Managing Bee Swarms
People are always threatened by the sight of a big bee cluster flying off to somewhere or
resting on a tree branch. In truth, this should not be a cause of panic. Bee cluster out in the open is called bee
swarm and is a normal bee "thing".
Swarming is the bees natural response to congestion and expansion. When their hive is too packed and the bees
keep on increasing in number, the bees tend to split into two colonies, with one flying off to find a new home. The
queen bee, through vibration, communicates the need to swarm when her produce of pheromone (a queen substance that
regulates the bees behavior and activities) is not enough for the bee population. She and 60% of the colony's
workers set off and leave, but only after the bees have raised a new queen by feeding a female larva with a food
called royal jelly.
The swarming bees initially gather in secure places such as hollow tree trunks and branches, while a few bee
workers scout for potential hive sites. The scouts go back to the swarm and perform a dance to indicate a possible
site. The other scouts verify the findings, and when they come into agreement, all the scouts do the same dance and
the swarm then proceeds to their new hive location.
Swarms need to be caught and re-hived, especially if they happen to collect in a public place. Contrary to
common belief, swarms are typically docile since they do not have honey and brood to protect. They are usually full
after eating a lot before swarming. However, catching a swarm can be rather difficult and is not recommended to be
done by novice beekeepers. Long-time beekeepers are more experienced and skilled to handle swarms effectively.
To catch a swarm, beekeepers normally use a bait hive, which is actually just a used hive with one to four old
frames of combs. An old hive is very appealing to swarms because they tend to nest where bees have lived before. A
bait hive is best placed in a shaded location.
A swarm on a tree branch is dislodged by sharply shaking the branch. A cardboard box or bucket is needed to
collect the bees falling from the branch. For easy dislodging, beekeepers usually calm the bees by spraying them
with sugar syrup.
Beekeepers don't want their bees swarming because it affects the colony's strength and the honey harvest. So before
the bees even plan to swarm, beekeepers try to control the expansion and transfer brood frames and bees to another
hive body. This extra space eliminates congestion and discourages bees to swarm. Some beekeepers also make a new
colony by taking bees, brood frames, and honey from one colony into another hive and introducing a new queen.