. . . [God is] the Lord of the East and the West and everything between them. . . . (Surat ash-Shu'ara': 28)

As already mentioned, from early spring on, the queen lays 1,500 to 2,000 eggs a day. If bees in the colony do not take precautions to respond to this increase, then the capacity of the hive will soon be unable to meet the needs of the rising population. Given the speed at which the queen lays her eggs, this means that between 45,000 and 60,000 bees are added in a single month. This rapid population rise will soon lead to congestion and malfunctioning.

As we know, the substance that the queen releases is one of the factors that establishes order in the hive. As the number of workers increases, the level of that "queen substance" to each worker must thus decrease. The reduction in the quantity of this substance indicates that the time has come for the hive to solve the problem of its rising population.91

When there is a rise of population, the measures to be taken are clear: either the hive has to be expanded, or else the population has to be reduced. Bees implement the most appropriate of these two options. Expanding their accommodations is no answer, because the problem stems from the insufficiency of the queen mandibular pheromone, rather than a lack of space. When there is too little of this substance, the females' ovaries start to develop and the colony's distinctive odor will weaken. As a result, the workers will set about constructing new queen cells-and the equilibrium in the hive will be damaged.

The population-planning method implemented in beehives is the most rational option. When the population rises too high, the bees set about lowering it-but not by killing the larvae and pupae, as they must do in the winter months. They adopt a very rational solution, beneficial from all points of view. When the population of a hive rises, one portion of the bees leave in a group, together with the queen and begin looking for a new place to settle.

This practice, known as swarming, allows the surplus bees to establish a brand-new colony.

Preparations Before the Bees Set off on Their Journey

The first phase of swarming comes at the beginning of spring, when bees start building cells for drones. Since it takes longer for these males to grow (queens develop from egg to adult in 16 days, workers in 21 and males in 24), their combs need to be ready by early April.92 It's worth noting that the cells for the males are prepared before the queen's mandibular pheromone is entirely exhausted. That's because under normal circumstances, the workers need to prepare queen cells when the levels of this pheromone go down. Nevertheless, the worker bees start building male cells, and the drones hatch out in early May, which explains why the cells for the males are readied.

As we know, males can search for the queen two weeks after they emerge. Unless the drones can find a queen to mate with, their existence at this point will be meaningless. Therefore, the queen needs to be ready for her mating flight at this time. If the workers are late in preparing the cells for the males, either the queen will fail to mate, or the process will be delayed. Since the queen cannot start laying eggs until after she mates, this will represent a threat to the colony.

The old queen, who does possess the ability to lay eggs, leaves the hive long before the new one emerges. This situation, which may appear very confused at first glance, is resolved by the workers with perfect timing.

At the same time that the workers begin to construct new queen cells, they oblige the old queen to abandon the egg-laying process, because the time to migrate has come and necessary preparations must be made. Therefore, workers start feeding the old queen less royal jelly. The reduced level of this foodstuff slows or halts her egg-laying. But there is another reason for restricting the food given to the queen. In order for her to leave the colony with the swarm that will accompany her, it's vital that she not be too bulky.

This method employed by the workers soon bears fruit, and the queen starts to move about more quickly. Within a short time, she becomes as mobile as the other bees.93

Beginning the Search for a New Hive

The workers, who at other times forage for pollen, nectar or water, now set about seeking a new site for their colony. They usually leave their hive in late spring or early summer. In this season, pollen and nectar are plentiful, temperatures warm and the Sun in the sky longer. These conditions provide the necessary environment for a bee community to leave the old hive.

In order to store energy before departure, the bees setting out to establish a new colony fill their stomachs with as much honey as they can, because they will have no time to visit flowers. As a result of this feeding, their abdomens expand so much that their bodies lose the elasticity necessary to use their stings.94 This means that the bees are exceptionally peaceable-important for the safety of human beings. Bearing in mind that about half the colony will leave during swarming, an obvious danger would otherwise be posed by 20,000 to 30,000 aggressive bees.

