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Piping and Swarming Question


Hi all,

First swarm of the year, today. Yesterday, I heard piping of a queen. This morning, I heard it again. I thought it was a newly emerged, virgin queen who did the piping. However, the old queen must have been around as well, up until the swarming anyway.

So, piping (and killing of non-emerged queens by the virgin queen) is going on while the old queen is still around? Or was the virgin queen calling out the old queen, and the latter decided to get out of there and swarm?

Spring has been unusually hot here in the middle of France (during the day, anyway, during the night, it has been freezing, the last couple of days).

On Monday the 10th of May, this hive seemed to have started to swarm, but they did not settle anywhere and came back to the hive to form a cluster underneath the hive, near the entrance. Could have been bearding, but since they were first all out in the air buzzing around the hive and near an apple tree nearby, I very much doubt it was bearding because of the warmth.

We put the super on (containing six flow frames), since they were starting to build on top of the brood-frames, and took out two honey and pollen filled frames from the brood box, which we exchanged for frames with wax foundation.

Alas, this colony that gave us good honey last year (using the flow frames for the first time), swarmed after all. Yesterday, I heard piping of a queen. This morning, I heard it again. Then at around 13:20, I heard louder and louder bee buzzing sounds and saw that they had started to swarm. Within 5-10 minutes, they set down in a cluster in the bushes some 10 meters away from the original hive. We put them into an empty hive, put one frame with nectar/honey and pollen in it, one frame partially built-out, a couple of frames with full foundation and a couple of frames with guideline foundation strips only. This hive we placed next to the original hive.

Lots of pheromone “come here” signalling going on at the landing board of both the original and the new hive (and then some at the remaining bees in the bushes). At around 15:00h, all was pretty quiet again and there were no more bees in the bushes. Everything seemed to have gone alright. But I’m not cheering yet, I’ve lost a caught swarm before…

I’m still a bit confused about the piping activity, though…


Did you see any swarm cells on any of the frames?


With the first swarm, your mated old queen leaves and the bees leave a number of queen cells behind. These are all different ages and the virgin queens will emerge from them on different days.
If the colony is strong the bees will prevent some queens leaving their cell, though they will be looked after and fed. The first new queen to emerge will be ready to fly in a few days and the colony will swarm again about two weeks after the first left. The bees can then let another out and there may be another and another swarm. The colony, much depleted will then settle down to wait for their new queen to get mated. It has been known for them not to stop and to swarm themselves to a non viable size.

Virgin queens pipe and toot at each other as a way of locating where their rivals are though the bees keep them apart.

Did you look into the brood box after they swarmed for the first time?


@John_Yeager - Not all frames were inspected, and I believe there were no swarm cells seen. There must have been queen cells, though.

@Dee - The first time, roughly 1,5 weeks ago, it looked like they were going to swarm, but it seems they didn’t, after all. They flew around a lot, but did not settle anywhere other than returning first to the underside of the original hive, and then back into the hive. though we can’t be absolutely sure of that, of course. It could be that the old queen did leave with a (very) small group without us realizing, after all.

We looked into the brood box after the first time, but did not check all of the frames as not to disturb them any more than necessary. (I say “we”, but during the first swarm [attempt?], unfortunately, I was not present, the other part of “our bee team” was. Today, I was present. We did not check the brood box of the original hive after today’s successful swarming).

B.t.w. tonight, at around 21:00h, I heard quaking sounds coming from the original hive.


Well you probably have virgins emerging.
Your colony might have swarmed previously and what you might have witnessed is a mating swarm.
Is your queen clipped?
For future reference if you think a colony has swarmed but you are not sure there is no short cut to opening up and having a look. During the swarming season here in uk I look into each colony once a week so that I can take action to deal with it. On one occasion two days after a routine inspection I found a huge swarm hanging in the apiary. I knew all colonies were strong and I didn’t want to risk losing more bees from a swarming box and though I reckon I am pretty good at finding queen cells I had no option. So husband and I went through all nine hives again. It was hard work and some of the bees were annoyed at being interfered with so soon. all queens present so we just hives our free bees.

I pay particular attention to swarm control because our climate gives us just the one crop…or two if lucky…and losing half my bees means no honey.
Usually the original queen leaves with half of the bees, the next with half and the next with half…so you see how quickly the colony can become quite small.

You don’t need to spot the queen on every occasion you look but you must see evidence of her being there. Spotting her eggs is such a necessary basic skill you must acquire…but I digress, you probably know that


A mating swarm? Seems a bit early. However, the swarming activity was early as well, this year. I thought a mating swarm took place at a spot were drones from various hives come together. This could of course be near a hive (although it might make it more likely that the queen will mate with her own drones).

But…why did they settle underneath the hive in the end? Also, in my hives, I saw the first drones on Thursday, one day before the confirmed swarm took place. It could be that nearby hives from other beekeepers already had drones approximately 1,5 weeks earlier.

My queens are not clipped, they can go out and swarm or mate (when virgins) as pleased. I try to not interfere too much with our bee colonies’ natural life cycles. I do enjoy going in the hive to inspect, but I try to limit it since I’m not going to do much interference anyway. (I do use the windows I made in our hives a lot, though). So, not much swarm control going on, here. (We might change that in the future, if we don’t get any honey at all because of swarming activity. However, last year, I got a swarm colony from a beekeeper friend, which gave us a lot of honey that very same year. This is actually the same colony that we are discussing now, which swarmed two days ago).

B.t.w. the caught swarm is still in the hive. I’m pretty confident they will stay. :slight_smile: (Last year, our first colony swarmed, we caught them, put them in a hive, they started to draw out the wax foundation, but left the very next day anyway. We were not present, and lost them after all).