Bees swarm for reproduction – they split to form
a new hive and fly off with the queen.
A new queen is then grown by the remaining
Before the swarm flies away, they gorge on
Since they are full of honey, and have no hive to
defend, they are normally very docile.
They will land on a branch or object near the old
hive and wait for the scouts to find them a new
They could be there for a few minutes or a few
days. It is very random.
Traditional Swarm Catching
Swarms that are within reach can be shaken or brushed
from the tree branch they are hanging from into a box,
hive or other closed container.
Sometimes these swarms are too high to reach.
The branch they are resting on can also be cut so they can
be gently lowered to the ground and placed in a hive or
In the past, burlap bags were used to catch bee swarms.
Basically – you just place the box under
the swarm and shake.
You can also sift through the swarm and
find the queen – cage her – and place her
in your hive. In short order, the bees will
swarm around her in the hive.
Use a spray bottle of 1:1 sugar water to keep
bees from flying. Spray them and they will
lick and clean themselves instead of flying
Place a tarp or plastic sheet under the swarm
to catch fallen bees and to help them crawl
into the box or hive.
Place a frame of brood in the hive you place
them in to keep them anchored and prevent
them from absconding.
If you have no brood, you can keep them
sealed up for a few days.
Queens produced by the swarm process
are normally the strongest and best
They are a comb building factory – ready
Swarms are highly sought after for this
Put swarm in hive box and feed, feed,
“Tanging” down a swarm
A very old folk tradition says you can
drum rhythmically on a metal pot when
you see a swarm flying by to cause them
to land so you can catch them.
The truth of this folk tale is that the
beekeepers of old would beat a pot or pan
or ring a bell to claim the swarm as their
own – so no other beekeeper would catch
Many claim success – who knows?
Sometimes bees move into your house and
Where do they like to live?
Feral bees will move into any space that
offers protection from the elements and is
near food and water.
European honeybees prefer a larger nest
area, such as a tree trunk or wall cavity.
Some bees with African traits nest in
smaller hive spaces – such as water
meters, buckets, tires, and even in the
Locating bees inside a wall
If the hive entrance does not give away
the hive location, you must locate them
within the wall.
Bees can be located by sound, feeling for
warmth, or vibration.
Placing your ear to the wall or using a
stethoscope works very well.
You may have to have a helper smoke
them a little at the entrance to get them
Recon a day or so before-hand to get idea of what is
On planned date - set-up equipment.
Place tarps or sheets on floor to catch spilled honey
Locate access point and remove structure to access
Vacuum excess bees until comb can be manipulated.
Cut comb – vacuum bees off comb.
Trim comb and rubber band or tie into place in empty
Place comb into new hive.
Repeat until no brood comb remains.
Honey comb can be pulled out and dropped into
bucket or ice chest. Too hard to put into frame - not worth it –
easier to feed back.
Tie-in comb to frames
The removed comb must be secured or tied into
a frame or top-bar.
These are then placed in an empty hive box in
roughly the same direction they were removed.
Tying comb for a top bar hive
Top bar set-ups provide unique challenges
to feral removals.
Honeycomb is very fragile.
There is no easy way to tie cut comb to
top bars. Rubber bands usually tear up
the removed comb.
A strip of hardware cloth can be attached
to a top bar and formed into a set of
hooks to hold removed comb. Works very
But wait – there’s more…
After the all brood comb has been tied or
strapped into frames and placed in new
Vacuum the remaining bees until none
remain in hive cavity. Pay close attention
for masses of bees, or spots where the
queen may be hiding.
Two options at this point
If you KNOW you have the queen, you
can leave the new hive and brood near
the empty hive cavity overnight to catch
stragglers – after dumping the bees in
from the vacuum.
If you do not have the queen or could not
locate her, take the new hive and brood to
their new location and return in the
morning or later at night to vacuum
stragglers and look for the queen.
How do you know you have the
You caught her and put her in a cage.
You visually saw her and sucked her into the vac.
You see bees trying to get into the vac through
screened vent holes.
Displaced bees will sit and fan when they located
their queen to draw others to her.
Watch for fanning behavior.
Displaced bees will also make a “swarm” or
cluster on the queen. Watch for these clusters.
Often the queen will run and you will see a small
cluster of bees 10 feet or so from the old hive
that has the queen in it. Keep alert for this!
Cleaning the hive cavity
All bees MUST be removed so that nothing is
left to restart a viable colony.
This is especially important if you fail to
locate the queen.
The hive cavity must have all the comb
scraped out and washed with soap and water
to remove the hive smell.
Seal the old entrance with latex caulk or
If you have it, a little Bee-Go or Honey
Robber placed in the old hive cavity will keep
them out for quite a while. (DON”T USE MUCH!)
Transferring bees to new hive
Take new hive box a moderate distance
from old hive.
Make sure you have brood comb or the
queen in the new hive box.
They can be dumped in similar to package
If you have no brood or queen, or are too
close to the old hive – they will fly back
and you will have to vacuum them again.
Taking the hive home
Transport when it is cool or at night.
Make sure they have adequate ventilation and
are OUT OF THE SUN AND NOT IN AN ENCLOSED
If the bees are still in the vac this is especially
Place the hive in its new location and feed back
the removed honeycomb by placing it on the
inner cover and using an empty super for space.
Watch the bees for signs of negative traits or
excess defensiveness requiring re-queening.
Watch for queen cells or signs of a queen if
unsure whether she was captured.
Cut-outs are the most technical and difficult
No two are the same – all are unique.
They are all hot and dirty work.
Many cut-outs involve work on ladders or scaffolding.
Always have the ladder anchored or footed properly
and pay close attention to electrical wires.
When cutting into walls – watch for electrical wiring
and gas lines.
Have water available for drinking – watch for heat
Always wear PPE!
Free bees are not worth your life.
Heat cramps – cramping due to excessive
loss of salt.
Heat exhaustion – shock brought on by
heat – excessive sweating, pale cold
clammy skin, nausea, etc.
Heat stroke – No sweating, bright red
appearance, may be unconscious – DIRE
EMERGENCY – SEEK HELP ASAP!
Some feral bees are very defensive.
Ensure your suit is totally sealed, and all cuffs
are taped or bungied where crawling bees cannot
enter the sleeves or pant-legs.
If the bees are unworkable aggressive, you may
have to work at night with a red colored lamp.
Bees cannot see red and will not fly at night –
but they will crawl!
Do not feel bad to destroy a highly defensive
hive. These bees can become a public safety
hazard if they are in close proximity to humans.
If this is the case, do not worry about strapping
comb to frames or vacuuming bees.
Use soapy water to destroy vicious
If we cannot save
them and they
present a public
safety hazard due
to proximity to
humans – we are
obligated to take
Do not use
poisons, as they
will creep into
other wild hives as
the removed hive
is robbed out by
the locals. The
hives will thus be
Why do we trap-out?
Sometimes a hive cannot be accessed for
removal or the owner does not want the
A trap out is needed in this case or full
extermination will have to take place.
The feral hive is scouted to locate entrances.
All entrances are sealed except for one.
A small wire cone (6mm) is placed on the hive
A hive containing a frame or two of brood and
adhering bees is placed within a foot of the feral hive
The feral bees will be able to exit but not return and
will move into the new hive.
The trap out must be left in place for at least two
brood cycles to be effective (at least 6-9 weeks).
They will grow a new queen from the brood given.
A caged queen can also be given and later released,
but requires more work for the beekeeper.
Trap-outs are not difficult, but suffer a high
Often two brood cycles are not enough and they
must be left in place for a very long time.
The trap hive may need to be supered for the
honey coming in.
This causes more work and expense for the
Many times, all the entrances cannot be found
and sealed making the trap-out impossible.
Sometimes the trapped bees simply abscond
with their new queen and cause the process to
take even longer.
Hogan style swarm trap
These are very useful and can be left in
place long term to make hive starts.
Hogan trap inner workings…
The trap has an integrated wire cone and a trap door above
Place the trap on the feral hive entrance with the trap door
Place brood in the hive.
When the bees get used to it they will use it as another
You can use it like this for a very long period to periodically
harvest hive starts.
If it is wished to totally trap out the hive, the trap door is
closed forcing the bees to use the wire cone and it
becomes a standard trap-out operation.
This is my preferred method and I have my own enlarged
and modified version of the Hogan Swarm Trap.
Trap-outs usually involve even more
difficult to access locations than cut-outs.
You will be manipulating 100lb hives on
ladders and platforms.
Ladder safety is even more critical doing
While not usually considered type of
removal, you will eventually be called to
remove an abandoned or neglected hive.
Normally, the removal process is fairly
easy – after sunset, seal all holes and
entrances with wire mesh, then move like
you would a standard hive.
Things to watch out for.
Rotten bottom boards or top covers.
Hive loaded with 20 years or more of
Frames unable to be removed without
Possible disease (though unlikely if hive
has been there for many, many years).
Defensive bees in abandoned
Many abandoned hives have been there
for many, many years.
The bees have an established hive and
will defend it vigorously in most cases.
Prying out heavily propolized frames does
not make bees happy!
In my experience, bees will be more
aggressive when removing an abandoned
hive that when performing a cut-out.
If while examining an abandoned hive, you
suspect signs of disease, remove the bees
and burn the hive and frames.
If you cannot get them out, you may have to
perform a trap-out or connect the hive
entrance to a new hive box via a makeshift
tunnel and flush them with Bee-Go.
Use wire screen, wrapped in landscaping
fabric, to make the tunnel.
Do not introduce a diseased hive to your
Catching swarms, cutting out, and trapping hives
can be fun and exciting – though it is also
difficult and dangerous.
All can be performed safely if proper precautions
The bees can have a new home and the
transition for them will be much easier if done
All beekeepers should understand the basics of
Cut-outs and trap-outs are more specialized, but
all beekeepers should understand the basic
You can contact me at
Paul McCarty – Black Mesa Honeybees