Swarming is the honey bee colony’s approach to reproduction. It’s the colony rather than the individual bee which reproduces itself.
In simple terms, the existing queen and between a third and half the bees in the colony leave their hive in a great buzzing black cloud. At this stage, they don’t know where they are going, only that it’s time to depart the hive. Usually they will quickly settle in a tight cluster within a 100 meters of their original location.
Their resting place is usually a hedge or tree branch but, in urban areas, they can cluster on buildings, cars, lamp posts etc. The swarm is tightly clustered protecting the queen bee in its centre. The swarm at this stage is usually quite placid since all the bees have filled up with honey before leaving the hive (they don’t know when their next meal will be). At this stage, scout bees are sent out to find a new home. Usually the scout bees will find a new home within a few hours but, sometimes it can take days. Once the colony decides where their new home will be (it’s a consensual process) off they go again and settle in. A swarm can rapidly build new wax comb to enable the queen to recommence laying eggs.
Meanwhile, back in the original colony the rest of the bees are quietly waiting. The original colony decided they should swarm around a week before it actually happened. They fed a few of the queen bees freshly laid eggs a high protein diet of royal jelly so that approximately two weeks after the swarm emerged new queens would be born. Only one queen will survive (the strongest will fatally sting the other young queens). A few days later, weather permitting, the virgin queen will leave the hive on her mating flight. A few days after her mating flight she will commence laying eggs.
So the whole purpose of this complex exercise is colony reproduction…..now there are 2 colonies each with a queen!