- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Eagle-eyed Carol Nickles saw it first.
The graduate student coordinator for the UC Davis Department of Entomology spotted the bee swarm from a third-floor window of Briggs Hall.
There it was, swaying on a tree branch, about 25 feet above the ground.
A bee swarm, shaped like a bowling pin, but about 2.5 or 3 feet long.
What exactly is a bee swarm? The late Harry Hyde Laidlaw Jr. (1907-2003), noted bee geneticist-breeder at UC Davis, defined it as "a cluster of worker bees with or without drones and a queen, that has left the hive." The bees often cluster on a tree limb while the "scouts" search for a suitable home.
This particular swarm may be offspring from the bee observation hive located in 122 Briggs Hall for the past several months. Every April the folks at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, located west of campus, set up a bee observation hive for UC Davis Picnic Day. Thousands of social folks check out these little social insects. This is a social network more fascinating than Facebook, Twitter, My Space and Linked In combined.
You can watch the colony at work behind glassed walls. You can see the queen laying eggs, the nursemaids caring for the pending offspring, the royal attendants feeding and grooming the queen bee, and the architects and construction workers building the comb. Other bees are processing pollen into bee bread and converting nectar into honey. Meanwhile, workers are returning from their foraging trips and performing their trademark "waggle dances," letting their sisters know where they've been, where to go and how to get there.
As new offspring emerge (21 days for an egg to become an adult), the hive becomes overcrowded and congested. The end result: bee swarms, a natural part of their life cycle and one of nature's wonders.
The bee swarm at Briggs will probably move by tomorrow morning, says UC Davis bee breeder-geneticist Michael "Kim" Fondrk.
"By noon," he estimates, "they'll be gone."