February 24, 2019
P. Michael Henderson
I received a "swarm call" from some friends a couple of days ago. There were bees in their yard - on the ground.
And a close-up.
I normally won't pick up a swarm this early in the season. Bees normally don't swarm this early in the year. First, when a hive swarms, the old queen goes with the swarm, leaving a virgin queen in the hive. But early in the year, as this is, there may be no drones available for the new queen to breed.
Additionally, it's cold at night and a swarm would quickly use up any honey supplies they have and then they would freeze or starve to death. A real swarm this early would probably not make it.
My general suspicion is that a "swarm" this early is not really a swarm but a hive that absconded because they were overwhelmed by varroa mites. If you pick them up and save them by providing them a frame of brood and honey, they're just going to abscond again when they're overwhelmed by varroa mites again. Either that, or you have to start treating the hive with chemicals for varroa.
But my friends have a baby and were afraid the baby would get stung, so I picked them up and gave them to a beekeeper friend. After the first night, the bees were torpid - probably they didn't have enough supplies to be able to keep warm, but they warmed up in the sun and we gave them a frame of honey.
I haven't received any updates since then, but I really doubt if they'll make it.
[Update 3/4/2019] - My beekeeper friend reported that the hive is empty. My guess is that they starved.