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Orienting vs. Swarming

One of the most common questions we hear after new packages come in has to do with a behavior called “orienting”.  Here’s what happens: day or so after a package is introduced into a new hive, usually in the early afternoon, a bunch of bees will come out and start flying around the hive. If you’ve never had bees before, it can be kind of alarming, and it often results in panicked newbees posting to the mailing list wondering if their hive is absconding or swarming. (At least I know that’s what we thought was happening with out first hive.) Here’s what it looks like:

Here’s another one:

This behavior is normal, and means your bees are settling into their new home. When a bee is getting ready to forage for the first time, she makes a couple of short orientation flights.  This also happens when a hive is moved or you install a package.  An entire cohort of soon-to-be foragers orient at the same time.  For most of our hives, orientation occurs between 2:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon.  What you see in these video clips is a cloud of bees flying back and forth in front of the hive.  The bees are learning what their hive and the immediate surroundings look like so they can find their way back home after a foraging trip.  After 15-20 minutes the orienters go back into the hive and that day’s orientation is over.

This will happen when you first install your package, and anytime your hive is growing and you have new bees taking on foraging duties.

You can contrast that with what a swarm looks like:

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