My Swarm Returned to Where I Found it. Now What?
Ask the Expert
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A Reader asks —
I moved my new swarm five miles away for one week and brought it back and put it in my apiary where I wanted it. Well, a bunch of bees with good memories went back to the place where they had swarmed in the first place. I lost about a fist full of bees. How long do I have to leave it three or more miles away before returning it to my yard?
Rusty Burlew replies:
I can’t tell from your question what stage of swarming your bees were in when you caught them. Usually, if you catch a swarm on its first stop —resting in a tree limb or attached to a mailbox — you don’t need to move it away at all. These swarms can be dropped into any empty hive and they will stay put. The swarm impulse has been satisfied and the bees have “forgotten” where they used to live.
Moving a swarm after it has chosen a new home is more difficult. In that case, you may have to move it a couple miles away for a few days before moving it into your hive.
Getting bees to reorient is not an exact science. You can get varying degrees of success depending on how long they were left at the new location. Some bees will reorient right away, and some seem to never reorient. A fistful of obstinate ones is a good outcome and nothing to worry about.
Why some are more stubborn than others is not clear. Sometimes I think it’s related to the strength of the queen’s pheromones. If the queen is older, she may be less attractive than a younger one, in which case more of the bees might wander away. In any case, if some go back to their original location, it’s not much of a loss because most will drift into other hives within a day or two.