A swarm leaving the hive, with the old queen in the middle of the swarm. The colony will wait on the tree until the scout bees show the other members where the new hive is located.

When the new queen is about to emerge from her cell, the old queen bee leaves the hive accompanied by a group consisting of worker bees and a few drones. After this swarm leaves the hive, it forms a cluster, often rather like a bunch of grapes, on a nearby branch or projecting object.95 The queen is in the middle of this mass. The workers literally form a wall around her with their bodies, thus ensuring her safety.96 As the bees come together in this disciplined manner, the odor unique to the colony soon forms.

As already mentioned, every worker has a scent gland in its body which it can use for marking flowers whenever it wishes. This gland is externally invisible when not in use. Yet the bee can expose it when it wants, whereupon it exudes a scent. The scout bees use this to mark new places they find. Bees are exceedingly sensitive to the scent of their own colony, and the scent left by the scouts can be perceived even from considerable distances.97 The bees are thus able to find their new destinations easily.

A swarm of bees waiting on a tree to make their nest. When the scout bees find a site for the new hive, this mass will disperse.

The pictures to the side show a swarm regulating the temperature of the mass. Under cooler conditions, the workers clump together tightly and provide less internal ventilation, in order to conserve heat (far left). Under warmer conditions, they spread out in order to cool down the center of the clump.

Scout Bees in Action

While one part of the colony waits in a mass, the scout bees are very active. Indeed, they have begun their preparations long before. A few days before leaving the hive, these scouts have spread out in search of new settlement sites. On occasion they fly for several kilometers.98

Bees swarming

The scouts carefully examine the fissures and tree trunks in which they might establish a new hive. The large number of scouts seek possible new locations for the colony and literally carry out settlement planning, make various calculations to arrive at a common decision of the suitability of the new hive site. Then they again act together, returning to the colony and leading it to the new site.

If a scout finds a suitable hole or cavity, she examines it systematically, sometimes for hours on end. She checks the external appearance by flying around it. She also generally enters the hole and walks around in it, first moving to the entrance, and then walking around the inside, examining the inner surfaces. Thomas Seeley of Yale University, who made a special study of this, calculated that a single bee walks more than 50 meters (164 feet). In his experiment, using artificial cylindrical hives capable of revolving around their own axes, Seeley revealed how far bees had to walk to examine the interior of the hive, and that in this way, they calculated the volumes of dimly illuminated cavities.99

The bees flying off to look for new sites can sometimes be as many as two dozen. Thanks to their efforts, the colony obtains information about several possible sites at the same time. Eventually, the workers decide among the potential sites by visiting each one, reducing them to two or three. Eventually, agreement is reached on which site will be best, and the new hive is established there. The colony thus selects the best possible site-at least, according to the scout bees' evaluations.

The decision-making process over the site of the new hive may last for several days. Each scout inspects each potential site very carefully, and it takes time for up to 500 workers to compare different alternatives and agree on a common decision. During this time, the other bees continue waiting on the tree in a mass, as already described, and set off for the new nest only when a final decision has been taken by the scouts, who accompany them on their final leg of the journey.

To understand the importance of what the scout bees do, let us re-examine the stages of this process, one by one. First, how do the scouts decide on the suitability of the new site they find?

When looking for a new nest, the scout bees bear a number of details in mind such as its height from the ground, whether any holes in it can be patched, and the size of the internal area. They also pay special attention to the suitability of the entrance. It must be small enough to prevent robber bees, squirrels and birds from getting in, yet wide enough for bees returning laden with nectar or pollen to enter. Otherwise, these bees will have to wait at the entrance in order to take their turns. Smaller entrances are generally preferred, since if the entrance is very wide, it will be more difficult to defend. In addition, since there will be a major loss of heat through ventilation, it will be more difficult to regulate the hive's internal temperature.100

The scout bees move off in search of a new hive and return to inform the others of the sites they have found. Eventually, unanimity is established and the group moves off. The above drawings represent the dances observed to be performed for four days until a common decision is arrived at. North is pointing upwards. The length of the lines indicates the distance of the region and the thickness, the number of dances performed in that direction. (James and Carol Gould, The Animal Mind, p. 66.)

