By , on August 23rd, 2011

Frequently Asked Questions About Swarm Removal

Before you begin…

Please note that the information provided by the this web site for swarm removal, including the names and contact information of those who can perform swarm removal, is a public service of the Michigan Beekeepers’ Association  (MBA) provided to both parties.  A listing on this site does not imply an endorsement of that person and the MBA is in no way liable for services provided by a listed individual.  MBA will not arbitrate any disputes that may arise from the use of this information or the references provided herein.  By using the information provided on this web site, you agree to these terms of use.

What is a swarm?

Swarming is the natural way in which honey bees propagate.  Swarms typically happen in May and June, but can occur later in the summer under certain conditions.  In preparation to swarm, the hive will raise a new queen – or maybe several new queens.  About the time the new queen emerges, the hive becomes increasingly active.  The old queen stops laying eggs so that she will slim down, lose weight and be able to fly.  Immediately before the swarm emerges, the workers engorge themselves with honey, as this food will be needed to start building come in the new nest.  Then the old queen emerges with about half of the worker bees.  This is the swarm.

The queen typically lands nearby; the workers follow and will surround and completely cover the queen.  Swarms vary in size from on the small side (about the size of a softball or smaller) to quite large (about the size of a basketball, or even larger).  While the swarm is at rest, scouts bees are out looking for a suitable nest site.  These scouts return to the swarm and communicate their findings.  Other scouts will visit promising looking nest sites (typically a cavity in a tree, but also may be inside walls, under eaves and around human built structures) and return to the swarm.  When a consensus is reached, the swarm takes flight enmass and goes to the new nest site.  This whole process usually takes a few hours, but can occur much quicker or take much longer.

At this point the new colony gets down to business.  The workers build new comb and begin to forage.  The queen begins to lay eggs and the life cycle of a honey bee hive starts anew.

Many people have never seen a swarm, but when they do it is a sight not soon forgotten.  Although the bees look highly agitated, the swarm is actually quite docile.  The swarm often times emits a loud buzzing sound which can be heard many yards away.  A swarm looks like a cloud of bees (which it is) when in flight.  A swarm at rest is an unmistakable mass of honey bees that might remind you of a large beard hanging from a branch or clinging to the side of some object.

I see honey bees hanging out on the side of a tree or the side of my house.  Is this a swarm?

Perhaps not.  If you see bees coming and going through a hole, then odds are the nest has already been established and what you are seeing is not a swarm.  Under certain conditions (typically hot, humid weather) worker bees will gather outside of the cavity and just hang out.  If you look closely, many of the bees may be oriented in the same direction and may exhibit a “washboarding” behavior; in unison, the bees will make ripples – sort of like a “wave” at a sports stadium.

Contrast this to a swarm, which is typically a large mass of bees which may be several inches (or more) deep.  With a swarm, you will not see bees coming and going through a hole (as the nest has yet to be established).

OK.  I think I have an established nest in my building.  What do I do now?

If the colony is already establish in a building wall then removing them is entirely different than capturing a swarm.  Trapping bees as they come and go usually will not work.  To get to this hive usually involves a “cut out”, which is when the beekeeper has to open the wall to get at the hive.  This can be a very involved process.

When searching the MBA Swarm Removal map, look for a beekeeper identified as doing “cut outs”.  Contact this person, describe what you have and take it from there.

First, make sure you are dealing with honey bees; not all things the fly and buzz are honey bees.  You could be looking at a nest of yellow jackets or hornets.  Honey bees are cavity nesters and do not nest in the ground.  If you see bees coming and going in the ground, then these are not honey bees.  Also, you should compare what you are seeing (catching one and put it in the freezer to kill it) with photos of a honey bee.  Click here for comparison photos.

If you have honey bees, then ask yourself the question if they are really bothering anyone.  Honey bees are typically not aggressive and go about their business without bother.  If you are a gardener, then you should welcome the bees as they are crucial for pollination of many vegetables, fruiting trees and flowers.

Many beekeepers will not tackle a cut out.  However, some do.  Most beekeepers who do cut outs will charge for their services, so be prepared.  When searching the MBA Swarm Removal map, look for a beekeeper identified as doing “cut outs”.  Contact this person, describe what you have and take it from there.

Will removing a swarm cost me?

Some beekeepers will remove a swarm for no charge, other will charge for this service.  If the job involves a “cut out”, then expect to pay; the beekeeper will certainly earn their pay.  Expect to pay for swarm removal, particularly if the beekeeper has to drive a distance to your location.  As we all know, fuel is expensive and a beekeeper’s skill and time are worth something.  On the MBA swarm removal map, beekeepers will generally describe their fees in the information bubble that pops up with you click on a location icon.

How does a beekeeper remove a swarm?

