Honeyflow.com | FAQ's |

Swarm or emergency

Its the end of winter here in Perth, Australia.

I wintered with 3x 8 frame boxes… the top being a flow separated by a cover board.

The colony has become active… so i checked them today. The middle box is basically brood and one frame of honey. The bottom box is half brood half empty comb. Both boxes were spilling over with bees. The flow had hardly any bees in it and is 2/3rds full of honey.

I found 5 queen cells on the face of the comb… 2 in the bottom box close together and 3 in the middle box close together. They were all in different stages of development… the most advanced was about an inch long with a plump larvae inside.

So they dont look like swarm cells… long and on the bottom of frames… but i read on @Michael_Bush website that that can be a myth.

I need to prevent a swarm as i’m in an urban area and so may get irritated neighbours and if they choose a local spot they’ll probs get sprayed by pest control.

I dont particularly want to split as I dont particularly want to have to manage two hives or have two extraction techniques.

I’ve never managed to identify an egg and so am at a loss as to how to tell if the queen is in there. A local experienced beek has advised me to cut the cells out and see if they rebuild.

Any advice?

If you had to do a split into a nuc box- I am sure you would easily find someone to take or even buy the bees from you. Or you could recombine them later?

1 Like

The first part is easy to address. If you have uncapped larvae in the hive, you have had a queen in there within the last week or so.

I would not cut out the queen cells - that is old advice and there are better ways now. I can’t explain it nearly as well as this article does:

These two articles are also worth reading:

I agree with @Semaphore, it would even be worth buying a cheap nucleus box to make an artificial swarm, then sell it to somebody when it is established. It shouldn’t take a lot of caring for, and with the honey/nectar season about to start in your part of the world, it should be very easy to find a buyer if you don’t want to keep them.


I know I’d buy them! I’ll be needing 5 nucs at least over the next few months.

To determine if they are swarm cells you need to look at the whole picture. Swarm cells are all different ages, not all the same age. Swarm cells are build when a colony is booming (growing rapidly) and crowded. If the colony is not rapidly growing or crowded they are unlikely to be swarm cells. If there are few cells for the number of bees (like one or two and a few bees or five or six in a really strong hive) they are more likely supersedure cells. This is a relative number. i.e. if it’s a small crowded colony with five or six cells they may be swarming.

Interesting presentation last Monday at our local beekeeping meeting. Hilary Kearney showed a video of a swarm she caught recently which had around 20 queens in it. Once the swarm settled, the workers started balling queens in tennis ball-sized clumps, presumably to kill off the queens they didn’t like. She dug through the ball of bees to be sure of what they were cooking in the middle! She had video showing the balling behavior - bees frantically buzzing and vibrating to overheat the queen in the middle of the clump.

I have never seen that in a swarm before, but it must happen quite often given the number of swarm cells a hive can produce at once. Both Michael’s comments and the first article I linked above hint at how many queen cells appear when a hive is determined to swarm - very impressive! :blush:

Swarming is very chaotic. The bees may be confining several queens for later and in the chaos of a swarm several escape. It’s not unusual to find three or four queens in a swarm. Also I don’t think one swarm can really identify itself as separate from another. I’ve often seen two clusters in the trees (swarm fever often seems to break out when one colony swarms) and the keep changing size as bees drift to one or the other of them. Even more obvious when you knock them down trying to hive them and the one left gets much bigger. My guess is that with 20 queens, there were several clusters from several hives each with several queens who ended up together. There are several theories on balling queens. My guess is that there is some truth to all of them. One is that they are attacking the queen. Huber is so seldom wrong that I usually defer to him. In this case, my own observations show he is right about balling of queens some of the time, but not all the time. Huber insists they are not attacking her, though the workers may eventually let her starve if they don’t see a good reason to release her eventually. Some say they are protecting the queen. Huber seems to think when they ball their own queen it’s to isolate her and eventually set her up for battle with the other queen and that killing queens is the exclusive job of queens. I’ve seen bees balling a queen that were making motions to sting her, so I don’t think they are always trying to protect her, nor do I agree with Huber that they won’t sting her. I think they do it for a variety of reasons, but one of them is to control her without killing her until they make up their mind what needs to be done. Huber seems to agree with this one.

Does the fact that there’z not honey built up amongst the brood indicate they arent swarming?

So i’ve been back into the hive today. They’ve never been so grumpy, bumping me before i was within 4m of the hive. Felt bad annoying them so much but had to be done.

Found queen cups and larger queen cells… and there were small larvae too so i’m pretty confident they are swarm cells.

So i decided to split. I went through both brood boxes and didn’t see the queen… i’vr never seen her. And was losing heart. I was pretty confident she was in the bottom box as the middle box was all capped and there were larvae in the bottom box. I started going through the bottom box again, praying for divine help and resigning myself to cutting out the queen cells. On the 3rd frame i spotted her tail disappearing through a gap in the comb. It took me ages to find her again but eventually i did. She’s now in a 4 frame nuc with a frame of capped and uncapped brood, a frame of honey, a frame of empty brood comb and an empty frame.

I’ve left it adjacent to the old hive (is this right?).

Do i need to leave well alone or do regular checks?


Sounds like your in control there ! Ya took the “bull by the hornes” as my mom use to say n got the job done ! Congrats bro !

Now when n how often you check is a personal thing. I’m DARN nosy so tend to check weekly to see how they’re doing but many think that’s way too much.

Depending on your nectar/pollen flow now … You should be okay for several weeks … But a Nuc can grow out of that single box quickly. I captured a SWARM our last Spring in mid May (northern hemisphere) n by mid-July when I transferred them I had a triple 5 frame Nuc hive. And I had stolen two frames of brood n one of nectar/pollen/honey to add to another needy colony or two. Nuc’s can be really nice resources of supplies n resources to help one or more other colony(s).

Hope this help giving you my 2 cents worth bro !

Ta ta n good luck,

1 Like

if spring is coming in Perth like it seems to be in Adelaide- that nuc could grow very quickly over the next month.

1 Like

I just worked out that based on the capped brood in the main hive… there must be about 40000 bees waiting to hatch! In hindsight i dont think there is any doubt they were planning to swarm.

Think i’ll have to move more into the nuc.

With the nuc beside the old hive… which way are they likely to drift? To the queen or to the old hive?

So an update. I was concerned that there might not be enough bees in the nuc (can’t control drift). Cracked the lid of the nuc to check. Only opened it a tiny crack for about 1s and 20 bees poured out. Pretty happy that I don’t need to delve any deeper.

If it’s packed with bees - is it safe to work on waiting a week to check on whether they have completed drawing the empty frames? I’m assuming I will need to move to an 8 frame box fairly quickly.