Another of the necessary features in order for a site to be used as a hive is the size of the nest. Let us consider a hollow tree trunk, for example. If the inside is very large, it will be difficult for the bees to keep the hive warm. However, bees generally prefer the nest to be large rather than small, since unnecessary spaces can be filled with propolis. Problems that arise if the hive is too narrow will be more serious. If the area used for storing honey is too small, insufficient quantities can be laid by for the winter-a severe problem that could lead to the death of the entire colony.101

Another detail concerns which direction the hive's entrance faces. A north-facing entrance will be colder, thus unsuitable for a shelter. The scouts also bear this important detail in mind when looking for a new site.102

Once they identify the site and decide on its suitability, scouts mark it with their scent, just as they do with flowers. The bees expose their scent glands and remain in the hive site for a while, thus allowing it to take on the scent of the colony.103

These pictures show bees which have arrived at a joint decision and constructed their nest in tree trunks.

The Colony Goes into Action

Shortly after, the scouts arrive back where the colony is waiting for them, and provide directions for them by dancing-the same dance performed by bees when they locate a food source. The direction of the site determined as being suitable is shown by the waggling part of the figure-eight dance. The site's suitability is indicated by the exuberance of the dance. In the case of a site which fulfils all the necessary conditions, bees may dance for half an hour or even an hour. But if the site is not ideal, then they perform the dance less enthusiastically.104

Your Lord revealed to the bees: “Build dwellings in the mountains and the trees, a#FF8000nd also in the structures which men erect.”
(Surat an-Nahl: 68)

Bees do not head off in one direction all at once, because the scout bees have explored an area of many square kilometers. And on its return to the colony each scouting group will recommend a different site. There may be several bees dancing at one time, and these groups will sometimes indicate different directions.105

Bees alerted by the scouts' dance to leave the swarm's cluster search the area until they detect their own colony's odor. The most suitable site receives the largest number of bees, which in turn accumulates the greatest amount of colony odor at that site.106

Within one week, the hanging cluster of bees like a bunch of grapes disperses and the bees fly off en masse towards the new site. When the colony begins moving, bees familiar with the site lead it with their scent, so the swarm can find the site without needing any further assistance. The queen has to move together with the swarm, since her presence maintains the unity of the colony. If the queen is not accompanying the colony, the community will return to where it had been before.107

The behavior of bees in the establishment of a new colony is evidently very conscious. The planning and logic used to make a selection observed in bees very definitely require intelligence. Yet it is impossible to speak of the intelligence of individual bees. As has already been made clear, a bee is, all in all, nothing more than a tiny insect. Its brain capacity is severely limited. It might be reasonable if all these activities were carried out by human beings possessing intellect and logic. But since we are referring to bees, we need to stop and consider.

How do these creatures manage to carry out such wide-ranging planning? These are not steps that unintelligent, and unaware creatures could learn by chance, since the verb "to learn" implies logic and will. Bees do not, of course, possess these attributes. It is God, with His infinite knowledge, Who causes them to exhibit this conscious behavior and signs of intelligence. As He does all other creatures, God protects and watches over bees, teaching them the systems they need. As is revealed in one verse, " . . . There is no creature He does not hold by the forelock . . . ." (Surah Hud: 56).

If bees are unable to find a suitable site, they make a temporary hive in a tree. The picture to the side shows the combs constructed in the open air, exposed to all kinds of danger.

The scout bees dance to indicate the distance and direction of the possible locations for the new nest. Each arrow represents the dances in the direction of a particular site. The length of the arrow indicates how distant the site is, the angle its direction, and the thickness the number of scouts that have danced for that region.
The drawing at the far left shows the dances performed in four directions before unanimity was reached.
The drawing to the side shows the dance performed right before departure for the new nest.

