Swarming in Trigona carbonaria

Native bees exhibit a swarming activity, which distresses many new owners. There are a number types of swarming behaviour, which can be easily identified.

Natural Propagation

Firstly, native bees do NOT swarm out and leave the nest like the honeybee. Native bees are a little bit more discreet! A strong colony under the right conditions will send out scouts who will locate a suitable new nest site. The hollow is then sealed at both ends with batumen and stocked up with honey and pollen. The entire nest structure is set up including a location for the brood. A virgin queen will be available to fly across to the new site with many worker bees. (I bet the male drones follow too!) The virgin queen may have been present in the mother hive for some time. (I call them ladies in waiting!) The mother queen seems to tolerate the virgin’s presence in the original nest. This rarely occurs with honeybees.

The virgin queen will mate once only. Egg laying commences soon after. The queen will live for up to 5 years, although her stamina for egg laying will reduce over time. The sperm is stored for her entire life.

The activity of natural propagation is not often witnessed. A number of our contacts have seen this activity take place under a perspex cover. I have seen them moving into the bottom of a plant pot. I have been asked many times about putting a bait box near a nest of native bees. This will never work! You can entice a nest into a box if you force the bees to enter and leave the box. Place the box in front of a nest and use a pipe to direct the bees from the nest into the box. This is called a “soft split”. The original nest will remain.

Mating Swarms

These occur soon after splitting a boxed hive and can carry on for 3 – 5 days. We have seen this regularly. The swarms are very small (200 individuals) and is mostly drones (males). My wife, Janine captured 30 bees and under a microscope, discovered most to be drones. These swarms have bees seen during all months, even mid winter. Honeybees evict all drones for the winter. It appears that native bees do NOT! Obviously a virgin queen is also present at this time.

Home Invasions

After reading the section on natural propagation, you will think that this occurs peacefully. Mostly it does! We have witnessed savage invasions into some of our weak nests. The strong local hive wants to split. An easy alternative is to invade a weak or distressed hive nearby. The invading bees will overpower and kill all inhabitants. This is a vicious and savage take-over. I guess you end up with a strong nest!

Homeless bees

The queen is the matriarch of the nest. She is responsible for egg production and pheromone secretion. The pheromone is a liquid smell or identifier. The pheromone is distributed to all bees in the nest.  This then bonds the family together. Each nest has its own distinctive pheromone. Bees from other colonies will not be accepted, and in fact, will either be chased away or be killed. We feel that huge swarms occur from time to time due to loss of pheromone. The nest is so populous, that there is insufficient pheromone to go around. Many bees therefore are considered to be without identity. They are evicted. When sprayed with a fine water mist, they will all go back into the nest, but will be back out in 5 – 10 minutes. These bees must congregate in large numbers, on branches at night. Any comments here would be appreciated!!!

War!

Aggression between neighbouring colonies  will occur regularly. It doesn't take much. It could be a bee drift which is when the wind blows a bee to the wrong hive. This occurs up a fence line. The pheromone is wrong. This puts the defending hive on alert. It really gets them upset. Large numbers of bees will be flying around in a defensive attitude.

There will be a bee frenzy. Thousands of bees may be pairing up and fighting to their death. Tim Heard counted 7000 dead individuals over a one week period. This may go on for days. In the end, both colonies seem to survive. However, these swarms may be very distressing to the owner.

Summary

There is still much to studied. Feedback from readers would be much appreciated. Photographs may be difficult, but have a go. We would appreciate photos too. Thank – you!!!
 
 


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