Bee swarms

Categories: All about bees, Bee hive keeping, How to keep bees |

Swarming is the output of the part of bees with the queen bee from a hive, it is historically determined model of reproduction and resettlement of bee colonies in the wild. The bees always bred by this way. It was important to preserve the species.

Bee swarms (1)

Before swarming there is an increased proliferation of worker bees, drones and queens, without which the family can not swarm.

When there is a warm weather and a good honey flow the number of bees in the hive is growing. Good bee queen lays every day 1,500 or more eggs, the number of working young bees in the family – 35-40 thousand or more. In the absence of a good harvest many different age groups of bees do not have work, their ability to live decreases and there is an instinct of swarming. Of course, the hereditary instinct of reproduction, an extension of the kind plays the important role .

In our time, swarming, as a way of reproduction, is not justified, as it leads to a deterioration of hereditary qualities of bees and reduces their productivity. However, in many cases, despite the best efforts of the beekeeper, some families  swarm, but you can increase the apiary, catching them. 

Bee swarms (5)

Signs of swarming 

A sure sign of symptoms of swarming are built up bowls – the base for queen cells. The old queen lays in a certain period fertilized eggs in these bowls (bees makes it), bees feed abundantly hatched larvae with royal jelly (so that the larvae swim in jelly, which occupies half of the cell) and with the development of the larvae they build bowls, turning them in the queen cells. Bees finish feeding the queen with jelly (it begins to take the honey out of the cells), and therefore egg laying decreases.

When the part of queen cells is sealed, the family is ready to swarm.

Preparing to swarm, bee colony stops building combs, dramatically reduces the collection of nectar and pollen. Bees breed less larvae, so there is a huge amount of capped brood that does not require significant care and feeding, so with this brood maternal family after leaving of 1st swarm (with old queen) is quickly restored.

There is more and more bees without work in the swarming family. At this time, there are inactive hanging bees in the hive (hanging bees outside the hive during hot weather and shortage of honey harvest usually have no connection with the swarming).

Scout bees stop searching for new food sources and try to find the home to settle a new family. Because of this collection of nectar is markedly reduced or even stopped.

Reduction of the feed leads to the discontinuation of wax selection and also bees stop to build combs (it is a characteristic feature of the family, which is preparing to swarm).

Once the movement of bees around the notch stops, you can check the upper honey bodies and find that all the corners are occupied by bees. Bees fill goiters with honey and look fat.

Common overflights in the evening (4-5 pm) suggest that the family is ready to swarm. 

Bee swarms (3)

Swarm queen cells

Queen cells, built up during the swarming state, are called swarm queen cells, unlike sinus queen cells, built for a new queen. 

Pre-swarm queen’s egg laying decreasing

Queen also prepares to swarm. Reducing of egg productivity leads to very important consequences. The live weight of the queen is reduced. Due to the sharp decline of her ovaries the air sacs in the abdomen are straightened, and it restores the ability to fly (it cannot fly during the egg laying), and so it can leave the hive with a swarm. 

The influence of age of a queen on the preparation of the family to swarm

Families with older queens are more inclined to swarm, families with young queens, derived in the same summer, usually do not swarm. Young queens increase the egg laying gradually, the old queens, on the contrary, rapidly develop oviposition, but also quickly stop it. Violation of the ratio between the number of bees in a family with the number of brood occurs much faster, causing an earlier tendency to swarm. Knowing this, beekeepers try to replace old queen in 1-2 years.

However, the change of the queen may also be an incentive for swarming. It can be observed in the middle of summer, during the small amount of flowering honey plants, ie there is a lot of bees without work –  young queen may fly with a swarm within the first 2-3 weeks after replacing.

Time and date of swarming

Swarming in some areas continues from 2 to 6 weeks. At this time the family has the largest number of brood cells and young bees. For example, in the areas of cultivation of buckwheat bees swarm in May or June, during the abundant fruit trees and clover nectar collection, and then in August or September. If there is the autumn honey harvest, bees swarm also in the autumn. If the later honey harvest begins even before the the first one, the swarming period is lengthy.

Weak families usually swarm later, because they do not have enough bees in the spring. 

Artificial removal of swarm queen cells

Swarming occurs rarely after the honey harvest. If the family does not swarm before its end, the bees often destroy queen cells right after it. Artificial removal of queen cells does not prevent swarming. If you remove the queen cells, but bees are going to swarm, they  immediately rebuilt new queen cells. 