What Happens in the Old Hive?

Once the swarm has left, half or maybe more of the original bees remain in the old hive.
Since the old queen leaves the hive before the new queen emerges, the hive remains without a queen for a time-but for only a few days. Shortly after swarming, one of the young queens completes her development and leaves her cell to embark on her new life, after killing her rivals.108

If the old queen does not leave the hive before the new potential queens emerge from their cells, this shows that she has grown old. The new queen will then sting her to death.

Sometimes, however, the old queen does not abandon the hive, even though she is not senile or feeble, but due to weather conditions. This could be a very dangerous situation, because if the new queen emerges while the old one is still in the hive, the two will fight and one must kill the other.

In order to prevent such chaos, which would damage the hive's equilibrium, the bees resort to a most astonishing method. The potential queens which have completed their development and bitten through their cocoons are imprisoned with cell covers that are stronger than usual. The bees do not forget to leave a small space open, however, through which the workers will later feed them.

Yet the problem does not end here. The old queen moves through the hive more actively than ever. If she detects the new queens, she will try to destroy them. Yet this is not permitted. The workers gather over the new queens' cells and repel the old queen if she tries to harm them.109

All the workers' efforts are aimed at protecting the new queen, and hence the colony itself. The new queens are protected by the precautions thus taken, which allow for every possibility.

On occasion, a colony will need to release more than one swarm. In that event, that is, if the new young queen is to leave the hive with an entourage of workers for a second swarm, the workers immediately begin raising another new queen.110


As we have seen so far, bees are some of the most astonishing creatures in the animal kingdom. The honeycombs they build are architectural marvels, which they produce with such patience with wax drops no larger than a pinhead. They pay hundreds of visits to the larvae every day, tirelessly. They display self-sacrifice in defending the hive, and the work that goes into making honey and the discipline they are able to maintain within the hive all amaze scientists.

Bees analyze their surroundings in their own language, take decisions that may vary according to the urgency of the situation, and act upon them. In short, all their behavior displays a definite intelligence and consciousness, as we have seen in a number of examples. As have been emphasized several times in this site, however, this consciousness and intelligence are not actually their own.

God refers to the bee in one verse, "Your Lord revealed to the bees . . ." (Surat an-Nahl: 68), revealing that everything these creatures do, including their conscious behavior, comes about by His inspiration and revelation.

91. Edward O.Wilson, The Insect Societies, p.96
92. Mark L. Winston, The Biology of the Honey Bee, p.51
93. Thomas A.Sebeok, Animal Communication, p.225.
94. Karl von Frisch, Aus Dem Leben Der Bienen, p.59
95. Thomas A.Sebeok, Animal Communication, p.237
96. Karl von Frisch, Aus Dem Leben Der Bienen, p.61
97. Peter J.B. Slater, The Encyclopedia of Animal Behaviour, Facts on File Publications, New York, p.120
98. Karl von Frisch, Aus Dem Leben Der Bienen, p.61
99. Thomas Seeley, “Measurement of Nest Cavity Volume by the Honey Bee,” Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, Vol. 2, No. 2, June 1977, pp. 201-227
100. Edward O.Wilson, The Insect Societies, p.306
101. Karl von Frisch, Animal Architecture, p.84
102. Ernst Neufert, NEUFERT, trans. Abdullah Erkan, Guven Publishing, 30th edition, 1983, p.534
103. Edward O.Wilson, The Insect Societies, p.230
104. The New Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol.21, 15th edition, 1991, p.663
105. Karl von Frisch, Tanzsprache und Orientierung der Bienen, Universitat München, Springer Verlag, 1965, p.269
106. Thomas A. Sebeok, Animal Communication, pp.237-238.
107. Edward O.Wilson, The Insect Societies, p.238
108. Karl von Frisch, Aus Dem Leben Der Bienen, p.62
109. Edward O.Wilson, The Insect Societies, p.225
110. Karl von Frisch, Aus Dem Leben Der Bienen, p.62