Why are the bees hanging around outside their hives?

Discussion in 'Beekeeping 101' started by briligg, Aug 16, 2010.

  1. briligg

    briligg New Member

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    We now have 2 hives, and it seems to us maybe we are about to have a third, but we don't know if we are reading this right. We have two hive boxes set up - the first, which a wild hive was relocated to, the second, which we set up when a swarm split off from the first hive. A local beekeeper (who is almost impossible to get a hold of, and cagey even when you do) gave us an old hive box when we called him worried that we were going to lose the swarm, but the bees didn't like it, and they left. Then, 5 days later, a swarm moved into the new box. Did the swarm come back? The rains start here in June, that was the end of July - maybe getting into swarming time, maybe it could have been another swarm. My husband says what he's been told is that swarming usually happens here in September, because the big nectar flow is October and November.

    Anyhow, for about 5 days now, the second hive has sent a small cloud of bees out in the mid-afternoon, maybe a couple of hundred bees, that just sort of hang around near the front of the hive box, facing it like they are waiting for something. Also, during this time my husband also noticed that a bunch of bees had started hanging around the discarded hive box the earlier swarm had rejected. Today when we went to the lot, we saw that there were maybe 50 bees now outside the discarded box doing the same holding pattern kind of thing that the second hive had done. In this group we saw a couple of drones. The second hive didn't send out a swarm like this while we were there, they were foraging like normal. But the first hive also sent out a swarm a little later, a much larger one, i'm guessing 500 bees. Same thing, they all just weave back and forth near the entrance of the hive, watching it.

    These bees are an unexpected hobby, the result of deciding not to destroy the wild hive. We don't open up their hive boxes, we are just helping them along a little with their lives, and hope to relieve them of some honey once a year. Very loosely, we are following the Warre model. So, i can't say what is going on inside the hives. But what would this behaviour likely be? I suggested maybe there are new queens mating, but the discarded hive box is just a shell, my husband cleaned it up and prepared some foundation in it a couple of days ago, since there were bees showing an interest, but surely there isn't the infrastructure for a new queen yet, is there? And why would all three hives be doing this. The first two have lots of foraging activity, the third has none, which isn't surprising. We'd be very happy if they manage to set up shop there too, but it seems a lot to ask in such a short time.

    Although he didn't explain what he was doing, the local beekeeper took a section of the wild hive home with him when he moved it into the box for us, and charged very little for his work. We guess he took some queen cells and deducted part of the price of his work in return.

    Does all this add up to something? We don't understand it.
     
  2. tecumseh

    tecumseh New Member

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    I am having a difficult time trying to understand the time line on the acquisition of your current hives.

    any feeding of liquid feed should actively encourage a bit of robbing. robbing can look quite a bit like a play flight since both look like large number of bees hoovering at the front of the hive... robbing also includes a lot of bees wrestling around on the ground. if you are approaching the prime swarm season then any box which has held bees in the past and has the appropriate smell would be prime locations and would be actively checked out by scout bees as possible swarm nesting sites.

    I would guess you are also in an active africanized bee area so some caution is appropriate plus with africanized bees swarming is much more frequent.
     

  3. Iddee

    Iddee New Member

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    Along with what Tecumseh said, you might want to read up on "orientation flights". Many new beeks mistake them for swarming. It is when a few hundred young bees take their first flights. They hover around the hive, doing larger and larger circles, learning the area and how to find their way back home.
     
  4. G3farms

    G3farms New Member

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    That was My first thoughts also, orientation flights. Everything will be a huge buzz and many bees will come out and face the hive, after a little while everything quiets back down and is normal again.
     
  5. briligg

    briligg New Member

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    tecumseh -
    here's how our bee timeline goes, roughly
    July 23 - wild hive living in our plywood flats is moved to a hive box by local beekeeper - Hive 1
    July 26 - a swarm splits off from that hive, and we put it in an old hive box the beekeeper gives us
    July 29 - those bees swarm again each day, and are reboxed each day, after the first day in a new box we got for them, but on july 29 they leave entirely
    Aug 3 - a swarm of bees move into the new box on their own. hubby says this isn't the season for swarming, so we wonder if the bees came back. Hive 2
    last week - Bees from hive 2 spend a half hour or so hovering around their hive entrance, and yes, they were also circling a bit. Bees start to gather at the discarded box the beekeeper gave us, so hubby cleans it up and sets up a few frames with foundation, in case a new swarm moves in. On Saturday we took a brief look inside that box, and there are maybe a hundred bees around. Hive 3?
    Aug 15 - we saw bees hovering outside hive 1 and possible hive 3, hive 2 probably did the same before we got there. We saw at least 2 drones hanging around hive 3.

    We didn't see any fighting, nor have we on other occasions. The little feeder we made up has its opening against the hive entrance, as far as we can tell there has been little to no robbing. So it does sound like orientation/play flights. But - isn't that awfully quick for hive 2? And that doesn't explain hive 3.

    It is common for bees around here to be africanized or hybrid, but these bees don't seem especially aggressive. The beekeeper who boxed the original hive 1 only got stung 4 times. Over the 2 years or so that hive was living in the pile of flats there were only two instances of stinging - once when hubby (his name is Aldo, btw) was causing a fuss near their hive while clearing out a nest of rats, and 3 bees stung, and once when he tore a section of orchids off a tree in front of their hive to move it to another tree, and 2 bees stung. There has been lots of hubbub not far from the hives on other occasions, and the bees have taken it in stride. I've gotten used to them occasionally smacking into me on the way to their hive entrance, and just continuing on their way.
     
  6. tecumseh

    tecumseh New Member

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    yes orientation flight (which I mistakenly called play flight) might be a good item for you to consider reading about although it doesn't seem like the time line is anywhere right for that to be taking place except perhaps for hive number one. time requirement for orientation would be: from egg be a bit over one month. sounds like based on size swarm number 3 is an after swarm... that is some feral hive is swarming itself to death out in the wood somewhere. most times after swarms get smaller and smaller and after the prime swarm are headed up by virgin queens. after swarms (in my experience) can be quite difficult to establish.

    sounds like the initial hive was likely european. do not let your guard down and assume all honeybees in your area will have the same sweet personality since you are in an active africanized honey bee area and even european bees can be a bit hostile from time to time. generally small low population hives of either stripe are no problem. the typical problem comes later when the population blooms. Any mobbing type behavior by the bees associated with little or no disturbance should give you reason to highly suspect a hives origin. Quite typically dogs and chickens (I think likely due to their behavior) seem to be the first target of highly defensive bees.

    Here I would simply take a sample, deliver the package to the bee lab at the cow college just up the road and have the little lab lady tell me what the sample profile looked like. Even then the profile is a bit like a statistical distribution but it does give you some hard evidence on which to base a decision... which for me come to a kind of up or down thumb kind of thing.

    good luck...