How to Catch a Wild Bee Swarm: 12 Important Things to Know

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Beekeeping is an amazing experience that can constantly be expanded upon. If you think that you need to buy new package bees each time you want to expand your apiary, thankfully you are incorrect. Let me tell you about the magic that is found in catching a wild bee swarm! 

Bee Swarm on a Trampoline

Why Should You Catch a Wild Bee Swarm

Catching a wild bee swarm is a very cool process! Relocating a swarm to your bee yard will add free bees to your apiary and it will bring lots of yummy local honey to your family! 

It is also better for you and for the bees to add local honeybees instead of bees purchased from another state.

If you find a honeybee swarm on your property and you are not a beekeeper, contact your local beekeeper association or post on social media asking for someone to re-home them. There are more beekeepers around than you realize.

**Fun beekeeping video at the end of this post.

12 Things to Know Before You Catch a Wild Bee Swarm

If you want to catch a wild bee swarm of your own, there are some things that you should know…

1) What is a bee swarm?

Any grouping of bees is often referred to as a swarm, but this is incorrect. A swarm is a group of bees that have split off from their original “mother colony”. 

In the early Spring if the honeybee colony is healthy and growing, the queen bee leaves the hive with a large percentage of the worker bees to find a new place to call home.

This helps to prevent overcrowding and it allows for the bees to continue growing in number.

Wild Bee Swarm on Bird Feeder | How to Catch a Wild Bee Swarm: 12 Important Things to Know

When the colony lands, they form a swarm cluster. They will stay in this cluster for a short period of time before moving on to a new home.

2) Why do honeybees swarm?

If you want to catch a wild swarm and properly relocate it, then you need to understand what is happening within the swarm. Bees swarm when a hive has become so overpopulated that about half of the colony must leave. 

The worker bees create new queen cells and the existing queen lays eggs into these cells. They do this so that the group left behind will have a queen to lead them when the current queen leaves with the swarm.

Bee Swarm on Fence Post | How to Catch a Wild Bee Swarm: 12 Important Things to Know

After most of the worker bees have overfilled themselves with honey and the queen eggs are laid, the queen will leave with a large portion of the worker bees. The entire swarm stays as close to the queen as possible.

When she needs a break from flying, they all land on a tree branch, on a fence post, a trampoline, or whatever seems suitable at the time. While they rest, scout bees (the real estate agents of the colony) move out in search of a new home.

3) How to stay safe when catching a wild bee swarm

When the honeybees are in a swarm cluster, they aren’t looking to sting you because they don’t have a home to protect.

However, if you plan to get close enough for them to feel threatened then you will definitely want to take some safety precautions.

You will need to be sure to wear your Bee Suit when you catch a wild bee swarm.

That sounds like pretty standard information, but you would be surprised at the number of beekeepers who think they are buddies with the bees and go in without so much as a pair of gloves. Bad idea.

DO NOT get over confident here with your protective gear. Just because the bees are in real estate mode instead of protective mode doesn’t ensure that they won’t sting you when you get close to the queen.

Better safe than sorry.

In this photo, I am wearing a ventilated mesh bee suit from Clearly Sustainable. That company doesn’t seem to be in business anymore so I have linked a similar suit.

If you need a bee suit quickly, this Natural Apiary Ventilated Bee Suit is very similar to mine and it is available on Amazon.

A smoker is also a good idea. Smoking bees is a necessity when you are checking on them while in the hive as it helps to keep them calm. We always have the smoker on hand when we are trying to relocate them.

4) How long do you have to catch a bee swarm?

You don’t have very much time to work with when trying to catch a wild bee swarm.

When the swarm lands to rest, they typically don’t stay for more than a couple of hours. The swarms that we have seen locally have not even stayed around that long.

In fact, this Spring I noticed a swarm on a tree in our yard. I went to the shop, gathered my equipment, put on my bee suit, and turned on my camera so I could show y’all the process and they took off  before I could get them moved.

There are some instances in which the bees will hang out over night or even for a couple of days, but that is not as common.

5) What should you put your wild bee swarm in?

You can use an empty hive box, a nuc box, or a plain cardboard box for this. I sometimes use a hive body when we have one available because we want to disturb them as little as possible.

If we don’t have an extra hive body handy or the swarm is in a hard to reach area, then we use one of the other options. You will need a secure & ventilated lid no matter which box you choose.

**I have used a nuc box recently and that has worked very well for me.

Add some frames with old comb and preferably capped honey into your nuc or hive box. This will entice the bees to stay and give them a snack until they can make more honey for themselves.

If you don’t have any frames with honey, you will need to feed sugar syrup until they are settled.

