Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Swarm!   

There's nothing like a bee swarm to stir up some activity.  Arriving for work one recent morning, a Westfield staff member discovered a marvellous sight in a tree in the service area: two extremely large clusters of bees hanging side by side.  Time to call in the experts!

The "double" cluster

Westfield volunteers Marion and Rick are extremely knowledgeable about bees, and help maintain the site's highly successful hive.  When they first arrived and sized up the situation, it appeared that there were in fact two separate swarms; a very rare event indeed.  A little motion in the trees, however, quickly cleared up this question, as thousands of bees from one cluster moved to the next, forming an impossibly large mass.

Suited up and smiling

Bee swarms are one of the most beautiful and fascinating phenomena in nature.  A swarm may involve anywhere from 1,500 to 30,000 bees, and is a natural mechanism for a colony to reproduce itself.  When a hive becomes overcrowded, a queen, workers and drone will leave, taking up a temporary position on a tree limb, bush or other suitable site.  During this event, the queen is producing a strong pheromone, which causes the bees to cluster around her in a protective mass.  Over the course of a day or two, scouts will be sent out to search for a suitable location to begin a new hive.  Our goal was to make Westfield's apiary that new home.

Encouraging the swarm to occupy an empty bee box took a little ingenuity, but with some strategic tying off of branches and a good, well-timed shake, the bees landed on the target below,  and very quickly took up residence.  What was most fascinating is that the bees, so intent on protecting their queen, were not at all aggressive.  They buzzed around in a dark, whirring cloud, never touching any of the humans in their midst.
Watching the queen and her workers take up residence

Standing in the middle of thousands of bees, whose only goal was to stick with their queen, was a memorable and thrilling experience.  There were smiles all around as we realized these beautiful creatures had taken a liking to the home that we offered.  We look forward sharing the sweet results of their labours in the months to come.

Home Sweet Home

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