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Swarm Capture

Swarm Capture

I capture honey bee swarms for FREE in Western Loudoun. Outside of the Western Loudoun area I charge a small travel fee. If I am not available to capture your swarm, I can put you in touch with other Beekeepers in the area who capture swarms.

Swarming is the honey bee’s method of colony reproduction. The old queen and about half of the worker bees leave their former nest and seek a new home, usually in the spring but sometimes at other times of the year when local conditions permit. To start the process, certain worker bees, called “scouts,” begin to canvass the surrounding territory for a potential new nesting site even before the swarm leaves its original colony.

A departing swarm consists of a large number of bees flying in a cloud that seems to drift along through the air. People not familiar with honey bees are generally frightened by such a mass, which can contain 5,000 to 20,000 bees, but unless a bee becomes tangled in someone’s hair, it isn’t likely to sting. The queen is in the group, but not leading it. Usually within 100 to 200 yards of the original hive, the bees alight on an object and form a cluster, which looks like a seething, fuzzy glob of insects. Sometimes bees fly from the cluster to collect water and food, but most workers leaving the cluster are scouts that search out potential new home sites for the swarm. When they return from a good site, they dance on the cluster to communicate the location of their find.

A clustered swarm of many bees may appear frightening, but most spring swarm clusters of European honey bees—the common honey bees in most areas of the US, including Virginia—are extremely docile. It takes quite a bit of stimulation, such as being hit by sticks and stones or squirted with a hose, to induce defensive behavior. The same may not be true for Africanized honey bees or for any swarm of honey bees that has run out of food, as these aren’t nearly as predictable and can be very touchy, even as swarm clusters.

Honey bees will nest in cavities having a volume of at least 4 gallons but prefer cavities around 9 gallons. Honey bees also prefer dark cavities with an easily defended entrance that is at least 9 feet from the ground. Hollowed-out trees are ideal sites. However, honey bees may nest in all sorts of cavities such as inside walls of houses; in or around chimneys; in outbuildings, fences, shrubs, water meters, utility boxes, barbecue grills, and soffits; or under decks. Within a few hours to a few days, the swarm’s scouts usually reach a consensus about the best available site. Then the swarm takes to the air one last time to move to the new home.

Once in flight, the swarm is guided by scouts and arrives at the new site. It forms a cluster around the entrance with many bees fanning their wings and releasing a chemical signal to guide the others. Then the bees enter their new home, somewhat slowly. This is what most people notice when they see bees clustered on a section of a building. Inside, the low humming sound of the bees ventilating their nest often can be heard.

If the bees don’t find a new nesting location, they may begin producing beeswax and forming combs at the spot where the cluster formed, such as a tree limb, the overhang of a house, or another unusual place. These “exposed comb” colonies may exist until fall (or year-round in warm-winter areas), but robbing bees, hungry birds, and inclement weather usually put an end to these colonies and their combs.

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Franks, N. R., and A. Dornhaus. 2003. How might individual honeybees measure massive volumes? Proc. R. Soc. Lond. 270(Suppl 2):S181–S182.

Mussen, E. C. Sept. 2011. Pest Notes: Bee and Wasp Stings. Oakland: Univ. Calif. Agric. Nat. Res. Publ. 7449.
Mussen, E. C. 2004. Removing Swarms and Established Colonies from Private Property.
Schmidt, J. O. and R. Hurley. 1995. Selection of Nest Cavities by Africanized and European Honey Bees. Apidologie 26:467–75.
Seeley, T. 1977. Measurement of nest cavity volume by the honey bee (Apis mellifera). Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 2:201–227.
Villa, J. D. 2004. Swarming Behavior of Honey Bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae) in Southeastern Louisiana. Ann. Entomol. Soc. Am. 97(1):111–116.



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