The sight of a honeybee swarm is truly an incredible one. Thousands of honeybees, heavy with the weight of the nectar they carry, decide together that they must leave their current hive/home to find a new one. Though seeing a swarm can bring uneasiness to some, bees that are swarming are actually in their most docile state and they’re generally unable to sting because they’re full of nectar.  

A honeybee swarm is a natural part of bee colony reproduction. It shows that the colony is large and healthy. But to a beekeeper, the possibility of a hive swarming is one that we’d rather avoid when possible as the colony will take roughly half of the bees and their current queen along with them if they do swarm.  

The Reasons a Colony May Swarm

A colony of bees can decide at any point that their current hive (or tree, perhaps, if they are wild bees) is no longer sufficient to meet their needs.   

This can happen for many reasons, but what is it they really need?   

Bees require the resources needed to support a growing colony and the space in which to rear brood and store those resources they carefully gathered.   

In many cases, especially as the weather warms up and nectar begins to flow, bees may feel the need to swarm.  

Here are some reasons a hive may swarm:  

  • Overcrowding and limited space is an important factor
  • Queen pheromones – or lack of them, that is 
  • Availability of abundant resources but lack of storage space
  • Race of bees – some bees have a natural tendency to swarm 

Methods of Swarm Prevention

Preventing a swarm doesn’t have to be difficult, there are a few ways that you can keep up with your colonies to help discourage their interest in swarming. Below you’ll find a few more details about options for preventing swarms. 

Managing Hive Capacity

Many beekeepers complete frequent inspections (roughly every 2 weeks or so) to ensure they have a good idea of what’s going on inside the hive, and to take stock of the resources and space the bees may need.

As a general rule of thumb, when a box is 70% full, and no other empty boxes are available in the hive, consider adding another box for your bees to build comb in which they can either store honey or raise brood in.

Adding space to your beehive can make a huge difference in reducing the colony’s need to swarm. If they feel that they have enough space to manage their storage needs and regulate the heat and ventilation, they are more likely to stay in that hive and not swarm.

Controlling the Hive’s Entrance

Especially during warmer weather, there will be a lot of activity going on in the hive and many foragers coming and going all at once. To help the bees feel like they have a bit more space to get in and out, you can adjust the size of the opening they use to enter and exit.

Once the nectar flow starts, open the reducer to the larger sized opening (many reducers have multiple size entrance options) or remove the reducer completely. This will also assist bees in adding airflow and ventilation to the hive.

Keeping Bees Busy

As the term “busy as a bee” implies, bees live to work and stay busy working for the good of the colony. To keep your bees busy, replace frames in the hive with new empty ones, either with a sheet of foundation included or bare top bars. Bees will quickly become interested in building out comb, especially when there are many young nurse bees present as one of their jobs is to build comb.

If you’re too late and your bees have already swarmed, then what?  

Keep an eye out for an upcoming Snippet where we’ll go over the options you have if your hive does swarm.   

To learn more about swarms and their prevention, 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!