The oak tree bees were very busy when we last visited Knockhatch Adventure Park, and according to the staff, the bees had swarmed on Wednesday 15th, but nobody had seen where they went. We checked our bait boxes: the one nearest the colony had bees!
We weren’t sure whether they were the swarm from the previous week, as they had been there “a couple of days”, but in any case, we transported them over to a hastily-deployed hive in the Wildlife area.
It’s only a small swarm, so we concluded that it was probably a cast, or secondary swarm, that issued over the weekend following the prime swarm on Wednesday. This first swarm will have had the original laying queen amongst the 10,000 or so bees that led the tree, and they will set up a new colony elsewhere. This one is smaller and will have a newly-hatched, unmated queen. We obfuscated the entrance with some branches to help the bees reorient and not end up back at either the tree, or the bait box. They navigate by sunlight and landmarks, but the final few feet are by smell, so if you move the hive a short distance, the bees can’t find it.
We lifted out the frames from the bait box and placed them in the hive in the same order. I didn’t see any comb but the bees were clustered up and festooned in chains so clearly in wax building mode, and the weather forecast is really good so I’m not concerned about them. Some people feed swarms as a matter of course to give them a head start with getting comb built as it takes a lot of energy, but I feel it is good practise to let the bees forage. Swarming is a time of reproduction, and it is a good test of fitness if they build up strongly, and by feeding them we are potentially supporting a weak colony. It is also a good measure of how much nectar is available – something that should always be considered if bees are going to be kept in an area.
And specifically, the whole point of these tree bees is that they have not been managed, so we are wanting to see how they get on without intervention.
The virgin queen who left with this swarm will now need to go out and mate, so it’ll be a couple of weeks before we can see if she is laying eggs, ensuring that the colony is viable. As we moved them in the middle of the day, I went back to check on any stragglers who would’ve been out foraging when the box was moved. There were only a handful there, and any remaining will disperse and rejoin the original colony in the tree.
As we don’t know if there will be any more swarms, or indeed if there are other feral colonies in the area, we put up another bait box on an old owl box platform high up in another oak about 100 metres from the colony:
We are hoping to use these bees in the hive to educate the visitors to Knockhatch. It is a really popular venue for families, and being able to explain about the bees in the tree, and now the hive, will give the public an insight in to how honeybees live in the wild, and why they – and other insects – are important.