Weirdness Concerning a Swarm (Honeybees/Northern Louisiana, USA)
Saturday (April 2, 2022), I caught my first swarm; they were from one of my own hives. Today is Thursday. My apiary consists of three colonies; one is a walk-away split that I made in the second week of March, which has had its virgin queens emerge exactly on time (I found empty cells today, as well as a couple still charged; this is 100% what I expected to see).
The second colony is the queenright half of that same split. I'm about 99.9% sure that this hive was the source of the swarm. The mature queen there had been a really vigorous egg-layer; this colony overwintered as a double-deep and had a solid 17-18 frames of bees in it when I split it; we had a mild very winter and I supplemented them with sugar, so they actually were a little heavier in January than they were in November.
When I made the split, I put a medium super with foundation on this colony, because it was actually about 90% full of bees and I was concerned it would swarm. They didn't move up, and about a week and a half later, I found open queen cups and realized this colony was going to swarm anyway. I'm pretty sure the mature queen swarmed the minute they capped the queen cells. When I caught the swarm, I went ahead and took the medium super off of this hive, knowing that it was queenless and wouldn't need the space immediately. It'll go back on in 2-3 weeks, when I see evidence that this colony is queenright.
Currently, this colony has uncapped brood in it, as well as capped brood and a couple of queen cells. The youngest brood I saw today looks like it must have hatched on or shortly after the day of the swarm. I did see capped queen cells. This hive is still packed with bees, although no longer overcrowded.
The third colony is the swarm I caught, less than 20 yards from my apiary. As I said, I'm virtually certain that it came off of the queenright half of my previous split. When I caught the swarm, I shook them off a tree into a nuc box, then set the box on the ground and watched the stragglers do the "march of the bees" into the box just as expected. That's what I'd expect to see if there was a queen in there.
I gave them a couple of frames of drawn comb, a couple of foundation, and a frame with open brood, figuring that the brood would help induce them to stay put, threw a half-gallon of syrup into a feeder for them, and scrambled to get hold of a full-size hive body–again, this was a sizable swarm, probably the size of a football, and they were bouncing off the walls in this nuc box. There were easily five or six frames' worth of bees, and I was in no mood to see them abscond on me due to overcrowding–especially since I expected that this extremely capable queen was probably inside, waiting to release the kraken all over that nice comb I gave her.
As of this afternoon, they're installed into a full-size hive. In the process of transferring them to their new box, I inspected the frames.
I didn't spot a queen, which doesn't mean much of anything–I'm not much good at spotting queens. I'm quite sure that there was a queen in the nuc as of Saturday.
The bees have already begun to draw out one of the frames of foundation I gave them. They're storing nectar in two frames of already-drawn comb. But I didn't see any sign of eggs. Naturally, I'm somewhat concerned because it's been five days and the queen has plenty of space. I fed half a gallon of syrup, and in my area we have a solid nectar flow going–lots of white and crimson clover, blackberry, and peach blossom, all within a few hundred yards of this apiary. They clearly have been able to put up sufficient food, and they're drawing comb slowly but steadily.
I can think of a few possible reasons for a lack of eggs, but I'm a newbie and figure that I might have missed something.
Here's what I can come up with as hypotheses for what I saw today:
- The captured swarm is queenright, but delayed. The original, mated queen from my pre-existing colony was in the swarm, and now is in the hive, but she hasn't started laying yet. Totally possible; like I said, I'm bad at queen-spotting. But I would have expected her to start laying as soon as she had a place to do it.
- The captured swarm is queenright and laying, and my eyes are bad. The hive is in a shady spot, and my eyes aren't so great. But I stepped into a sunny spot, and still didn't see anything. I've never had trouble in the past. So I don't think I missed any eggs.
- This swarm was a secondary swarm, and the queen I caught is a virgin. She may or may not be mated yet, but in any case has not started laying; potentially she was out on a mating flight during my inspection and that's why I didn't see her. I'm not super worried that she will get confused about where home is; I was very careful that new hive box is in exactly the same place as the old one, and foragers were already going in and out when I left.
This all seems like a weird possibility, though. As I discussed, the originating hive is still very full; it was a VERY strong double deep, and I already did a walk-away split with it in early March. Given how strong the originating colony still is, I'm skeptical of the idea that the
- This swarm somehow didn't have a queen. But the brood frame I gave these bees had larvae larvae that looked quite young–young enough that I'd expect them to be raising queen cells if they were queenless. I didn't see any.
Is there some other possibility I've missed? Would any more experienced beeks care to chime in about what could be going on here? I'm trying to get as many opinions as I can.
I'm figuring that if I don't see queenright activity from the captured swarm within the next 10-14 days, I need to assume that this queen has suffered a mishap, and either requeen ASAP or use newspaper to unite this colony with one of the others, which should be queenright by the middle or end of next week. Does all that sound correct?