14 June 2016

Tree Bumbles and swarms of Honey Bees

By this time last year we had been inundated with requests to collect swarms of honey bees. This year there have been far fewer calls and, so far, only two have been for honey bees. The rest have been about 'swarms' of bumble bees.

As much as I'd love to be able to spend time talking to people about bumblebees and their lifecycle I'm afraid that I have other calls on my time, so I end up suggesting they look online for more information and, you never know, they may even end up here on my small apiary's blog so I thought it might be a good idea to add post that might help.

The most commonly reported bee is the Tree Bumble, Bombus hypnorum. This species was first recorded in Britain in 2001 and has since spread northwards at a remarkable rate. Here's a picture from the BWARS site.

There's a lot more information on the BWARS (Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society) website here, where people can add their own sighting.

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust, here, has a good page of information about the bumblebee's lifecycle and also how to encourage bumblebees to nest in a garden.

It might also be a good time to say that beekeepers tend to use the word 'swarm' differently from people who aren't beekeepers. To us a swarm is a cluster of bees hanging on a fence or in a tree, or a bunch of bees that have landed on the ground and look rather like a living cowpat. Non-beekeepers often use the word 'swarm' to mean a lot of bees flying around the entrance of a bird box, which is where it can all get a bit confusing.

Here are a some pictures showing what I would expect a swarm to look like - it's a magical sight and something quite unique.

Let's hope there are a few more swarm calls this year, because the lack of them is a little worrying as it hints at something not quite right in the background population of wild or feral colonies, especially those that have reliably produced swarms for many years.


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