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Honey Bee Swarms

Swarming Honey BeesSwarming is the natural mode of reproduction for a honey bee colony in spring.  Swarming is induced as bees increase their population size and require more space.  A swarm usually consists of the old queen (sometimes a new one) and 50 to 60% of the worker bees in the swarming colony.  Workers preparing to swarm engorge themselves on honey and force the old queen out of the hive. Changing weather conditions from cool/rainy to warm/sunny seem to stimulate the natural urge of bees to swarm.

Most swarms leave the colony in good weather between 10AM and 2PM, fly to a nearby tree or bush and land on a limb.  Immediately after landing and for the next 24 to 36 hours, the bees show very docile temperament; they are interested in swarming, not in defending their colony.  Scout bees come out of the cluster of the swarm and search the local area for a protected location for the colony.  The scout bees communicate the information to the swarm and a "decision" is made, whereupon the bees leave the branch and proceed to their new location.

After arriving at the new location (rarely if the swarming bees have failed to find a location), the bees start to build wax comb and the queen lays eggs to start a new brood nest.  After brood production commences, the new colony will become defensive of their new home. UT Extension has a publication “Swarming Honey Bees: What Should Be Done” that is designed to inform the homeowner on how to deal with a swarm of honey bees. Beekeepers willing to collect swarms are placed on the Swarm Retrieval List and arranged by their home county.

Prepare First:

Anticipate the call by getting a container to hold the swarm, sugar syrup in a squirt bottle, smoker, fuel and matches, a strap to hold lid on container, bee veil and a ladder. When the person calls announcing they need someone to retrieve a swarm, you should ask questions to assure you better success.

 Questions to ask about swarms:

  • Are these really honey bees? Ask them what the “cluster looks like”. You do not want yellowjackets or hornets.
  • Name, address and phone number of homeowner (including work or someone that will be on site).
  • Directions of how to find the location of swarm, including where on the property.
  • How long have the bees been there?
  • How high off the ground are they (will a ladder be need?
  • How big is the swarm (football size, etc.)?
  • Ask them if it’s alright if you snip a branch of the tree or bush holding the swarm.

Explain to the homeowner:

Usually a swarm will move from the original location within 24 to 48 hours, therefore, if a beekeeper is not available to collect the bees from a homeowner's property, the bees will normally leave without causing a problem.  You should explain to the homeowner what is happening and tell them not to disturb the swarm unless they know what to do with it.

How? - This is the Fun Part

I prefer to place the whole cluster of bees in an empty hive body or nucleus (smaller version) including the queen.  This way I can add frames to this “colony” and not need to shift the bees into a hive later.  Some beekeepers like to lay the cluster down on a sheet in front of the hive and let the bees walk into the hive on their own. This is your choice.

I mist the hanging cluster of bees and the inside surfaces of the hive body and frames (What I can fit in with the swarm) with 50% sugar:water syrup.

If the bees are clustered on a low branch, I like to snip it and carefully lower branch and bees into the hive. Then add frames to the box as bees move up on the sides and onto frame surfaces.

Carefully look on the branch for a missed queen and scoop any clusters gently into the box.

Crack the lid on the box and allow stragglers to find the new colony.

You may need to leave the new colony in this location overnight if many bees are flying around.  In other situations everything happens quickly and you can put them in and leave within a few minutes. This may depend in part, on how long the swarm has been in this location.

Attach the top and place window screen in the entrance with staples to keep bees inside. Strap the unit together and move to the new location.