Bee swarms – How to deal with them

009 Shaking Bees in Hive

What is a Bee Swarm?

It’s a natural phenomenon….
The reason that BEES swarm is that it is part of their instinct to spread their genetic line, so as to ensure their survival as a species. Over the ‘Bee Season’ numbers in the hive increase from about 20,000 to around 60,000….overcrowding and heat can trigger ‘the swarm instinct’.

As a Beekeeper….what are the signs your Bees give you?

  • The Bees will raise queen cells
  • Your hive will suddenly have little activity ( they’ve left already ! )

Controversy…in Beekeeping circles it has been discussed that Bees swarm because the Beekeeper is not managing their hive properly!

Other factors….hive may bee unwell or could be that the hive-boxes are damp or mouldy or located in a site which the Bees decide is unsuitable.

BEE Swarm prevention – how?

Obviously prevention should be a priority, ways you can help preventing a swarm is to regularly monitor your hive. Monitoring is required every fortnight throughout the BEE Season. By “monitoring” we mean inspecting the hive, opening up and checking for…

  • Queen cells- are there any?
  • Brood levels – is there enough space? are the brood healthy?
  • Population – how many Bees within the hive? is the hive over-heating? is the hive mouldy?
  • Health of brood and Bees
  • Food – is there pollen? is there enough honey?

How to split a BeehiveHandy hint, Prevention is one thing but you could also capture the swarming instinct by using it to create a new colony…are you brave enough? Check out our How to split a Beehive article

Managing your hive by taking action to prevent swarming:

  • add more boxes
  • add more frames
  • is the hive mouldy or damp?
  • reorganise your hive by moving capped honey up and adding new frames
  • treating as part of an integrated pest management program
  • feed to help encourage wax production and hive morale

What hive equipment will help keep your hive healthy?

  • use meshboards
  • raise hive off the ground

Handy hint, use the results of your inspection to guide you on what you need to do!

Location of Hive – where and why?

BEES need to be warm and dry to remain healthy. The Bees should bee able to ventilate their hive. The hive will not survive in very windy locations. Hives do not thrive under a thick tree canopy (we found this out early on in our beekeeping adventure and lost hives 🙁 ). There should be a nearby water-source.

So we have covered prevention or capturing the swarm instinct, now read below when you actually have a swarm to collect…

How to Collect a Swarm and what you need

Swarm Collection Beekeeping Equipment can include…

  • Light colored Sheet
  • Bee brush
  • Odour eliminator (We use air freshener)
  • Hive box with solid bottom board or solid cardboard box and lids
  • Ties for boxes
  • Ladder
  • Extendable pole
  • Pruner or Loppers, to prune branches
  • Gloves and Suit
  • fine misting water sprayer
  • Emergency Chocolate
  • tape and scissors

  • First Steps – Assess and survey the site and location of the swarm

    Assess the risk- factor… are you confident in the location of the swarm? Can you retrieve it without help or more importantly without injuring yourself. No bee Swarm is worth six months off work or worse?

    Swarm in Full ActionIf the swarm is high in a tree or near or one live power lines you could call the power company or it may be time to walk away to fight another day.

    You can try and and leave a bait or ‘lure’ hive on site, but we have never had a swarm move into one of these.

    If its in a tree at a safe height, before cutting any branches – get permission from the home-owner.

    Handy hint, quote from Paul Brown from ABC “…don’t forget the dramatics…”

    Land-owner considerations
    Speak to land-owner, explain what will happen, wear a fullsuit – onlookers will love it!

    Second Step – Getting the main cluster in a box

    In the centre of the cluster you will generally find the queen, try to locate her, ideally if you can locate her, you need to then get her into the box and all the worker bees will follow her – simple…but she’s great at hiding, sometimes you see her, but more often, you don’t.

    Otherwise deal with the whole cluster.

    Is the cluster on a small branch that can be cut and moved straight into the box? Or will the cluster need to be brushed into the box or can you shake it straight into the box?
    Other ways are to place a sheet under (or on the ground under) the swarm, then shake the swarm into the sheet then place your box on the sheet add some twigs leading to the entrance, ideally the queen will enter the box quickly and the workers will march straight in to the box.
    or is it a non-shakable structure (Like someones car?) use your Bee brush to gently and slowly brush into the box.

    Some people use a vacuum, this needs to be very gentle or you will damage the Bees.

    It all depends how accessible the bees are, we aren’t builders so if in a cavity of a roof we advise the home-owner to ask a professional to access.

    You will get better at applying different techniques, the more swarms you come across.

    The Pick Up

    The Bee MarchYou will often have bees flying around when most of the bees have gone into the box, you can just close the box up and head off, if you are confident you have the Queen, leaving the hive on site til nightfall and collect in the evening. By leaving and waiting, this way you will ensure you get all the field and scout bees and not get repeat calls for the stragglers that will congregate at the location of the swarm. Plus the Bees will be cooler and settling-in. Seal the entrance and transport to new site.

    Handy hint, once the swarm has been removed from a branch, spraying the branch or area with air fresher masks the Queens pheromone which stops bees landing there again.


    Always clean up any cut branches that you may have removed, by asking the home-owner where you can place these or take them with you.

    Always thank the home-owner or the person that reported the swarm, and explain why its so important for people to do that. They may call you again next season if the experience is a good one.

    Whats next?

    Once you have collected the swarm you must prepare for the next step – housing your swarm!

  • …ensure you have a proper hive box to transfer the swarm in to !
  • ….a quarantine site would be ideal – so you can wait for them to raise brood from which you can then check for disease and also treat them, before introducing them to your main apiary.

13 thoughts on “Bee swarms – How to deal with them

  1. Avatar photo
    BeekeeperUK says:

    Great post Margaret. Love the addition of the emergency chocolate to the swarm kit – must make sure I add some to my swarm kit bag!

  2. Avatar photo
    Robert says:

    Hi Margaret,

    All good recommendations my process is a bit more lazy I don’t like cutting branches or using ladders if I could avoid it so my tip for getting a swarm that’s hard to reach you will need:
    A brood box with frames and bottom board ready to go and a lid, also a second brood box without any frames ontop of the existing box can make things easier.
    Lemongrass essential oil.
    A Long bamboo pole or poles any neighbor growing bamboo you could obtain a couple of poles from will likely have at least 3 meter high bamboo.
    A bucket.
    A sugarsyrup feeder (baggie feeder recommended) put a very small drop of lemongrass into the sugarsyrup mix as you make it as well unless its already scented with something else.

    Put a single drop of lemongrass oil in the hive to make it welcoming, put another drop into a bucket. Make sure you have the lid off the hive, and I would put the baggie feeder in the hive in advance I probably wouldn’t slit the baggie feeder instead just a few punctures with a needle will do initially especially if your transporting the hive later and the hive wont be hungry since theyve already eaten before swarming.

    Tape the bucket to your pole, make sure the lid is off the hive, have the hive positioned closely underneath the swarm if possible – you might drop the swarm so if that happens you might get lucky and have them drop into the hive!

    Let the swarm settle if the have only just landed carefully put the bucket over the hive try not to have them hit any side of the bucket till you have most of them in the bucket when you’ve got as many bees in the bucket as you feel you can, give the bucket a tap against the branch (or whatever surface the bees were on) to try and knock the bees into the bucket move carefully yet quickly tipping the bees onto the open hive.

    This is where having the second empty brood box is handy, it makes it easy to place the bees into the hive as there is plenty of space so later you can put the lid on when your ready.

    Repeat the bucket scoop with the bees that remain, if there isn’t many clustered give it a few minutes to let the flying bees settle then try again once you have most of the bees tipped into the bucket don’t worry about the stragglers chances are if you got the queen the rest will make their own way into the hive.

    You can now put the lid on the hive, come back later and check on them if you put the second empty brood box on this can likely be removed, and the bees shaken into the remaining box with frames, and the lid put on, sealed for transport if required.

    If transporting I recommend not taping the whole hive up they will get very hot in a short amount of time instead have at least a few centimeters of mesh fabric taped to the entrance or just use a mesh board so there is air for the hive to breath.

    Make sure to transport the hive immediately to the new site don’t delay, I would also recommend leaving a second unused hive (don’t forget the lemongrass) if you’ve got supplies not far away from the swarms new hive this way if you ended up with more than one queen (always possible) then if they swarm again the scout bees might just pick your vacant hive for the secondary swarm to move into.

    Some might not agree with the sugar syrup but I believe that along with the lemongrass scent lessens the chances of the new swarm from rejecting the hive and re-swarming to a location they consider better.

