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A tale of two swarms


It’s been a pretty hectic start to spring in Perth with four swarms coming our way over the last few weeks, all of which have decided to stay, but which so far have behaved very differently. I think one of them has a real problem:

We collected two large swarms on the 4th and 5th October. Today we did our first full inspection of them, as there has been good activity outside we have wanted to leave them to settle in. The first hive we collected is going great guns. 5 frames full of brood, plenty of honey and very chilled bees :). We didn’t see the queen but did see young large (I’m useless at spotting eggs), but all was happy.

The second swarm had no capped brood, and about 3 drawn frames full of nectar and pollen. As said, I am bad with eggs, but I did see 3 cells in the middle of one frame that I’m guessing were emergency queen cells, or play cups (as they were quite shallow and open). Clearly something strange has happened here! The bees were calm and happy, and there were quite a few workers fanning on the frame with the queen cells (as they did when we captured the swarms), so I am hoping there is a queen somewhere around. There is no doubt that we caught the queen with the swarm (all workers followed into the box). The swarm was large so I thought it was a primary, but I guess there could have been a virgin queen. That said, wouldn’t the presence of queen cells indicate that there was a laying queen there at some point?

We decided the best thing to do with this hive was to leave it for a week or two and recheck. If there is still no brood then we’ll give them a frame with eggs (if I can identify them) from another hive in the hope they’ll sort it out themselves. We have a tiny nuc swarm with a queen that we could combine, but I wouldn’t want to do that unless I was absolutely sure they were queen less, which I am not.

Does this sound like a good plan? I don’t really like smoking them weekly, but I guess we need to get a grip on the situation here. Is the bees fanning in the hive a sign of a queen being present or not? Any advice would be much appreciated.





Waiting n rechecking is always wise n a great plan with what you did not see. Yes, if no eggs or very small larva adding a frame with eggs, larva n capped or at least eggs n tiny brood is what I’d do to refire up that colony. Patience is tough but has kept me our of trouble couple time this last bee season up here near Seattle in foothill.

I’m guessing several Forum-Mates on here will spot your SOS note n give a thot or two also.

Glad the #1 hive swarm seems to be going well for you Julia. Beekeeping is always a challenge but relaxing for me. Keeps my brain active n younger :grinning:

. We’re Winterizing up here last few weeks … Almost done !
Good luck n be patient,


Thanks Gerald.

I’m good with patience, and we are still only at the start of spring so have plenty of time for the girls to build up, but I don’t want to miss the window for them to requeen before the swarm gets too old!

Fingers crossed the girls will sort it out.




G’day Julia, if those queen cups are only shallow, chances are there is nothing in them. I wouldn’t hesitate to take a frame of brood from the first swarm you talked about & put it into the second swarm. You’ll soon find out if the queen is there or not. If you see a good laying pattern, you’ll see eggs in cells near the edge of the cells with the youngest brood. If you see very young larvae, I think that frame will do. It wouldn’t hurt to add a frame of brood to the tiny swarm as well to help boost that colonies numbers. Only if there’s enough bees to keep that brood warm & protect it from SHB, if that applies.


Thanks Jeff,

I will put some more brood in with them the first chance I get & see how they go with that. Do you often see bees fanning when you do a hive inspection and does it mean anything? We saw it in a few hives yesterday, and know for sure that most do have queens.

The tiny swarm only has enough bees to cover the little bit of capped brood their queen has laid, so I’ll have to leave them to it until they build up numbers a bit first. When they get stronger I plan to use your advice on this forum to add some more worker bees using the newspaper method and give them some brood, but it is just too soon.

I am in the promised land of Western Australia, so no SHB here :). Only wax moth but so far touch wood they haven’t been an issue either.

Cheers heaps,



Hi Julia, I believe the scent fanning is a kind of self preservation thing the bees do the moment we open a hive. They are letting the other bees in the hive know that they are part of that colony & not a robber bee. That’s the way I understood it when I read it in the “abc to xyz of bee culture”.

You can use the newspaper method, the sooner the better. If you have somewhere about 5 or 6 k’s away you can take the tiny hive with the bees you intend to unite with them, that would save the uniting bees going back to the original hive.

Wax moth are never a problem in the hives. Only if we leave drawn frames or wax sitting around. Having said that, wax moth can be evident in a hive if there is too many frames in a hive for the size of a colony.


i thought I’d update that we looked into our hive again today and while there was no capped brood there was clearly lots of nice big larvae which I would guess are around a week old. We are very happy with this and have left them to it - it seems patience has paid off! Clearly this swarm was very different to the other one we caught even though we caught it one day apart (on 5th October) and was either a Virgin queen who took a very long time to go off and mate, or the original queen died for some reason and they made a new one. We saw no queen cells today so they were either play cups that are now gone, or they were hatched when we found them. Anyway, all is good on the hill :). I think if we have this situation again I will give a frame of brood immediately (as Jeff suggested), as it isn’t going to do the colony any harm and they are now quite a bit behind our other colonies in numbers.

Cheers for all the advice,