Dependence of swarming on the orientation of hive

Bees, living in hives with northern orientation swarm more seldom as they delay the spring flights, delay spring development, and the family comes later to the stage of full maturity. However, families with northern orientation are much less productive. 

Output of the first swarm from the hive

After the queen lays eggs in all swarm bowls, swarm is ready to go. The first swarm leaves the family after sealing one or more queen cells (on the 9th day after laying eggs in the cells cups). In hot weather the swarm can go before sealing queen cells (Italian bee).

In the morning of a swarming day you can see unusual activity – bees randomly scurry back and forth, take off from the hive, do a little flyby and again return to the hive. There are steady streams, moving along the walls and the bottom of the hive, and then after the signal of bees scouts they fill goiters with honey and rush to the notch. This happens on a warm sunny day, usually between 10 am and 2 pm  (in hot weather swarming ends at noon). Swarm flies away with the old queen (it comes out when most of the bees have already risen into the air).

Only bad weather can delay the swarming for 2-3 days.

During swarming the family is divided into two approximately equal parts. Almost all age groups, except the youngest who can not fly and the very old (they sometimes fly out of the hive at the time of swarming, but later return), move with a swarm. Approximately 80% of the total number of bees coming out with a swarm are working individuals under the age of 24 days. Drones can also join the swarm (the amount varies depending on the time of the day: sometimes there is 7% of them, sometimes there is no drones at all).

A lot of adult bees, a large number of bees in cells and some not yet born queens.

Moving out of the hive lasts 3-5 minutes, after which the hive calms down, the noise dies down and you can see only some bees workers. 

Sometimes a queen does not go out with a swarm. It can be for different reasons (for example, it accidentally lost or just could not get out of the hive). Swarms of bees, not finding the queen, go back to their hive or fly to other families, or join another swarm, having a queen.

Swarm bunch

Swarms of bees, making intense sounds, swirl around the hive, and after a while, sit in small groups on the branches of trees or on the fence (usually in front of the hive and less behind it). As soon as the queen joins the group of bees, they form a bunch, the outer part of which has a dense shell of several layers of the bees. Queen is located inside the newly formed cluster.

Height of the swarm location depends on the age and condition of the queen. Sometimes swarms with weak queens land and crawl into holes. Sometimes, but rarely, return to their hive in wet weather, and just after swarming, while they have not yet formed a bunch.

The search for new home

Even in the period of preparation to swarm scout bees look for home for the swarm. When swarm is on the tree, scout bees are on the surface of bunch. They perform dances to indicate the direction of the new housing and the distance to it. If there are multiple dwellings, swarm determines which housing is better by dancing activity . The scout bees, whose offer was not accepted, gradually slowing their dances, and if a swarm makes a decision, they stop dancing.

Due to the fact that there can be several options and swarm can not immediately make a decision, the bees can hang on the tree for several hours, or even during a day.

A swarm very rarely flies without previously found place to live. In this case, it usually flies away for tens of kilometers (25-45 miles) from the hive, and can not find its way back. 

New home of the swarm

Usually swarm moves after 2-3 hours (sometimes a day) and flies to a new location. At first bees built new cells in the new home, and then the queen starts to lay eggs, bees carry nectar and pollen, raise brood, and the family begins its normal functioning. Under favorable conditions, it collects feed stocks for successful wintering. 

Catching the swarm

In the initial phase you can check the output of the swarm and try to grasp the queen. Planted in the box and placed nearby, it attracts the swarm of bees.

If you failed to grasp the queen, it is necessary to wait until the swarm goes out. You come to the hanging on the tree swarm, you put the trap under the swarm and make a sharp blow to the branch where the bees sit. Pick falling in the grass bees with a wooden spoon. Hang the trap for some time (15-30 minutes) near the place, so that the bees that were flying, get into it.

Then put the trap to a cold cellar or place in the apiary in heavily shaded area.

If swarm sits on a high branch, use the pole with a hook on the end, with the attached bag of the trap. Capture the branch with the hook and strongly shake.

You can not shake off the swarm from the trunk of a tree or a fence. In this case, the bees are heavily sprayed with water and collected with ladle or cup.

