That’s No Party Balloon
I was out for a walk just at sunrise the other day when something caught my eye. At first glance it looked like an orange balloon that had come to rest in a bush. It was almost spherical and about the size of a volleyball.
I gave it a closer look and realized that I was looking at a swarm of honeybees. They had gathered in a very dense ball and were dormant in the early morning chill — just a few degrees above freezing. There was no movement, no buzzing, just a solid mass of bees.
I have no idea how many bees were in this particular swarm, but certainly there were several thousand of them.
Here’s a closer look:
What I was witnessing is perfectly normal bee behavior. When a hive of honeybees reaches a certain size, the queen will vacate the premises along with a coterie of workers. Typically, somewhat more than half of the hive’s population will leave with the old queen. The remainder will stay with one or more “virgin” queens, whose job it will be to find a mate and to begin rebuilding the old hive.
Typically, the swarm will spend a day or two out in the open while “scout” bees look for a suitable location for a new hive. That could be a cavity in a tree, a crevice in some rocks, or something as mundane as a culvert or a storm sewer. Once a scout finds what looks like a good location, it will return to the swarm, announce the location through body language, and the swarm will head off to relocate.
A swarm is quite vulnerable when it is exposed like this. The bees’ energy reserves are limited and they can start dying off quite rapidly if they go more than a couple of days without food. So, finding a new location for the hive is imperative.
I returned the next day to check on this swarm and it was gone. Apparently, these bees had found a new home.
Image made with a Canon 5Diii, 400 DO, aperture priority setting, ISO 400, f6.3 @ 1/500.