The specific technique will vary from beekeeper to beekeeper, but the generals steps are this. The beekeeper will show up with equipment; their bee suit, perhaps a smoker, a few boxes from a hive (usually with a couple of frames), a pruner and perhaps a ladder.  If the swarm is located on a bush or a small tree, the beekeeper may prune away some branches and twigs to get unimpeded access to the swarm.  The hive box is placed under the swarm and it is either knocked into the box or the branch is clipped and the swarm is taken to the box and shaken.  The box is then covered.  There will probably be a lot of bees flying around.  However, if the queen is shaken into the hive box then the other bees will soon join her.  Often times within a few minutes, there won’t be a bee to be seen.

Some beekeepers may use a “bee vacuum” to suck up a swarm.  It sort of depends on the individual situation.

I think I have a hive in my wall.  What are the consequences of ignoring them or using a spray?

Whenever you find a colony of honey bees, the first question to ask yourself if they are bothering you or your neighbors.  If not then leaving them alone is certain a viable option.  This is particularly true if the hive is located in an out building.  Even if the hive is located in a wall of your house, as long as the hive remains alive they will maintain their environment and may not cause any issues.  The trouble begins when a hive dies.

At that point, the wax moths move in, mice may go after the honey comb and the honey may begin to ferment.  You might wake up one day and find thin honey dripping down a wall or through your ceiling.  Something has to be done.

The same consequence may happen if you simply go after the hive with an insecticide.  If you are successful then killing the bees removes their controlling influence and the opportunist move in as described above.  And using and insecticide might not work, since the actual nest may be located some distance away from the entrance hole; too far to be reached by a spray.

Information we will need
If you enter a comment, we will need your address in order to respond.  Without knowing where you live, we cannot let beekeepers in your area know about your situation.

Other resources to check out

Google “hone bee swarm”.  You’ll get lots of hits, including videos.
Iowa State University Extension
University of Nebraska

Return to map



25 comments to Frequently Asked Questions About Swarm Removal

  • Bob Spink

    My 4 hives all survived the winter in great shape with active egg laying and closed brood already. Now, I’m worried about swarming. What are the things I can do to best prevent it?

  • Stephen Tilmann

    This is a question on the minds of a lot of beekeepers this spring. Dewey Caron has been in Michigan for the past week or so and making the rounds at some of the bee clubs. At COMB (Lansing), Dewey gave an outstanding presentation on just this topic. Having access to this kind of information is just one of the benefits of belonging to a local bee club. If you are not now a member, you certainly should consider becoming one.

    As for your question… I believe Dewey has a book out that discusses this topic, among other. Google Wicwas Press and search for Dewey’s book(s). I am not sure of the title, but a question to Wicwas press would surely let you know. The name of the game is to prevent the urge for a colony to swarm. Once they get this into their minds, it is virtually impossible to stop. So your strategies fall into two areas: preventing the swarm urge and dealing with it once you notice the hive is preparing to swarm (as evidenced, for example, by the presence of queen cells). To prevent, be sure to provide plenty of room in the brood chamber. As the bees build up this spring, consider making splits to relieve congestion and keep the population down a bit. Moving the top brood chamber to the bottom will help as well.

    Another strategy Dewey discussed is moving a few of the frames with brood up into the super over a queen excluder. Basically, swap frames. This will put a few empty frames in the brood chamber, thus giving the queen room to lay more eggs. And the brood above the excluder will hatch out in a few weeks and contribute to the overall strength of the hive.

    I’m sure there are other strategies you can use and perhaps other beekeepers out there can contribute to this thread.

  • Summer

    I am the manager of an apartment community which is next to a rental home that we also own. There are honey bees which have made a nest in a pipe going into the home. We are trying to have them removed humanely, but have not found anyone to talk to about this. The pest control company is ready to spray them but we were hoping to try a different route first. Because I many tenants who walk in this area, I need to act quick.

    Thank you,

    ~ Summer

  • Patricia Barna

    We woke up to a colony of bees on the side of our house. We found some dead ones in our house, a few days ago. NOW WHAT? My husband keeps spraying them with water? The bees fell to the ground and some our flying around. I know we have to do more. I want to call a beekeeper. I don’t want to kill them.

  • Stephen Tilmann

    Here is Pat’s reply after I emailed her back…

    Hi Steve, thanks for writing back, this is what it looked like in AM when we woke up to it. The last picture is 2 hrs later after my husband sprayed them off the wall. He wants to keep doing that while we wait on knowing what to do. Its the Holiday weekend so nobody is really calling back. Can you tell me what I should do until Tues. we like bee’s and don’t want to hurt them, but now they are coming in the house alive, killed 3 so far alive and 20 or so dead friday.
    Thanks for your help, pat

    Steve Tilmann, Treasurer

  • Stephen Tilmann

    Any my response…
    I would advise that you quit spraying the cluster of bees with water. Here is why. What you are looking at is a swarm of bees. A swarm has issued forth from some near by honey bee colony. The swarm includes the queen and about half of the work bees. The queen lands and the rest of the workers cluster around here. So under that pile of bees is the queen. Swarms are very gentle (because of the biology of what is going on) and rarely are aggressive at all. So just let them be.