6) How do you identify the queen bee?

The queen bee will be larger than the worker bees. Her legs and abdomen will be longer and she will typically have a more golden color (though not always). Her abdomen is typically pointed as well.

You may notice bees moving out of her way as she walks across a surface and they might even form a circle around her if she is sitting still.

When bees are in a swarm cluster, it is more difficult to spot this movement so you can look for her based on size and color in the cluster and/or look for her based on size and behavior after you have transferred the cluster to your box.

You can put her in a queen cage to ensure that you don’t lose her or just close up the box after she is identified.

Queen Bee in Wild Bee Swarm

7) How should you move the bees into the nuc or hive body?

There are a few different strategies for this and each one has its own advantages and disadvantages.

The Spray & Shake Method

This method is pretty simple and it works best for bees who have landed on an item that you can pick up such as a branch.

Spray the clumped swarm with a little sugar syrup also known as sugar water. Sugar water doesn’t hurt them, but it makes it difficult for them to fly off for a few minutes.

As soon as you have given them a little mist, shake them off into your box or onto a white sheet, brush them with a bee brush, or pick them up with gloved hands.

Put the lid on the box and move on. The issue with this method is that some bees may fall or fly so you risk losing a good portion of the swarm.

The Scoop & Wait Method

When bees are in a swarm, they surround the queen to protect her. They form a cluster by hanging onto each other’s arms and legs.

I have actually seen them form a “bee bridge” to move the colony into the new hive. This process is called festooning and you can see it illustrated in the image below. This makes the scooping method very effective. 

Carefully scoop the bees from their cluster into the box. As you scoop a handful of bees up, the rest of the swarm stay connected and follow.

It is VITAL here that the queen moves into the box. If the queen stays back then the whole colony will leave the box that you just got them into so they can get to her.

Letting the bees do the work

You can also simply set your hive body with frames near the swarm, put sugar water in and/or on it and wait for the scout bees and queen to start moving in. This is the most hands-off method, but it comes with extra risks.

There is no guarantee that the bees will actually take to the box with this method and you risk losing the entire swarm.

8) What to do with the remaining bees

Some bees will inevitably be left behind. You can usually just leave them be.

They will either find another colony to join or they will die. This isn’t what we want, but it is almost impossible to gather every single bee from a swarm into your transport box. Collecting the majority of the bees is the priority. 

If you live near the location where the swarm was collected, you can go back the next morning. If bees are still hanging around, you can try to lure more of them to your nuc to move them to the colony.

9) How do you transport a honeybee swarm?

After you catch a wild bee swarm, you will need to transport  them to their new location.You need to be sure that your box has some type of ventilation during the transport.

Hive and nuc boxes already have ventilation built in. If you are using another type of box, you can poke small holes in the box, place a mesh piece over the top, or whatever works to keep air flowing to the bees.

The last thing that you want to do is kill the bees that you have just worked to collect. Those girls are super important for our environment and they will give you some pretty sweet honey if you treat them right.

You can transport them in a truck bed or even in a minivan…been there, done that.

Yep…. We hauled bees in that!

10) How do you set up a new beehive?

Once you get them to the new location you need to place them in a permanent hive. This is unless you placed them in a hive body from the start.

A nucleus box is okay to leave them in for a day or so if needed. Just place some frames in it so that they can start building the comb.

If your bees are in something other than a hive body or a nuc box, you will need to transfer them into a hive body. Gently shake or scoop them (only scoop if they are still in a cluster) into the new hive with frames.

This hive needs to stay closed for 1-2 days so they forget about the old home on the fence post or bird feeder. I forgot to do this once and the bees were gone the next morning. 

After that time, you can open the entrance hole on the hive. Give them a little sugar water to get them started and then watch them as they start to pollinate your yard, garden, and everything else within a 2-5 miles radius.

Place a queen excluder on top of the hive body when you add a super on top. This will keep the queen from laying eggs in with the honey stores.

11) When should you check on a new honeybee colony?

Wait at least one week to open your new hive. This gives the bees a chance to get used to their new location and to build more comb and start making honey.

It is a good idea to mix up some sugar water in a mason jar with a DIY drip lid for them or make sugar cakes to feed them until they get settled. You can also feed them the same sugar water and/or sugar cakes throughout the winter.

12) How to keep records on your new bee colony

Once you have your new honeybee colony settled, you will need to add them to your apiary records. I like to use this honeybee record book to stay on top of all of my honeybee info.

>>More Beekeeping Resources<<

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19 Comments

  1. Excellent article! Thank you so much for joining us at The Homesteaders Hop. How to see you again this week.

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