Proliferation of the apiary

The natural proliferation of the apiary is called swarming. During swarming the apiary is divided; a group of worker bees along with the queen leave the apiary to seek for a new one –this part of the apiary is called swarm- while the rest of the bees remain at the apiary with a number of queen cells ready to raise new queen bees. The preparation of swarming begins early in spring with the breeding of drones and the increase in numbers of the entourage of the queen bee, which might consist of more than 22 worker bees.

These workers urgently feed the queen with royal jelly and they force her to accelerate the rate of egg-laying, who reaches her peak at around 1500 to 2000 eggs every 24 hours, with the total weight of the eggs surpassing her own weight.

At the same time, other worker bees prepare numerous queen-cell foundations. Under pressure, the queen bee is constantly looking for empty cells to lay her eggs. Eventually, she lays eggs even in the foundations of queen cells. Then, the worker bees hurry to widen the walls and provide the larvae that will hatch with large amounts of royal jelly.

After that, the pace of life in the apiary changes. Worker bees change their behaviour, the number of the queen’s followers is reduced and in many occasions refuse to feed her. The rate of the egg-laying is significantly reduced and the stomach of the queen becomes smaller. Around one week before the departure of the swarm, the workers ill-treat the queen and they force her to constantly move. They exercise her so that she is able to fly. The egg-laying is interrupted, the work rate is reduced and the apiary appears to be inactive.

In the meantime, a number of workers become scout bees, who scout for a suitable location for the establishment of the new habitation. When they return to the beehive they do a waggle dance to signify the direction and distance of the nesting site they discovered. When the first queen cells are sealed, the apiary is ready to proliferate. The worker bees fill up their gizzard with honey, in order to have supplies for a few days in the new settlement, and they wait for the departure signal. The signal is given by the scout bees, who they rouse the apiary with their hissing dances.

Eventually, the part of the apiary which will constitute the swarm, pours out on the flight board carrying the queen bee. The bees fly vividly around their beehive, making a distinctive buzzing sound, until all bees that will follow the swarm come out.

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Later, they are headed in a nearby tree and in a low branch they form a cluster. The number of bees making up the swarm is around 50% of the initial apiary and it basically consists of young bees. The swarm will remain in this position from 30 minutes up to 24 hours –as long as it takes for the scouts to agree which is the best refuge in the area. This is how much time the apiarist has to capture the swarm and install it to a new beehive. After the departure of the swarm the apiary calms down.

Its population, which has suddenly dropped, increases rapidly as new bees from the hatching offspring are added daily. In a few days the new queen bees begin to hatch, as well. What happens next depends on whether the apiary intends to swarm again or not. If the apiary doesn’t intend to swarm then the first queen bee to hatch is authorized to kill all her sisters inside their cells and take over the apiary. If the apiary intends to create new swarms, the worker bees stop the queen from killing her sisters.

When the new apiary settles down in its permanent habitation the queen bees will fight between them and the strongest one will kill her sisters –given that there are more than one queen bees (Liakos, 2005).

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