    Meanwhile, there are scout bees out looking for a new home. Honey bees are cavity nesters (which is why they won’t stay on your wall). When a suitable cavity is located and the scouts report back to the swarm, other scouts will check out the reported cavity and return to the swarm. Once a consensus is reached within the swarm, the whole job lot will take off for their new home. It is quite a site. This whole process may take a couple of hours (to maybe a day or so) to happen.

    By spraying the swarm, you are disrupting their group “think” and delaying the swarm’s departure. Also, if you damage or kill the queen, the swarm will return to the parent colony and probably again issue forth later. So you may go through this again. Your best course of action is to just pull up a chair and watch these creatures do their thing. A colony swarm is one of the truly amazing sights in nature. Most people never have the opportunity to watch a swarm unfold and you are lucky to have the opportunity to watch it happen.
    Steve Tilmann, Treasurer
    Michigan Beekeepers’ Association

  • Terry Goode

    June 9, 2012
    Looking for help to remove honey bees from my house. They are going in and out of a small outside hole right below my master bedroom closet.
    I’d rather move them (NOT have the pest man come).
    I live in Clarkston.
    My phone number is 248 625 6462.
    Terry Goode

  • Stephen Tilmann

    I am forwarding your request to Tim Bennet, a beekeeper sort of in your area. He may be able to help. Since this is a building cutout, expect to pay for the service. It is a lot of work. However, if the cutout works, you won’t have to saturate your house with insecticide. Also, with insecticide, the existing hive parts (comb, honey, pollen and dead bees) will still be in your wall and can issues later on. Good luck!
    Steve Tilmann, Treasurer
    Michigan Beekeepers’ Association

  • Ken

    I have Bees in my garden. I believe they are honey bees who have recently swarmed to the new location and are building a new colony. They are not aggressive at all however I am allergic and they are in my vegtable garden.

    Interesting, they are nesting sort of in the ground. I have an older slightly rotted 4 x 4 piece of wood just laying at the border of the garden and the bees began going underneath it. I burried it hoping that they would move out however they just dug entrances through the dirt / sand to get in and out. They are constantly going in and out all day long and if I block of the entrance holes they soon build up to several buzzing around trying to get in. It doesn;t take them long to figure out how to get in however.

    I rather not kill them with chemicals especially since they are right next to my zuccinnis. I do believe they are honey bees even though it now appears that they are nesting in the ground since I burried the wood. I live in Shelby Twp and wondering if there is anyone local that may be interested in removing the nest? I could take some close-up pictures and send them to verify the species first.

    If not, my next step is to dress up in layers, go out just before it gets dark and see what I can do. I think I could use a shovel and pretty easily flip over the 4 x 4. Maybe this will expose the nest and they move on to a better location (hopefully not in my shed).

  • Stephan Gaus

    I have “ground bees at my cottage by Lake Huron south of Tawas. I would prefer to havethem removed than to kill them. ideas?

  • Stephen Tilmann

    The first thing to determine if they are honey bees. I suspect not since honey bees are not ground nesters (they are cavity nesters, such as in trees and buidings). Yellow jackets and bumblebees are ground nesters. Go to the MBA web site and check out some of Zachary Huang’s pictures of honey bees. Or get into Google and try to determine what you are dealing with. Not all “bees” are “hone bees”.

    If you do not have honey bees, then I doubt that any beekeeper would be interested; though there may be some out there that might be willing to help you out.

    If the bees are in a location that is a concern, then your best bet probably would be to destroy them (in my opinion). A strong does of insecticide probably would do the trick. Others may respond with more ideas.
    Steve Tilmann
    MBA Treasurer

  • Debbie Armstrong


    Maria Ostranger advised that we contact you about our bee problem. Don’t know exactly what we have (swarm or colony) The bees are going in the top front peak of our house and have been there for about 2 weeks. We don’t want them there but don’t know how to get rid of them. Could you please give us some advise and direction.

    Debbie & Tom Armstrong

  • Stephen Tilmann

    Where are you located (exactly). Are you sure they are honey bees? Other options could include yellow jackets. If you can find a dead one on the ground, it would help determine what you are dealing with.

