What Is A Bee Vacuum? The Essential Guide

A bee vacuum and a swarm of bees on a tree.

Most of the time specialized equipment isn’t needed to perform cutouts or catch a swarm. But bees occasionally get themselves into spots that are tricky to access, like in a wall cavity or high up in a tree.

A safe and simple solution for the beekeeper is to suck them up with a bee vacuum. But how do you get one of these devices and will they harm the bees? This guide answers all your questions about bee vacs.

What are bee vacuums?

A bee vacuum is a low-powered vacuum cleaner, purpose-built for sucking up honey bees without injuring or killing them. It is useful for removing an unwanted rogue colony or a docile swarm in an awkward place.

The main purpose of a bee vac is to transfer a colony from point A to B without endangering the safety of the beekeeper or colony. It should never be to used to exterminate bees by vacuuming them up and discarding them.   

A bee vacuum uses negative pressure to create suction, like a regular household vacuum. But its sucking power is much lower, meaning it couldn’t be used for everyday cleaning. The bee vac requires a delicate balance: strong enough to suck in bees, but not so powerful that the bees get injured or die.   

A swarm of bees high in a tree branch
Bee vacs are excellent for catching swarms in difficult places.

Main parts of a bee vacuum

A bee vac is a surprisingly simple piece of equipment. The main components are a weak home vacuum cleaner with a hose attachment and a suitably sized reception bin. The bin needs to be large enough to hold the bees safely, so dustbags aren’t appropriate.

If you operate with a Langstroth hive, it may be helpful to use a housing container that’s a similar size to the hive bodies it is getting transferred to. The vacuum container can then be stacked between two boxes, allowing the bees to easily enter their new home.

Benefits of a bee vac

There are several benefits to using a bee vacuum that relates to efficiency and safety – both for the beekeeper and bees. 

  • Allows beekeepers to safely capture swarms in hard-to-reach places like recesses, chimneys, and high up tree branches.
  • Unwanted hives containing potentially aggressive rogue bees can be removed with little contact.
  • An efficient way to collect bees quickly and consistently. 

Should anyone use a bee vacuum?

For the safety of yourself and the colony, we only recommend using this tool if you’re experienced working with bees. Although these insects are typically docile creatures, they may try to protect their queen once they realize what you’re doing.

Anyone who uses a bee vac should always wear a full beekeeping suit, especially during hive extractions. If something goes wrong or the equipment doesn’t work as expected, you’ll have a bunch of very angry bees to deal with.

Can things go wrong using a bee vac?

A fully-suited experienced beekeeper using a well-made commercial bee vacuum should have very few issues.

If you choose to make a DIY bee vac, then it’s important to get the suction just right. Too much power and the bees will hit the collection container walls hard, resulting in broken wings or death.

Providing the right ventilation for the bees is also crucial to their survival. They’ll quickly overheat once the vac is turned off so you’ll need to transfer them fast or have a way to keep them cool. Containers with ventilated sides are a useful feature.

The mortality rate is usually high for a hive with a lot of liquid honey flowing. It gets on the bees and blocks their breathing holes.

Enjoying learning about equipment for beekeepers? You may also want to read our guide to hive tools.

7 tips for using a bee vacuum

  1. Use protective gear to avoid bee stings, even if you don’t usually wear any. This sucking device is a threat to the colony and they may attack, especially if you experience gear malfunction.
  2. Perform multiple tests to make sure everything works. Make sure you’re comfortable using the vac before doing it for real.
  3. When possible, wait until nightfall as the bees will be in a relaxed state or sleeping. Ideally, you’ll be able to quickly hoover them up before they know what’s going on.
  4. Have a good understanding of your hive comonents so that the offload is super-efficient with minimal disruption.
  5. If the container gets too full they’ll overheat, so transfer them to a nuc on site.
  6. Check the relief gate is open to avoid using too much suction power and killing the bees.
  7. Beekeepers will often use smoke to calm the bees before using a vac. Don’t use too much as the bees may overeat the honey and regurgitate it when sucked up.

How to use a bee vac

To get a better idea of how to use a bee vacuum, check out this video. It shows a beekeeper removing wild bees from a toilet. You’ll notice that after smoking the hive, he carefully begins sucking up the bees like a regular vacuum.  

How to make a bee vac

The easiest way to get a bee vacuum is to buy one from a trusted supplier. There are plenty of options but the Bushkill BeeVac gets plenty of good reviews. These devices are purpose-built and tested for removing bees safely and humanely.

If you’re the practical type, you may want to try making your own bee vacuum. Follow this video to make a simple homemade version for around $30. Be sure to test it out before use to make sure it’s not too powerful. If it can vacuum your floor at home, it may have too much strength.

Commonly asked questions

Why do people use bee vacuums?

Bee vacuums are useful tools for safely and efficiently collecting bees from inaccessible spaces. The end of the vacuum can easily fit into crevices, chimneys, and holes in tree trunks. It can also be raised high into trees using a pole.

Does a bee vacuum hurt the bees?

A bee vac with appropriate suction shouldn’t harm the majority of bees; however, there will usually be a small percentage of bees that don’t survive the experience. Using too much suction or not providing adequate ventilation once they’re captured will result in a high mortality rate. 

Should I use a ribbed or smooth hose?

Ribbed and smooth vacuum hoses are both suitable for use with a bee vacuum. The ribbed variety is cheaper, lighter, and often more flexible which makes them a popular option.

Summing up

Most of the time you can move a swarm of bees by scooping them into a box. If they’re your own bees, moving supers is fairly straightforward.

But bees occasionally settle in places that make life difficult. That’s where a bee vacuum comes in handy. It allows the user to easily suck up the colony and transfer them to a new location. The process is easy and there should be minimal collateral damage to the bees when done right. 

Bee vacuums shouldn’t be operated by people who don’t have experience dealing with bees. If you’re not a beekeeper, call a swarm removalist to get rid of unwanted bees from your property. This service is often free and you’ll also save money on bee sting cream.

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