Bees swarming
April 21, 2005 7:48 PM   Subscribe

Simultaneous bee swarms: why would bees be swarming at various locations at the same time along a 50km stretch of highway?

Yesterday as I drove the 50kms home from the train station, I noticed swarms of bees at about 15 different locations along the road - angry bees hovering above the trees they evidently have a hive in. I've never seen a single bee swarm in the whole time I've driven along that road, but yesterday there was a swarm every few kilometers.

I should also note that yesterday a lot of farmers were burning off their paddocks. However, smoking paddocks were not necessary near the bees that were swarming, and there's been plenty of burning-off being done in the last month without the swarming bees.

What's going on? Are bees launching a large-scale attack on humanity?

(Note, I'm in Australia, it's Autumn.)
posted by Jimbob to Science & Nature (6 answers total)
Aren't there folks who travel around with swarms on truck beds, and basically rent them out to orchards, etc. for pollination? I'm not sure if it's the right season for it or not, but you might have basically been following in the path of one of those.
posted by LairBob at 8:13 PM on April 21, 2005

Response by poster: Well swarms of bees seemed to be associated with a single tree, so I assumed the bees have a natural hive in those trees, rather than man-made hives. Also, not much in the area that requires bees for pollinations - the area is almost all sheep grazing and grain growing.
posted by Jimbob at 8:55 PM on April 21, 2005

Insects like ants start new colonies all the time. When new potential quees are born, they'll move out with a number of other workers to a new location. Maybe bees operate similarly. Maybe it's new-hive season...
posted by Jon-o at 9:36 PM on April 21, 2005

I know if it has been raining for a long time and the bees have been confined they'll swarm once the weather gets better. They'll also swarm when the hive gets too packed. The queen leaves and takes a portion of the hive with her to form a new hive, the bees that stay behind will create a new queen.
posted by squeak at 1:30 AM on April 22, 2005

Bees swarm in response to environmental stress, the size of the colony and the age of the queen - if conditions look dodgy and there's not enough food, new queen eggs will be raised and the old queen will take off with some of the workers.

If there's a lack of food in the wider area probably many colonies are affected. I'm not surprised at all.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:49 AM on April 22, 2005

Aren't there folks who travel around with swarms on truck beds, and basically rent them out to orchards, etc. for pollination?

Beekeepers rent out their hives for pollination. They can also capture a swarm and install it in a new hive. Commercial beehives are square white boxes. If you want to see all this, get the movie "Ulee's Gold" starring Peter Fonda as a beekeeper in Florida. You can see him at work, dropping off and picking up his honeybee colonies, with his flat-bed truck.

(I much prefer the term honeybees to 'bees' becasue it seems some use the word 'bee' for any stinging insect, when they're often talking about wasps. An easy way to distinguish them is honeybees are furry-looking, while wasps have a smooth, shiney finish. Yellow jackets, a type of wasp, have yellow and black stripes, and their coloring reminds me of taxicabs. In contrast, a honeybee's coloring is more orange and brown. Hornets are another type of wasp -- their hives look like gray footballs, hanging from the branches of trees. A bee hive, on the other hand, would usually be found inside a tree -- they much prefer working inside, although I have seen photos of raw combs hanging from tree branches, in South America.)
posted by Rash at 8:19 AM on April 22, 2005

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