If the bees begin to enter the trap by themselves, then the queen is already inside. Then you can not collect the bees, and just put the trap so that the bees can easily enter. After 15 – 20 minutes all the bees will be in the trap. 


The simplest device is a swarm-catcher. Hoop with diameter of about 50 cm (12”) is made of flat steel. The ends of the hoop are attached to a pole 3 m(10′). Sew a bag to a hoop. Put it under the club of bees. Separate the club by moving a hoop and the bees fall into the bag. Then lead the hoop to a vertical position, so the bees do not come out of the bag.

Sometimes you have to keep the catcher high in the air to collect the flying bees, which soon will form a club on the outside of the bag. Since the bag is made of muslin, the bees in it have enough air. To remove the bees, the bag is turned inside out.

Instead, you can use the pole with the length of 3.5-4.5 m (12′) with a fork at the end. Tie the basket to the fork. Basket is lifted until swarm is within it.  Make sudden jolt and shake swarm from the branch, quickly lower the basket and untie it from the pole. Pour the swarm in front of the hive. If a certain number of bees fly away to the same place, the operation is repeated. 

There is another model of swarm catcher. It is made from a strip of plywood 100 cm (35”) long and 20-25 cm (10”) wide. Bent it arcuately (previously steamed), one end is folded to form a flat bottom. Sealing the edges of the strip, sew it behind with wire mesh, reinforcing front with canvas curtain, and attach to the top rope with a hook. Also you need a wooden spoon or ladle.

Grafts, baits and traps

The time necessary to collect a swarm depends on where it is. If there are no trees nearby, or, conversely, the trees are very high, you can put a lure or grafts (places for the swarm). They are made from flexible branches or from a piece of bark of a thick tree trunk and are attached to to columns with the height of 2-2.5 m. If the branches are attached movably, it will be easy to catch a swarm.

Graft can be made from a piece of timber-slab about 30×45 cm (12*20”), grated with mint and wax, with pieces of combs, attached to the bottom.

To attract bees you can insert one frame with brood or empty cells.

Swarm trap is a usual plywood box for 5-6 nesting framework. Put honeycombs, cover with lap with propolis. Set a trap at the time of departure of the swarm at an altitude of 1-2 m. 

Output of the second and subsequent swarms, “singing” queens

After output the swarm with fertile queen there are sealed and open queen cells, part of the former family of bees and many capped brood. If there is still swarming mood in the family, on the 9th day after the output from the cell of young barren queen the second swarm can go out.

But the day before its output you can hear “singing” queens. It is the roll call of the released queen with those that are still there (the bees do not allow queen to leave the queen cells and queens make small holes in the lid of queen cells, protrude the proboscis and get their food). The first queen walks the honeycombs and occasionally emits subtle lingering sounds that are clearly audible in calm weather even at a distance of 1-2 m (5′) from the hive. The queens, which are in the queen cells (their sound somewhat muffled by the walls of the cells). According to this “singing” it  is easy to determine that the next day the second swarm will go out.

Second swarms are less sensitive to the weather than the first, and sometimes even fly out in strong winds, variable cloud cover, etc. Second swarms are not gathered as fast as the first, because of the lightness and high mobility of the barren queens. In such cases, a swarm, assembled, makes a characteristic noise, by which you can determine the presence of several queens. Extra queen bees are killed, and a swarm calms down.

After 3 days the third swarm can depart with one or more barren queens. Sometimes the family can release the fourth and subsequent swarms. These swarms are usually small. Just like before output of the second swarm you can hear the “singing” of queens. 

Bee swarms (4)

Simultaneous output of two swarms

This happens when the first swarm departure is delayed due to bad weather for the time until the appearance of young queen releases. In this case, both swarms fly out together. This happens even when before or during swarming old queen dies. Then the bees, even if they already departed, return again to the hive and wait output of the young queen. Both swarms fly with the barren queens. Fertile queen stays in the nest. 

Hungry swarm

A hungry swarm left the nest due to starvation, disease, or damage by mice. The structure of the swarm is the queen and bees. Hungry swarm leaves the hive no food supplies, no brood and no bees. 

Catching swarm

Caught swarm is weighed and kept in the cellar till the evening. Beehive, prepared for the swarm, must be clean, dry, not overheated in the sun, have no odors. Put frames with prepared cells and honeycombs and 1-2 frames with honey and bee bread.