    • Avatar photo
      Margaret Groot says:

      Hi Robert, thanks for your comments, I especially like the idea of that once the swarm you have collected is in its apiary, placing a second swarm lure not too far away, is a great idea…we had re-swarming this season from collected swarms who we obviously missed the second virgin queen and having a hive nearby is a great idea, with a couple of swarms I ended-up having to hose shower the swarm to stop them going too far, it worked on both occasions. Thanks again for your comments Robert, its always good to hear how others handle things : ) and its useful to share… Regards, Margaret

  3. Avatar photo
    Dan says:

    Hi I’m wondering if you have any advice on secondary swarming? My hive swarmed on the 23rd I failed that day to catch it. I went to check the hive on the next day and found the old qween with a a small number of bees under the main hive…. I placed her in a box with a frame if brood and honey not knowing what else to do…. I then checked the main hive and it still seems chock full of bees. It has 2 brood boxes and a honey super, I added another super that day. Knowing I would be away for Xmas day I set up two swarm traps in trees nearby and intend on going back today or tomorrow to check things… Any advice in what to do with the original hive would be most appreciated. I understand It may cast secondary swarms so I’m worried about missing all the bees. I’m not confident I’ve done the rightvthing with the old Queen either but it was the best I could think of on the day. Would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you

    • Avatar photo
      Gary Fawcett says:

      Hi Dan,

      So you caught the old Queen under the hive box? Did she return with the swarm then?

      It sounds like you did the right thing, giving her a new box.

      Check that the old hive as new Queen cells now, and leave the old Queen and bees to build up. Make sure you reduce the entrance on the old Queen hive to avoid robbing from the stronger hive.

      Hopefully the old hive that lost the Queen will raise a new one in the next four weeks.

      Hmmm best advice is to split hives before the bees do it for you, but I understand sometimes life gets in the way. It does sound like you are doing all the right things with the swarm.

      Feel free to give us a call if you want to talk it over 09 810 9965.

      Thanks for the message.

      Gary Fawcett

  4. Avatar photo
    Betty says:

    I would like to know how to settle a swarm, the old fashion way that I remember is to get something to beat on, these bee are different is there another way thank you

    • Avatar photo
      Margaret Groot says:

      Hi Betty, thanks and what a great question. I assume this is while they are swarming ? Settling a swarm can be as simple as having a fine-mist spray bottle of water. The method is that you spray in to the air and this usually makes them all go to the cluster or if they are moving in to the swarm-box it does keep them from flying excessively. Our method is to get the cluster – which should have the queen in – into the swarm-box then leave them to get themselves sorted and pick them up after sunset. Other folks capture the queen in a queen cage and place her in the swarm box, which should stop them from leaving. If its after you have collected them and placed them at their new site, you can leave the entrance closed for a few hours after the sunrise but this is not advised if you have a solid-bottom board. Bottom line is that if they don’t stay, there is little to be done. All the best Betty and thanks again for your question. Regards, Margaret

  5. Avatar photo
    Palmer Schwarzkopf says:

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  6. Avatar photo
    shaneo says:

    I would like to relocate 2 hives within my own 1 acre property. I relaise the fist site I chose is too wet so I want to move them approx 500 meters to a sunnier spot………do i take them right away from the property for few weeks and then relocate back to my new sunny spot..or is there a w y i can move them straight to the new site

    • Avatar photo
      Margaret Groot says:

      Hi There, The way we move hives a short distance is by closing the entrance at night when all the girls are home by placing a fine aluminium mesh across the entrance this is so there is still airflow and the girls don’t overheat. Then we move them to the new location, we place an obstruction – say a tree branch quite thick – over the entrance so the bees will have to walk through it then leave the entrance closed until later in the morning. then partly remove the mesh to create a small access out. The Bees will climb through the “obstructions” and start to reorientate. It will take about 4 to 5 days for them to fully reorientate so leaving the entrance obstructed through this time is important. We always check that the Bees can get out through and that no Bees get trapped at the entrance as well. We mainly use our robbing-screens all year so this helps us with moving Bees as well. Here is a link to an article we wrote about moving hives a small distance : Thanks all the best with the move. Regards, Margaret and Gary …its the kiwimana buzz…

  7. Avatar photo
    shaneo says:

    Is there a preferred time of year to make the move more successful..Ie should i do it now(july) or wait. I also wondered if moving the hives during say a 3 day rainy period may help keep the girls at home?

    • Avatar photo
      Margaret Groot says:

      …generally any time of year is okay, as stated before bees generate a lot of heat so they must have some air flow. Rainy weather is good but you still need to have the obstructions set up when in the new location

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