites are found in most honeybee colonies and have been determined to be one of the factors contributing to colony collapse with honeybees, Lee said.

The cycle of the varroa mites, from laying eggs to the adult form, takes between 18 and 23 days. When honeybees swarm and the new queen is developing and going through her mating ritual, there are no eggs being laid, which are what the mites first attack. Because of that, the mites’ cycle is broken and it helps clear up any mites in that hive, Lee said.

“We’re going to have more long-term bees in Indiana if we can capture and monitor the swarms of bees,” Curry said. That means there may be fewer honeybees dying in the winter months and fewer losses from things including colony collapse disorder.

Curry said that in Owen and Monroe counties, there seem to have been fewer honeybees dying off this past winter.

“In the winter the queen doesn’t lay as many eggs,” Curry explained, adding that when the warmer temperatures begin in the spring, the queen lays more eggs.

With the mild winter in southern Indiana this year, some queens may not have stopped laying eggs, Curry said.

When people see a swarm, Curry said, it’s best to call the local Purdue Extension office or a local beekeeping club. Curry advises taking a photo of the swarm. That way, the person who comes to take away the honeybees will know if they need to bring a ladder or other special equipment.

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Source: The (Bloomington) Herald-Times, https://bit.ly/1OJx7za

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Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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