During & After a Honeybee Swarm

Though it’s a rare and truly beautiful sight, most beekeepers would prefer not to see half of their strongest colony and their successful queen leave their bee yard if that colony has decided to swarm.  

A honeybee swarm is indeed a sign that your bees are healthy and expanding rapidly, too rapidly for the space they currently inhabit. If you can catch it in time, you may be able to prevent the swarm from happening, as we touched on in another PerfectBee Snippet, “Why Honeybees Swarm” 

But what if it’s too late? What are your options once a honeybee colony starts the swarming process?  

What to Do if Your Colony Swarms

If you see signs that a swarm is imminent, like queen cells being built on the bottom of a frame, it may be too late to prevent the swarm from happening.  

If that’s the case, your options are limited, but there are a couple available to you if you move fast, and all hope is not necessarily lost.  

Your choices are: 

  1. Let the swarm happen and hope the bees find a sufficient new home (either back in your bee yard or somewhere else) or… 
  1. Actively try to capture and re-hive the colony in your apiary. 
  1. If you can catch your queen before the swarm takes off, you may be able to prevent the swarm by removing her and separating her into a different box. Once the swarm fever has dissipated, you can later reunite her with the colony.  
  • *Note*: If you remove the queen before the swarm takes off to try to prevent the swarm from continuing, you will need to remove ALL queen cells from within the hive.  

Catching a Swarm

If your colony has swarmed and left their beehive, but they are still close by searching for a new home, you may be able to capture the swarm and hive it into a new beehive.  

To capture a swarm, it helps to have a few things on hand:  

  • A box that bees can use as their new (temporary) home – Either a nuc box or single hive body with a top cover and bottom board can be used. Ensure they are filled with frames, preferably those that have some drawn comb to entice the bees with the beeswax scent). 
  • Swarms typically look for a new home that’s higher up than ground level, they often land high in trees. Placing your swarm catch box up high, possibly even in the crook of some tree branches, can help a swarm locate the box easier 
  • If your hive hasn’t swarmed yet, but swarm season is approaching, set the trap up ahead of the swarm whenever possible – scout bees will explore their options before the swarm officially occurs.
  • A ladder & a ratchet strap – As mentioned above, swarms often land in trees, so you’ll want a ladder on hand to get the box up high and a strap (or platform) to keep it up in the tree.
  • Protective equipment – Even though swarms are incredibly docile and not likely to sting, it still may be possible. Even when capturing a swarm, staying protected is important.  
  • Swarm Catch Lures – Placing a swarm lure inside of whatever box you are hoping to capture them in can help scout bees become interested in the space available inside your catch box 
  • Swarm Catching Sack – This easy-to-use cloth sack can help you to safely reach and capture honeybee swarms, even in hard-to-reach areas. Easily attach to a broom handle (not included) to safely capture and transfer swarms.
  • Lemongrass Oil – Using lemongrass oil may also work to attract scout bees. Lemongrass mimics many honeybee pheromones and will work in a pinch to lure a swarm into your catch box  
  • A Queen Cage or Catching Tool – When capturing a swarm, it is crucial to ensure the queen is moved safely into the swarm box and/or to their new hive. The remainder of the swarm will follow the queen and her pheromones.  
  • Empty equipment – If you plan to catch a swarm of bees using a nuc box or something smaller than your typical deep hive body, ensure you have empty hive equipment set up and ready. Depending on the size of the swarm and the conditions of nectar/pollen availability, you may need to hive them into a two-deep hive setup very quickly to ensure they have enough room.  

Hiving a Swarm of Honeybees 

Installing a swarm of bees into a new hive is fairly straightforward. If you were able to get the queen separated in a queen cage or catching tool, you can place her inside the new hive and watch as the bees make their way inside to her. You’ll also see other bees start fanning the pheromones around so that everyone can find their way inside and get back to their queen. 

If you weren’t able to separate the queen, you can shake the entire colony of bees into the box, like you would if installing a package of bees. The queen should fall with the remainder of the colony and the same process as above will take place until all bees have marched into their new space.  

A Caution on Catching Swarms NOT from your Apiary! 

As you progress throughout your beekeeping career, especially if you are a part of a local beekeeping club, you may be the one that people think of and call if they see a honeybee swarm. You may even decide to sign up to be added to a “Swarm Catchers” list so that you get contacted to collect possible honeybee swarms.  

Though catching a swarm has the obvious benefit of gaining “Free Bees!”, there are a few things to keep in mind:  

  • Swarms are most likely to occur during a time when you’re already busy with caring for the bees that are already in your bee yard!  
  • Bringing a swarm from an unknown source into your own bee yard has the potential to bring pests (like varroa mites) and possible diseases in with it 
  • Swarms from unknown sources should be quarantined away from your current colonies until you learn the health and temperament of the new colony 
  • Swarms are often high up in trees, ensure you have the necessary equipment on hand (see the above section) and take precautions to carefully capture the swarm 

To learn more about honeybee swarms, their prevention, and what to do if one happens in your bee yard, check out some of our resources at the links below. 

Colony Member Resources 

Member-only Academy Lessons 

In the Colony Forum, many members have had discussions about swarming honeybees. Members, check out the discussion threads below to learn more!