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Thomas Seeley’s book, Honeybee Democracy, describes all sorts of fascinating behaviors of honeybees.

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 10.46.03 AMNone of those behaviors is more interesting than how a swarm of bees chooses a place to live.

Here are the basics:

  • Scout bees — older, more experienced bees — leave the swarm to look for a good location.
  • The bees that find possible locations spend as much as 30 minutes or more investigating them. They take into consideration a number of factors such as size of the cavity, direction of the entrance, distance from the ground, condition of the wood, etc.
  • If a scout is convinced that this could be a good place for the swarm, she returns to the swarm and does a waggle dance. The enthusiasm of her dance indicates how she “rates” the site.
  • Other bees take off for the site to do an inspection.
  • If they agree with the original scout’s assessment, they will return and join the waggle dance, and other will go out and do the same thing.
  • Meanwhile, other scouts may be making the case for other sites.
  • Eventually, one site becomes the favorite of most of the bees, and the other bees — whose genetic make-up developed over eons of natural selection — fall in line. In other words, the bees form a consensus.
  • The site is selected, and the bees take off for it.
  • The queen has little or no say in any of this.

But there’s more.

Robert Krulwich, science reporter for National Public Radio, has developed an informative and amusing audio about this process. During the audio (about seven minutes long), he interviews Thomas Seeley. It’s well worth listening to.


Related articles

Casting swarms – it’s what bees do

A different view of swarms

Tew: the natural hive is not a ‘permanent’ home for bees


Key words: bees, honeybees, swarms, how bees select a new home, Thomas Seeley, Honeybee Democracy, Robert Krulwich, National Public Radio, queen bee, scout bees


What is the purpose of a colony of bees?

Pollination? Wrong.

A swarm of bees marches into its new home after being dropped from a tree.

A swarm of bees marches into its new home after being dropped from a tree.

Bees do this by accident. They don’t realize how much they’re helping humans and wouldn’t care if they did.

Making honey? Wrong.

Bees make honey because this is a stable food source. The fact that humans like honey is again irrelevant to the bees.

Bees are like any other wild animal. They exist for two reasons: to survive and to reproduce.

Except that, in the case of honeybees, most of them don’t reproduce. They are part of a colony, and the colony tries to survive and to reproduce.

Which brings us to “casting swarms.”

I don’t recall ever coming across that term until veteran beekeeper Jim Tew used it in a presentation to the Blount County Beekeepers Association meeting in August. Jim said then that bees will try to survive until they can find a suitable place to live — a good hollow tree or something like that — and “cast a few swarms.”

The term popped up again when I was reading Thomas Seeley’s Honeybee Democracy, a fascinating book that is built around Seeley’s decades of study of swarming behavior.

In upstate New York, where I live, my colonies begin sending forth their drones in late April, and they begin casting their swarms . . . a week or two later in early May. (p. 35)

* * * 

An enduring mystery about honeybees is what exactly stimulates a colony to begin rearing queens and thereby initiate the process of swarming. Beekeepers know that certain conditions inside a colony’s hive (congestion of the adult bees, numerous immature bees, and expanding food reserves) and outside the hive (plentiful forage and spring time) are correlated with the start of queen rearing for swarming. Nevertheless, to this day, no one knows what specific stimuli the worker bees are sensing and integrating when they make the critical decision to start the swarming process. (p. 36) (quoted material)

Swarming is what bees do. It’s one of their basic purposes. As good beekeepers, we should let them do it.

Related articles

Jim Tew describes the inside of a feral beehive

Tew: the natural hive is not a ‘permanent’ home for bees

A different view of swarms


Key words: bees, beekeeping, casting swarms, pollination, Thomas Seeley, Honeybee Democracy, swarming, honey


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Blount County Beekeepers Association

Join us

If you’re interested in joining the Blount County Beekeepers Association, call

Dale Hinkle
423-261- 5234


Kathy Flaherty
203-314- 0270


Welcome to the web site of the Blount County Beekeepers Association in Maryville, Tennessee.

This site will tell you a little about the association and how to become a member. It will also tell you a little about beekeeping.

Bees are an important part of our environment and particularly our agricultural system. They are also fascinating creatures.

We hope you will be interested enough to join us at some point, even if you're not interested in keeping bees. There are lots of ways you can join in with what we do.

Follow us on Twitter at @blountbees.

Schedule of BCBA meetings for 2019

The Blount County Beekeepers Association meets on the second Monday of every month, except for September and December, at 6:30 p.m. at the Maryville Church of Christ, 611 Sherwood Drive in Maryville.

All of the meetings are open to the public, and anyone interested in learning more about beekeeping is welcome and encouraged to attend.

The following is the schedule of meetings and activities for 2018:

January 14 – regular meeting

February 11 – regular meeting

February 16 – BCBA short course for new beekeepers

TBA– New Beekeepers class

March 11 – regular meeting

March 17 -Wooden Ware class

April 8 – regular meeting

April  27-Field Day for new beekeepers

May 13 – regular meeting

June 10 – regular meeting

July 8 – regular meeting

August 12 – regular meeting

October 14 – regular meeting

November 11 – regular meeting

December 9 – Christmas dinner

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