Apiculture Factsheet #404
Swarming is a natural method of honeybee colonies to reproduce,
resulting in the creation of a new honeybee colony in addition to
the established colony.
Causes of swarming
- Crowding - too many bees, food stores and no cell space for the
queen to lay eggs in.
- April-May is swarming season and healthy colonies develop
strong swarm impulse.
- Inclement weather - crowded bees confined by cold, wet weather
will build queen cells and swarm out on the first sunny, warm day.
All colonies in similar condition will swarm as soon as
weather becomes favourable.
- Large amount of drone brood in early spring is a precursor to
strong swarm impulse.
Catching the swarm
A swarm generally emerges from the hive between 11:00AM and
1:00PM and settles close to the apiary for several hours. Allow the
swarm to cluster for at least 30 minutes before placing the swarm in
a super with ten combs, bottom board and hive cover.
Examine the new colony every week to two weeks from mid May to
late June. Look for disease, brood abundance, brood pattern and
overall condition of the colony. Add room where necessary, cut queen cells, or divide, to
prevent other swarms from emerging.
Hived swarms may go hungry when there is little forage after
establishment. When feeding sugar syrup, add antibiotics as a
precautionary measure. (Note: this is the ONLY time where
preventative use of antibiotics is recommended).
In case where the origin of the swarm is unknown and disease may
be present, the newly established colony should be placed in a separate
apiary first and examined regularly for disease.
Management of swarms
The type of management depends on whether the main goal is a full
honey crop or an increase of colony numbers.
For maximum honey crop, return the swarm to the parent
colony. The colony will be practically as strong as before swarming.
- Place two or three drawn out combs in an empty super and place
on top of the parent colony, separated by a queen excluder. Dump
the bees in and cover.
- When the bees have settled down, examine the combs in the top
super for the queen. Place the queen in a cage.
- Examine all the frames from the brood nest of the bottom
colony for queen cells. Destroy all except one.
- If the old (caged) queen is worth saving, a small nucleus
consisting of two combs of brood and adhering bees can be made for
- Capture any subsequent swarms and return to the old hive by
simply shaking the bees in front of the hive entrance. Only one
young queen will survive and the bees will no longer attempt to
swarm. If they do swarm again, repeat this step.
To increase colony numbers
- Divide all the brood combs into nuclei, consisting of two
frames of brood (covered with bees) and a queen cell each.
- Place the swarm with the old queen in the old hive on ten
frames of foundation or drawn out combs, replacing the supers as
- Decrease the entrances to prevent robbing.
Colonies with young queens and with sufficient space in the brood
chamber and honey supers rarely develop swarms.
- Divisions made for swarm control only, can be reunited
just before the main nectar flow by creating one strong colony.
When examining the colony, rearrange or cull poor brood combs.
Combs in the brood chambers must not contain large areas of drone
cells. Place these frames in honey supers and cull them as soon as
possible. (Cut out the comb and replace with a clean sheet of
- Clipping Queens - Some beekeepers clip one of the wings
of old queens to prevent swarming. This will provide only
temporary swarm control because the bees will wait for a new queen
to emerge and then swarm. CAUTION: Never clip the wings of a
virgin queen as she must still be mated.
- Cutting Queen Cells - Tip the second brood chamber and
examine the bottoms of the frames. Swarm cells are easily
detected. A few puffs of smoke along the frame bottom bars will
drive the bees up into the super and will help to reveal queen
cells for cutting. Most hives will build swarm cell cups along the
bottom bars, but these do not necessarily indicate the urge to
swarm unless eggs are present. To further examine the combs, shake
bees off and remove all queen cells.
- Demareeing – Place a new super of nine empty combs onto
the old hive stand. Find the queen and place her and the comb into
the middle of the new super. Cover the super with a
queen-excluder, and then add a super of empty comb, queen
excluder, a super containing capped brood, and a super of young or
uncapped brood. All queen cells should be destroyed. Seven to
eight days later, check the combs in the raised supers only and
destroy any queen cells.
- The Rauchfuss Swarm Control Plan - Add a second super
as soon as more room is needed in the spring. At the beginning of
the main honey flow, insert a queen excluder, honey super and
another queen excluder between the two brood chambers. Eight or
nine days later quickly check the top super for the queen. If she
is in the upper super, cover and set on a separate bottom board.
If there are no eggs or larvae, the queen must be in the bottom
super. Remove the bottom super and replace with the upper one.
Destroy the queen cells in the bottom super and introduce a young
laying queen. Alternatively, one queen cell can be left to allow
the colony to requeen by itself, but it is better to introduce a
young, laying queen. As a rule, this method prevents any further
swarming for the season.