Who’s the baby? – Swarms Seen Differently

When a swarm leaves a hive it is easy to think of the hive as being the parent and the swarm as the offspring. Perhaps we think that way because we see the swarm as physically  leaving, while the hive remains behind.

Let’s try another way of seeing swarms.  To avoid confusion, we need first to define some terms.  I’ll use ‘parent hive to refer to the hive that produces the swarm – you’ll see why I put ‘parent’ in quotes in a moment.  The prime swarm (the first swarm) departs with the old queen.  That is the queen that was previously the queen of the ‘parent’ hive.  The new queen is the queen produced by the ‘parent’ hive to replace the old queen that has left with the swarm.

Beginners sometimes get confused on this last point, thinking that all swarms leave with a new queen.  They don’t: in a prime swarm, the old queen leaves with the swarm.  That queen is the mother of all the bees in the hive.  When she leaves with the swarm, and that swarm moves into a new hive, this new hive is a continuation of the old hive because all of the bees in it will be descended from the old queen.  This illustrates the sense of referring to the queen as the organ of continuity: and it is the swarm that has the continuity, not the ‘parent’ hive.

Meanwhile, the ‘parent’ hive,  completes the task of rearing a new queen, having started queen cells before the swarm left.  When the new queen flies to mate and returns to the hive to start laying, the result is bees which are different from the bees produced by the old queen. These bees have both a different mother (the new queen) and different fathers (the drones with which she mates).  As these new bees replace the bees descended from the old queen, the character of the hive changes. It becomes a new entity.  Remember, this is the ‘parent’ hive, the one that produced the swarm. (As an aside, afterswarms, or cast swarms, are produced when more than one new queen is allowed to emerge.  All but the last will leave with it’s own small swarm. Each becomes a new entity just as with the ‘parent’ hive.)

So, the hive that produces the swarm is the hive that changes, getting a new queen and new bees.  The swarm meanwhile is a continuation of the old hive.  Thus, what we think of as the ‘parent’ (the old hive) is, in reality, the offspring and the offspring, the swarm, is the parent; just moving to a new location.

Confused?  That’s what bees do to us when we try and think of them in conventional terms. In many ways, it is the conventional terms that prevent us from fully appreciating the wonder that is the bien.  New vocabulary anyone?

Gareth, Cotswolds, 2013


2 Responses to Who’s the baby? – Swarms Seen Differently

  1. tramcaro says:

    Hi Gareth
    your explanation of what the swarm is, does and achieves is very very helpful.. Confusing – yes, but nevertheless it makes sense. I have three bait hives out, one is a traditional frame nuc and the other two are for a TBH. It MUST be too cold for my bees to swarm. The new hive by the way has successfully transferred and probably won’t swarm now?? The old hive now has more space and seems to be happy. But never be complacent.
    Ever grateful, Caroline

    • simplebees says:

      Hi Caroline

      You said:

      The new hive by the way has successfully transferred and probably won’t swarm now??

      My reply is that the question marks are entirely appropriate. 😉 One can never tell!

      Gareth, Cotswolds

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