Catching a Honey Bee Swarm

In the 7 years I’ve been beekeeping, I’ve had some hives swarm and leave. This year, I got one back.

We were sitting in the kitchen when someone said, “The bees sure are active around that tree.” I looked out the window, and sure enough there was an excess amount of insect traffic. There weren’t a lot of flowers to pollinate in the tree, nor had I ever seen the bees checking it out before. Then it hit me. “I bet we have a swarm!”

I ran outside to the tree to confirm my theory and there they were, thousands of bees clustered in the branches.

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I was excited. Bees are expensive, and a mature hive like this one is worth a lot of money. This would be the equivalent of finding $300.

I threw on my suit and collected some empty boxes to put the bees in.

When bees swarm they are looking for a new home. Typically they leave their current hive with the majority of the workers and drone bees and take shelter nearby while scouts fly out in search of a new home. While the scouts are searching, the queen lands and the remainder of the hive clusters around her.

Meanwhile there is a skeleton crew of bees left in the former hive along with the old honey comb and brood comb full of bee larvae that will repopulate the old hive. One of these larvae resides in a special elongated cell filled with a special compound known as “royal jelly,” that will transform that larvae into a queen.

In order to capture a swarm in a tree, the typical method is to cut the branch that the bees are hanging from, and then to set it into an empty box or hive. The key is to capture the queen in the box, because wherever the queen goes, the rest of the hive will follow.

The tricky part is, you can’t see the queen, so you have no real way of knowing if you got her in the box.

This particular scenario got even more complicated, as there were thousands of bees distributed among three main branches. I couldn’t tell which of these clusters of bees contained the queen, so I’d need to remove all three. I had several empty hive boxes that I had made in previous seasons so I set them out at the bottom of my ladder.

One by one I clipped the branches and set each one of them in a box, closing the lid loosely afterwards so they could get in and out if necessary, but discouraged them from just flying away again. While the bees aren’t looking to attack you when they swarm, disturbing them is a quick way to make them angry. Once they get aggressive they release an attack pheromone, and you’d better hope your bee suit doesn’t have any holes in it. While majority of the bees made it in the boxes, several were coming to let me know they weren’t very happy with me. I decided to bug out and let them cool down.

 

After about an hour I came back to find two boxes empty of bees, and the third had bees hovered all around it.

I picked up that box, carried it to a vacant hive I had on the property, and dumped the hive of bees inside. Then closed the lid. Bees began coming out the entrance to the hive and would face the hive and flap their wings away, spreading their pheromone into the air to let the rest of their colony know where there new home was located. The bees now had a new home, and I had a new story to tell.

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Bees are amazing creatures and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a caretaker for them. They are fascinating to watch and provide such a wealth of benefits to the human race.

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