Why Scout Bees are Important to the Hive
Inside a honey bee hive, each bee has a job to do. One of the most amazing honey bee facts is the ability of thousands of bees to work together. Every bee task is important but none more than those selected to be scout bees. These worker honey bees are responsible for finding new home locations for future swarms.
Adult workers that collect things needed for the hive are called foragers. They are responsible for collecting food for the colony.
To aid in the goal of having a productive system of nectar collection, a percentage of colony members are responsible for looking for new food sources.
Are Scout Bees Male or Female?
Scout bees are female. They are the same as any other worker bees except for their specific task.
These bees “scout around” for reach nectar or pollen sources. When a rich food source is found, the scouts bees direct other foragers to the new nectar source.
Workers are directed to new food sources by bee dances . The dances performed inside the colony on the comb show foragers the general direction and distance to food.
This efficient system of locating new food sources promotes colony productivity and helps bees make alot of honey. But locating food is not the only role of honey bee scouts.
Role of Scout Bees in Swarming
Honey bee colonies have a remarkable method of making more bee families. This is reproduction at the colony level. It is called honey bee swarming.
In this somewhat risky proceedure, roughly half of the hive population leaves to form a new colony in a new location.
The remainder of the bee family remains in the mother hive to carry on hive activities. This includes rebuilding the work force, producing a new queen bee, and raising baby bees to rebuild the population.
Those honey bees serving as scout bees play a critical role in swarming. The new colony needs to have an appropriate nest site to build their new home.
They have a lot of work to do at the new location before Winter arrives. Failure to find adequate shelter and food can mean trouble for the new hive.
Swarming is risky business and not something a colony does on a whim. A beehive makes careful preparations in the weeks before casting a swarm.
How Bees Evaluate a New Nest Site
What do scout bees look like? Their appearance is the same as any other worker bee. It is their behavior that is different.
You might see a bee flying around a tree trunk investigating any knot holes or openings. She seems to be searching for something – not like normal foraging behavior.
Any hollow of an appropriate size is a candidate for the new colony. And bees choose spaces of all sizes! Though a volume of 40-50 litres (size of one deep brood box) is a common choice.
Most beekeepers like to use that size of bee box for bait hives when they hope to catch a swarm of bees. They also add swarm lure to entice visiting bees to take a closer look.
While they may be on the lookout for possible nesting sites at any time, the search for a new home becomes more serious right before the swarm emerges.
Scout bees are attracted to the smell of old honeycomb. This results in a good nest site being used over and over again as the years go by.
If a colony dies, wax moths and other pests will devour the old comb and honey. This is actually a good thing as it helps removed diseased comb.
How Many Scout Bees are in a Swarm?
A typical swarm of about 10,000 honey bees will usually contain 400-500 scout bees. The swarm leaves the parent hive and hangs in a cluster nearby.
During this transition time, scout bees work to finalize a home choice. Each bee dances and promotes the site she thinks is best. The majority of dancing bees must agree before the swarm takes flight.
Sometimes bees “get stuck”, if a decision can not be made, the swarm remains in the transition spot longer.
Scout bees communicate through dance. They perform the dances on the surface of the ball of hanging bees. (It is fascinating to watch if you ever have the opportunity to observe a swarm up close.)
Small groups of bees are recruited to visit the best new locations. If they like the new site, they will return to the swarm cluster and dance in favor of choosing it.
Over time, more and more scout bees dances will match. The swarm comes to an agreement on where to go.
This scouting behavior of the honey bee swarm can continue for hours. Bees fly back and forth between the hanging cluster and the top site choices.
Guide the Swarm to a New Location
Researchers do not understand exactly how the bees reach an agreement. But eventually, most of the scouts will be dancing for the same site. It is time to lead the mass of bees to the new home.
How can the scouts get the swarm on the move and in the right direction? The dancing scout bees stop dancing.
They work their way to the inside of the mass of bees. Using their flight muscles, they produce a high-pitched beep at their sisters.
All this activity causes the temperature of the cluster to raise. Suddenly, the whole swarm will break apart into the air.
Scout bees and their recruits will fly slowly around and through the flying mass of bees.
This directs flight towards the chosen new home site. The whole swarm flies off at the speed of about 7-8 mph.
Swarm Is Directed Inside New Home by Scout Bees
Upon arriving at the new home location, scout bees will surround the opening and “scent” using their nasonov glands.
This encourages their sisters to move inside. A large honey bee swarm can enter the new location in a brief amount of time.
Occasionally, the swarm will reject the site chosen by the scout bees. When this happens, the swarm leaves the location and goes to another secondary site.
The new honey bee colony has a lot of work to do. Our scout bees will return to the job of looking for good forage sources.
The queen honey bee will begin to lay eggs. The urge to swarm will be forgotten for a while.
This colony must grow and prepare for Winter. Let’s hope our scout bees made a good decision and chose a good location for the colony.