    Removing a colony from a building is what beekeepers call a “cut out”. This can be an involved affair, depending on the situation. You should certainly expect to have a charge for the service. Lately, we are aware that many pest control outfits will have nothing to do with a cut out. There are a number of beekeepers around the state that can do a cut out (we have a map of some of these on our MBA web site). Your best bet is to contact one of these people.
    Steve Tilmann Treasurer
    Michigan Beekeepers’ Association

  • I live in West Bloomfield an I have been noticing an abundant amount of activity around a small opening in the outside wall of one of my bedrooms. I can hear the bees inside the wall, but I’m not sure how many are in the wall. I found 2 Bees so far in my kitchen, which I think were scout bees. I’m not sure what to do, or who to call…. HELP!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Hi just wanted to share this Video with you guys, I don’t mind it at all that they are in my siding. But only a few things I wanted to ask you, will they come back every year at the same spot, will the hive get larger and will it start to smell when they are gone in the winter.


    Frank Grootenboer, Grand Ledge MI

  • Michelle

    Hi- I’m not sure if this forum is still active? But it seems we are starting to get a colony in our screen door – definitely honey bees – I absolutely do not want them killed but need to know how to get them moved. I saw one person on the map but if anyone else services Shelby township/Utica area – I would love to hear from you ASAP!


  • Stephen Tilmann

    Congratulations on your intention on saving the bees. More people should share this notion. If the bees are in the middle of a swarm, they will soon depart. If they are starting to draw out honey comb, then they are setting up house and will need to be removed. You may want to contact SEMBA (South East Michigan Beekeeper’s Association) and see if they can help locate a beekeeper to help. You can find SEMBA’s contact information on the MBA web site.

  • Jordan

    I have a couple really small hives in spots around my back deck. I am out there quite frequently due to the beautiful weather we are having lately. I am extremely allergic to bee stings and I was wondering if there is anything I can do here at home to simply attract them to somewhere else in the yard. Assuming there is already a couple hives already I’m thinking no. But it wouldn’t hurt to ask. I don’t want to kill them, but at the same time, I can’t afford to have a beekeeper come to me.

  • Stephen Tilmann

    First thing to do is to identify which type of bee you are dealing with. We suspect they are not honey bees. Could possibly be yellow jackets (a wasp). Find one that is dead (or capture one in a jar) and then go to the web and try to identify it. Or take it to your county extension office and ask for their help. Once bees (honey bees or otherwise) establish a nest, you basically cannot attract them elsewhere. Your choices are either to live and let live and destroy the colony. We would not feel too bad about doing in yellow jackets. Honey bees we would hesitate killing them. Honey bees are usually gentle creatures that are much more interested in going about their business than bothering you. If the nest is inside a wall, then they may have to go.

    By the way, the reason we suspect they are not honey bees is that you said the nest are “small”. Honey bees have large colonies and there would be lots of activity around the nest entrance. Not so with yellow jackets.
    Steve Tilmann, Treasurer
    Michigan Beekeepers’ Association

  • Carisa Tuttle

    I have honeybees that are swarming this morning. I am wondering if there is anyone interested in taking them. I live in Belding MI. Thanks

  • My mother has a huge nest in her quince Tree, which is close to a seating area. Can some one remove them? She resides in Eaton Rapids Mi. Thank you

  • Rhonda Sheldon

    1540 Jacqueline Dr, Holt, MI – I have some honey bees that have been going into a hole in a cinder block of the foundation of my house. They have been there for approximately two – three weeks. I would like to have them removed. Can anyone help me? Thank you! 517-699-1185

  • Jane Rogers

    Hi- we have a colony of honey bees that have set up residence in the side of our house under the siding. My daughter noticed them about a week ago. They were flying around in a “swarm” ? about 3 feet wide and 6 feet high for a couple of hours. After they disappeared we noticed that they had a fly way established and they are coming and going from under the siding. We would prefer to have someone remove them as we do not want to kill them. Will they survive through the winter? Will they do any damage to the house?
    Thank you for any information you can provide!
    Jane Rogers

  • Stephen Tilmann

    First, you need to make a positive identification of what you are dealing with. This time of year (September), 90% of the reported “honey bee” cases are, in fact, not honey bees. You very well may be dealing with something like yellow jackets (a wasp). Catch one (or find a dead one below the entrance) and then go to the web an search for honey bees pictures, yellow jacket pictures, and other wasps or hornets until you make a positive match.

    If they are honey bees, then we presume this is the first year they were there. Most honey bee colonies do not survive the first year. So a viable option is to do nothing and let nature take its course. If the bees die during the winter,then you need to plug up their entrance in late winter or very early spring. Honey bees are cavity nesters and if they are in your wall, then that site is attractive to them. If you don’t plug up their entrance, then another colony will most likely set up housekeeping in the same spot next year.

    If you are dealing with yellow jackets or something like that (and we suspect you are) then you can try a commercial hornet spray. Some work on yellow jackets and others don’t. So you may have to try several different brands until you find one that works.

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