It’s that time of year again – the Swarm season. This year, for once, I’m actually glad to hear about swarms, since it suggests that the bees are repopulating after the depredations of the last 24 months. Of course, I’d prefer beekeepers to exercise their craft and employ simple techniques designed to convince the bees into believing and behaving as if they had indeed swarmed. But any sign that our hard-pressed bees are making increase is good news in my book…..
And of course, it’s time once again to de-bunk the celluloid-fuelled myth of savage swarms and repeat that swarming bees are not inherently dangerous. They aren’t. Here’s why:
Let’s not lose sight of the simple fact that swarming is the way in which bee colonies reproduce. It is the bees’ natural method of making two colonies from one. Swarms are awesome to behold (I use the word in its truest sense – the sight and sound of 20,000 insects filling the air certainly awakens a prickling sensation of awe in me!) and, for those who are less partial to the life-cycle of the honeybee than I, may quite reasonably provoke the urge to run screaming down the road.
The first thing to understand is that swarming bees are about as belligerent as a zen master after a hot-dog-eating competition. Let’s take a step back and look at this logically: we know that bees have an imperative instinct to protect their hive, but are benign creatures when foraging outside the hive. A swarm, by definition, has left its hive and is looking for a new home. So that natural defensiveness is neutralized, even as the swarm regroups, temporarily, in a cluster close to their old hive, before “making a bee-line” for a new home.
Add to that outward-bound optimism the fact that these bees will have tanked up on honey as the swarming impulse reached its climax in their former hive – hence the “hot dog” bit of the analogy – and their honey-stomachs are replete with the liquid gold which will buy them warmth, wax for new comb and food for new brood. That means that their ability, as well as their will, to deliver a sting is deeply diminished by this cumbersome money belt.
There is one more comment I wish to offer about swarming. The clue to it is contained in the second half of the word “beekeeper”. If your bees have swarmed, then you haven’t “kept” them – you might as well call yourself a “beesquirter”, it’s as brutal as that !
Behind every swarm stands a red-faced beekeeper, who either “missed” a Queen cell on the comb, or carried out an “artificial swarm” ineptly. No matter that we beekeepers have willingly taken the part of attempting to curb the reproductive urge of a wild animal, no matter that each such swarm contains some 20,000 procreation-fixated bees and no matter that, heaven knows, members of our own species, often experience considerable difficulty in exercising control over their own fertility rites.
Here is a YouTube clip, with the first few moments of my elder son and I taking a swarm in White’s Ground’s, just off Bermondsey Street:
So here’s to the real heroes of this clip: those unflappable Bermondsey bystanders watching this urban swarm collection without bee-suits. Impressed !