When a swarm first leaves the hive, try you’ll see a cloud of bees circling in the area and hear a roaring sound. The bees will be landing on every surface in site. It’s fun to stand in the middle of them. Soon several hundred have landed on you. Will the queen land on you, thumb too? I tried it once. Then I noticed the leaves around me covered with bees AND little brown spots. The bees, before the long journey, were voiding waste – on me as well as on every surface.
At some point, the queen comes out and lands somewhere, almost always within 200 yards of the hive and nearly always in line-of-sight to the entrance of the old colony. This means that if you put your head where the swarm was after catching it, you should be able to locate the colony. The bees signal the queen’s presence with Nasonov pheromone and the bees cluster around the queen.
The bees may have located a new home site already. They’ll take flight after the queen has rested, possibly within fifteen minutes of settling. More often they’ll sit for a few hours up to a few days. To conserve energy, their temperature drops and most can’t fly. That’s why it’s easy to shake them off a branch into a box, bag, or bucket. Once they reach a consensus on a new home, bees will run over the surface of the swarm, grabbing other bees and vibrating them. When you see this, you will have to work fast to capture them. Spraying them with a 50/50 water/sugar mix will keep them from flying.
If a swarm has been unable to find a home in two or three days, either because none are available or the weather has been wet, the swarm runs short on food and is called, at least in our area, a “dry swarm.” You can tell a dry swarm because they are stressed and no longer gentle. You need a protective suit to catch a dry swarm. Once again, spray the swarm with a sugar/water solution.
Large swarms (football- to basketball-sized) are generally called “prime swarms,” the first to come out of a hive with 30—70% of the colony’s population, plus the old queen. Secondary swarms sometimes come out several days later. While smaller (grapefruit- to melon-sized), they have a young queen who is apt to be a better egg producer.
If you see a swarm come out of one of your hives, move the old colony to a new location and put the swarm on the old site. They say that the increased vigor of the swarm combined with the addition of all the field bees that return to the old site results in amazing honey production. I usually don’t know where my swarms come from so I don’t get a chance to try it.
Don’t forget to have bait hives set up around your apiary. You increase your chances of capturing a swarm you may have lost. While you may lose some honey production, at least you’ll have more colonies and additional honey production the following year.
Happy Swarm Catching!