A Beekeeper Asks: Multiple swarms from one hive?

A beekeepers asks:
I had a hive swarm three times in a week. They would go about 30-40 feet up in the trees, after they would swarm it seemed they would disappear, and a couple days the same hive would swarm again. Is this normal? The last time they swarmed they must of left. Got a call from a neighbor a mile away with a swarm in the back yard eye level , finally got to give them a new home looked like mine, but they are now.

Phil’s reply:
There are two possibilities of what was going on.

One is that the swarms you saw went back into the hive they emerged from, which will happen if the queen does not leave with the swarm – a not uncommon phenomenon. During swarming the queen does not lead the swarm, but goes along with it. If she misses the boat, so to speak, the swarm will return to the hive after they discover she is not with them. However, they will swarm again later. The swarming behavior is delayed, but the urge is still there. To be certain that the bees went back into the hive, you must actually see them return. A couple of weeks ago, I had a swarm in a tree. While preparing to try to capture it, I lost sight of it for less than ten minutes. At the end of that time they were GONE! Did they go back in the original hive or did they just leave for another home? I’ll never know, since I did not actually see them go.

The other possibility is that you had a primary swarm followed by after swarms (also known as secondary swarms.) A hive may swarm multiple times, with some period of time in between. The original queen will leave with the first swarm. Secondary swarms depart with virgin queens as they emerge from the queen cells. If you did not actually see the swarms return to the hive, they may have been secondary swarms.

There is no way of knowing whether the swarm you captured is a swarm from your hive. I actually think it is more likely to have been from a bee tree near where you captured it. I have, on a number of occasions, captured swarms well away from any beekeeper’s hives, and asked myself where they came from – then walked around and found a bee tree. Question answered. Bee trees are not uncommon these days, at least here in Kentucky, and I hear the same thing from beekeepers in other states as well.


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