Honeybees have busy lives, and that means the work of the hive begins every day around sunrise when the pollen is still clinging wetly to the flower petals, but what time of day do bees swarm?
Most species of bees are diurnal, which means they are active during the day; however some species can be nocturnal and crepuscular as well. In terms of swarming, this means there isn’t a specific time when bees swarm, but rather that it is more likely to see bees swarming during the day when they are active.
Let’s take a look at the specific behind bee swarming to understand why it is difficult to pinpoint an exact time for when they swarm.
Busy As a Bee?
If you observe a beehive in the hour or so just before the sun sets in the west, you will notice a steady stream of bees returning to the hive. They take this circuitous route back and forth all day because the bees can only see well enough to fly and forage during daylight hours.
As they make their final return trip of the day to the hive, their activities are not a swarm. It would be more accurate to describe the worker bees’ trips as their evening commute back home from their workplaces.
Bees Work Productively in Cycles
Imagine the beehive as a factory working three eight-hour shifts per day. At any given time, there will be bees working both within and outside of the hive.
Of course, even bees require a little downtime to rest up for that next shift at the honey factory. When you think of it in those terms, the life of a typical worker bee is very similar to that of a hardworking factory laborer.
Bees Have a Swarming Season
Depending on the location of the beehive and the weather conditions in the area, bees go dormant during the coolest months of the year. Whenever the warm spring weather reanimates the occupants of the beehive, the bees instinctively reawaken from their state of winter dormancy.
At first, bees are sluggish after the weeks of winter. But right around March, the temperature heats up and the number of bees increases.
There will then typically be another brief period of cold weather — the last gasp of winter — before it warms up in earnest. It is this particular weather pattern that triggers the swarming instinct in the bees.
The Queen Bee’s Role in a Swarm
Hives can only accommodate a single queen bee. She transmits pheromones to alert the worker bees that there is no need to generate the cells to produce other queen bees. But the worker drones in the SRO section of the hive might miss the memo on that and create cells for one or more new queen bees.
That’s a recipe for disaster, as having two queens in the same hive doesn’t work out. So, as part of the natural propagation process, the hive splits into two or more separate swarms.
In the mating dance of swarm season, the bees prepare to reproduce.
Bees can swarm for weeks initially, then sometimes regroup into a secondary swarm. Swarms often coalesce around or on houses, barns, outbuildings or natural features like trees and branches. Eventually, swarms of worker drones accompany their queen to another area and begin to build her a new hive.
Different Kinds of Honeybee Swarms?
The seasonal swarming associated with the life cycle of the bee is one example of a swarm event. Sometimes people mistakenly call it swarming when bees come and go from their hives throughout the day.
But what may look like swarming is really a highly coordinated, weaving dance between the different kinds of bees going into and coming out of the beehive.
Unlike some species of bees, naturally swarming honeybees rarely pose serious dangers to humans. Of course, it is never a good idea for untrained people who are not bee-keepers to get too close to them or allow children or pets to be in their vicinity.
Also, some people can have deadly allergies to bee stings and require an immediate injection of epinephrine after a sting to avoid succumbing to anaphylactic shock.
Bees Can Swarm at Night
All species have a time of day when they are typically the most active. Humans and many other animals are diurnal, or active during the day. Others are nocturnal, sleeping during the day and on the move after dark falls. A third group is crepuscular, meaning that they are only active at dawn and dusk.
The majority of bees are diurnal. But there are variations that are nocturnal and crepuscular as well. There are at least four kinds of bees that swarm after dark — Apidae bees, Colletidae bees, Andrenidae bees and Halictidae bees, or “sweat bees.”
These four kinds of bees live in tropical locales where year-round the mercury rarely dips below the high 60s and 70s.
Some bees swarm in the evening and even in the middle of the night. Why do they do that, you may wonder? One reason for the night swarming is that there are fewer predators afoot and in the air after dark.
From a purely practical perspective, natural selection dictates that only the smartest and savviest bees avoid becoming prey.
There are other reasons for swarming at night. The drier the climate, the greater the need for these nocturnal swarms, as the bees seek the humidity that night air can produce.
Then, too, there are some night-blooming flowers that produce nectar only during the hours of darkness. If the bees fail to swarm, they can’t carry out their very important jobs of hive-building and honey production.
The Mid-Day Swarm
In the middle of a sunny day, you can sometimes see a swarm of bees undulating in the shade of a porch-roof overhang. Bees in swarm formation are a perfect example of a collective organism wherein the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Bees lack a sense of individuality, which is fortunate for the rest of us. The overriding goals of honeybees are to promote the health of the hive and protect their queen during their short lifecycles.