For 1 kg of bees you should put 4 frames.

In the middle of the hive you should leave room for 1-2 frames of open brood, which is taken from another hive and put in the hive before swarm.

Warm the hive on the sides and top.

At the end of the day you put a wide board to the notch and pour the bees near the tap hole. If you put the swarm on the brood, it usually does not leave this hive.

When the first incoming bees open scent gland and distribute attractive smell, the other bees come in without interference from the beekeeper. To expedite the process, you can just spray them with water. After 30 minutes, take up a pitched board and adjust the width of the hole. The swarm immediately starts to build a nest.

It is better to settle the swarm after there is no flights in the apiary. During the night the bees get use to its new location and begin the construction of the nest, and in the morning begin normal work in the field. If you settle the swarm too early, it may leave the hive and even fly on the tree.

Having sufficient amount of honey, bees immediately begin to rebuild cells and after some time, the family begins to live its normal life.

To ensure peace and the temperature, do not look in the hive during the first 2-3 days. If there is bad weather or there is no honey flow, give them the 1.5-2 liters of feed in 2-3 days. If the bad weather continues, feeding is repeated several times.

After 5-6 days test the strength of the swarm and quality of the nest, and if necessary – expand the nest. Weaker swarm can be strengthened with 1-2 honeycombs with capped brood (without bees). At the same time, you can replace the queen, as a swarm leaves often with the old queen.

Check the mother hive the same or next day, remove queen cells and put the queen.

If you have not queens, you can leave the best queen cells, check it after 6-7 days, and after 8-12 days – check the new larvae

Bee swarms (2)

Combined swarms

You can combine 2-3 insufficiently strong swarms. Catch queens and place in a cell. Cell with the best queen is placed between the frames, and the remaining cells with queens are placed under the lap on the frame. The next day the extra queens are placed in nucleus and choose a favorite queen. If you remove the extra queens remove immediately after catching the swarm, some of the combined swarms can fly off. 

Using a dividing grille to isolate a queen

To isolate the queen in the hive or catch it in swarms, where may be several queens, use dividing bars. It is nailed to the supers and you can pour the bees on it. Bees go to the frames,  but queen and drones remain. You catch queens and put them into the cells.  Put one queen to the swarm. 

The power and productivity of the swarm

The power of the swarm is determined depending on the season: May swarm weighing 1.5-2 kg is good (it can develop into a normal family, provide yourself with food and give the honey). A month later, a swarm of this weight is considered weak and not able for the formation of an independent family. In June a good swarm weighs 3-4 kg.

Early swarms are the most productive (going out not later than 40-45 days before the main harvest – up to that time, they have time to develop a strong family and fill all the frames), and also strong late swarms, appeared before the main harvest.

Appeared in the medium term swarms (10 to 15 days before the main harvest) do not have time to raise forces, so the output of swarms at this time is extremely undesirable. If you get a swarm in these dates, then it should be used for building a large number of cells, and then, before the harvest, be connected to the parent family. 

If swarm goes out just before the harvest or during it

In this case you move the parent hive with a family to the other end of the apiary and on the vacant place put an empty hive and put a swarm there. All flying bees move from the parent family to the swarm, and you get a strong energetic family, working well during a honey flow. 

Using a weak swarm

Sometimes beekeepers return a weak swarm immediately after the output, and destroy all the queen cells. However, do not do it, because the family can again lay queen cells and swarm again. If there is no re-swarming, the bees will still work sluggishly. You should not return it immediately, but after the prior using it for building combs and brood rearing. So the weak swarm is temporarily placed in a hive with maternal family. And you should make a separate entrance, facing back. You should make the swarm work hard on building combs, regularly taking out the part of framework and substituting them with the rudiments of the new framework and honeycombs. For 2 weeks they can build 20 frames.

While bees build combs, the queen will appear and be fertilized. Then both families are combined and you get a strong family, having a young queen and not swarming. 

Restoring the balance in the maternal family

The output of swarms weakens maternal family (depending on the state of the family swarming may stop after one, two, sometimes three swarms). In such cases, the bees gnaw the cells with the queens, and young queen kill both developed and underdeveloped queens competitors. Destroying the extra queen cells, the bees begin to fly vigorously to take the nectar, and after the queen mating the family starts growing brood in the hive and balance is restored.

Share Button

Bee swarms

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *