Skip to Main Content

You Have a Honey Bee Swarm? Stay Calm and Call a Beekeeper (Part 2)

Above: Honey bee swarm in spring. Photo by Krispn Given.

Do you now, or have you ever encountered a honey bee swarm in one of your trees? It’s an alarming event for most homeowners, but it’s a golden opportunity for a local beekeeper.

Last week we covered hive makeup, honey bee biology, and what honey bees forage for. This week we’ll conclude with why hives swarm and what you can do to help a new hive get off to a good start.

A team of expert authors, led by Purdue’s Fred Whitford, collaborated to write the Purdue Extension publication, “The Complex Life of the Honey Bee,” from which we’ll gather a few key excerpts for content today.

In peak season, a healthy colony can fill a honey box, or “super,” in as few as three days. Unless new supers are added, there is simply no space left to expand and it may induce honey bees to swarm, effectively dividing the group in two.

In Indiana, swarming happens mostly in May and June. The colony requires an orderly process to initiate swarming. The old queen must leave and a substitute virgin queen must be ready to replace her as soon as possible thereafter. Two queens will not co-exist in one colony; only one will inherit the colony. But sometimes, a large colony will send another swarm, an “afterswarm,” with a virgin queen, where a small number of bees remain in the nest with a second virgin queen.

Just before swarming, honey bees leaving with the queen gorge themselves with honey. When a colony swarms, the old queen takes about half of the colony with her. The swarm will cluster on a branch and send out scouts to look for suitable cavities.

Here is where you come in. If you are alarmed by a swarm in a tree in your yard, what can you do? In short, contact a local beekeeper! Beekeepers will collect the swarm with the queen, and install them in a suitable bee box.

Indiana Department of Natural Resources keeps a listing of beekeepers that will collect swarms at (look for the link “swarm lists”). Additionally, local beekeeping associations, such as Northeastern Indiana Beekeepers Association (, keep lists of local swarm removers that will gladly remove a swarm. Some local beekeepers may not be on either list, but are still happy to come get a swarm.

Honey bee researcher and bee breeder Krispn Given from Purdue’s Department of Entomology says: “Swarming is an annual event for most honey bee colonies. Swarm-casting is a good indicator of colony health! With the price of queen bees at $45 apiece and 5-frame nucleolus colonies beekeepers typically use to start new colonies at $200, swarms are a welcome sight to any keeper of bees wanting to expand their apiaries.”

“Swarms are excellent comb-builders also!” said Given. “So, beekeepers will exploit this by introducing special sheets of plastic foundation coated in beeswax, or pure beeswax foundation is also used to produce beautiful new combs.”

If you would like to learn more about honey bees, access the Purdue Extension publication entitled, “The Complex Life of the Honey Bee,” available at The publication also contains current strategies being used to limit pollinator exposure to pesticides. See also Purdue Extension’s website, “The Bee Hive,” at

honey bee swarmHoney bee swarm in spring. Photo by Krispn Given.

To Top