Why Do Honey Bees Swarm…
In early spring when the field bees start bringing in nectar and pollen, the queen knows there is now enough food for more brood. She will begin laying many eggs again; she does not lay eggs during the winter months. As she fills the drawn comb with eggs and the house bees fill comb with honey and pollen, they know the hive will soon become crowded.
When the hive feels it will become too crowded, they will make queen cups for the queen to lay fertile eggs in. As the eggs develop, they will feed these eggs only royal jelly. Before capping the cells, royal jelly is packed inside to feed the growing queen.
Royal jelly is made by bees to provide a high quality nutrient to growing young. It contains about 60% to 70% water, 12% to 15% proteins, 10% to 16% sugar, 3% to 6% fats, and 2% to 3% vitamins, salts, and amino acids. (1)
The only deference between a regular worker bee and a queen bee lies in this potent substance. Workers bees are fed royal jelly for the first three days to give them a healthy start to life. The queen however is fed only royal jelly her whole life. The life span of regular workers can be from 1-4 months while a healthy queen may live for five years.
Royal jelly has many health benefits for humans as well. Here is a list from Dr. Axe
Queen Cups/ Cells…
Queen cups are made larger than regular sized brood cells. This allows for the larger growth of the queen. As the larva inside grows, the cup is extended even larger until it is time to cap, or close, for the final development of the queen.
If the hive is planning on swarming, the swarm cells/ cups are usually placed at the bottom of the frames. This is a lower priority and keeps them out of the way but still cared for as they develop.
A supersedure cell will be formed if there is a problem with the queen and the hive feels she needs to be replaced. This type of cup is located higher on the frame in the middle area. This is higher priority.
A third type is an emergency cell. The queen has been killed somehow. Within 24 hours the hive can tell they no longer have a queen; it takes this long for the pheromones to dissipate. Every newly laid fertilized egg can be turned into a queen for the first three days (unfertilized eggs are drones – males). They will inspect all the potential eggs and choose the best ones to form a queen cell around them.
In each case, several cells will be made to ensure having a healthy queen to continue the hive.
Right before this new queen emerges from the supersedure cells, the hive will ‘ball’ the old queen. They form a ball around her, and create heat from vibrating. This heat eventually kills her so the new queen can emerge safely.
Time to Leave…
About a day before the queen emerges from the swarm cell, The old queen and about 40-60% of the hive will leave with her. The queen will land on a nearby object (tree branch, bird bath, car tire, etc.). Once she lands, the other bees will gather around her and scout bees will go out looking for a new home.
While this is occuring, they are very dosile because they have no home, food, or brood to protect. They are only looking for a new home. This process can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few days. Generally, if no suitable location is found in the first two days, she will relocate to a new holding spot farther away. Once a new home is found, they will start drawing new comb for her to lay eggs in and to store their food.
Meanwhile back in the hive they left…
The first new queen that hatches will go around to all the other queen cells and sting them while they are still inside the cell. This kills them and ensures her reign. If two or more hatch at the same time, they will battle until only one survives. The danger with this happening is the potential for the victor to be wounded in such a way that she will not be able to mate or lay eggs. If this occurs in the wild, the hive will die. If this happens in an apiary, an observant bee keeper will recognize this and be able to re-queen it from another hive in his/her apiary.