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A Returning Swarm - Twice

It’s been a busy start to the season.

Last week I received a call to catch a swarm but before I got there, it had returned to the hive (the owner saw it).

I inspected the hive that afternoon, found the queen and multiple queen cells, and made a split. I left the original queen with the parent hive and took all frames that I found queen cells on (doing my absolute best to find them all).

However, they swarmed again 3 days later but they also returned to the hive shortly after, again.

My thinking is that I could have accidentally missed a queen cell that didn’t cut the life support for swarming. But I’m so stuck on why the swarm returned, and twice. And is the returning swarms linked to the second swarm (post-split)?

What is the general understanding for why swarms return? Is it because the queen chooses not to leave or is unable to (e.g. injured)? I took a good look at her when I found her but didn’t see anything abnormal.

I’m not sure what’s going on in order to understand what the next best step is. I’m considering inspecting the hive again for more information but I really don’t want to disrupt them again. I haven’t heard that they’ve swarmed again.

Is there an official word for a returning swarm?

I’d love any ideas or input. Thank you. B

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Hi Bianca, as far as I know, I was told by my first mentor that bees do “a practice swarm”. I’m not sure if every swarm does a practice swarm before the fair dinkum swarm or not.

I know it happened in my yard once, so because I had heard of it, I went straight in & removed the virgin queen (out of a nuc making a new queen), while splitting the colony in half, and leaving only one queen cell in place for the remaining half.

Anyway I got two queens out of it, while I only expected one.

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Was the reason for leaving only one queen cell in the original hive to avoid any chances of after swarming?

Hi Bianca, that’s correct. I don’t normally break down every queen cell bar one, because I like the idea of producing a naturally selected queen. However during a strong swarm season, even a reasonable size nuc can issue a swarm, as I found out. Therefore I’m reducing my nucs to only 2-3 frames after the queen cells are developed.

For example: I had a really strong nuc made up of 8 full frames of brood with bees out of 2 or 3 hives on the 10th, so yesterday the 16th, after the queen cells had developed, I split it 4 ways. Even with doing that I donated a couple of frames worth of nurse bees to other colonies, via a board next to the entrances, that’s how many bees had emerged over the past 6 days. I took 3 of the splits to a different location, leaving the original one in place. I had to add frames with honey to each split, on account that the brood frames were basically 100% brood.

I caught up with everything for the time being late yesterday. Today’s a lazy day of pottering around. I accumulated nearly a 10 litre bucket full of QX wax scrapings since the 1st, I’m melting that down with other wax.