Found a honey bee swarm? There's a list of BRBA members willing to safely trap and remove swarms at the bottom of this page.
But first, learn about swarms and swarm removal below.
What is a honey bee swarm?
A swarm is a large colony of honey bees, consisting of workers and a queen, searching for a new place to build a hive. To us, it looks like a big cluster of bees hanging from a tree branch, a building overhang, or other location. This is a temporary resting place for the cluster to wait while scout bees search out a permanent home. Typically, a swarm cluster remains in place for a couple hours (although sometimes they stay for a day or more), so it’s important to contact a beekeeper quickly to come remove them.
Why do honey bees swarm?
Swarming is a natural part of a honey bee colony’s reproductive process and is most common in the spring and early summer. When a colony is healthy and thriving, it outgrows its hive. The worker bees begin raising a new queen, and the old queen leaves the colony with 10,000 to 30,000 of the worker bees to establish a new colony elsewhere.
Is the swarm dangerous?
Swarming bees are usually very docile and calm. That said, don’t touch the bees or try to shoo them off, as that could make them defensive. Instead, contact an experienced beekeeper like one of those on the list below to safely remove the swarm and give it a new home. Please do not spray them with insecticide or water.
Shouldn’t I just let nature take its course and leave the bees to do their thing?
There are a couple problems with leaving a swarm to its own devices.
First, that swarm is just looking for a quiet, enclosed space to set up its new home. Ideally, that would be a hollow tree. But it’s just as likely to be someone’s attic, tool shed, or even car trunk! Once that hive is established and the bees have brood and honey to defend, they can become a real nuisance and cause property damage to boot.
Second, research has shown that in the wild, the survival rate of swarms is only about 10%, so the swarming colony has a much higher survival rate if they are transferred to a beekeeper’s hive, just like a domesticated chicken has a much better chance of survival in a coop than out on its own.
Okay, so how much will it cost me to have someone trap this swarm?
Usually, beekeepers don’t charge for a typical swarm removal in a tree or shrub, although that’s something you’ll want to ask upfront. But keep in mind that more complicated removals, such as one high in a tree or requiring multiple trips, might mean a small fee. All told, calling a beekeeper is going to be a better option than calling an exterminator — for your wallet, and for the bees!
If what you’ve found is an established hive and not a swarm, removal is more complicated, and usually not free. This is known as a “cut out”. BRBA has some members with cut out experience, so we still encourage you to contact us, and we’ll do our best to get you in touch with a specialist. Removing established bee colonies in the walls or soffits of buildings may require expensive repairs once the bee colony has been removed.
What are other “bees” that are commonly confused for swarming honey bees?
German yellowjacket wasps, unlike honey bees, build their nests underground. If their nest is disturbed, yellowjackets erupt from the nest and will repeatedly sting. Their venom produces severe pain in a person or pet. Yellowjackets are most problematic in late summer and fall.
Mason bees are native to Missouri. They closely resemble honey bees but are about 25% smaller. They often build solitary nests in wood piles or rock crevices. Mason bees tend not to sting.
Learn more about Missouri’s native bee species in this guide from the St. Louis Zoo.
Swarm Removal List
Please have the following information ready for the beekeeper when you call:
Are you sure it’s honey bees? If you’re not sure, try to get a picture or short video so that you can send it to the beekeeper for identification.
Where is the swarm? Is it in a tree or on a building?
How high off the ground is it? This will help the beekeeper know what equipment to bring.
How long has the swarm been there?
How big is the swarm? About the size of a football? A BASKETBALL? Give your best guess.
Your name, phone number, and address
This page includes information adapted from the Missouri State Beekeepers Association.