Attracting Honey Bee Swarms to a Swarm Trap
The time of honey bee swarming allows opportunities for beekeepers to get free bees! You may get lucky enough to find a bee swarm hanging in a tree. Or, you may want to set swarm traps or bait hives. What can we do to aid in attracting honey bee swarms to them?
What is a Bee Swarm?
When a colony becomes crowded, about half of the bees will leave the mother colony and build a new home. This is called a bee swarm.
It is a natural part of the honey bee life cycle. All healthy honey bee colonies reproduce in this way at least once a year.
Swarming is one of the most exciting aspects of beekeeping. Beekeepers love seeing bees flying in large masses in the air.
The bees seem to fly crazily with no pattern. Yet, they somehow avoid running into each other- for the most part .
The first time is especially exciting for new beekeepers. And, a swarm can seem scary too- if it is your first experience.
It is common to be afraid of making beekeeping mistakes! That’s okay though – it will happen.
In my Online Beekeeping Class, I tell my students that it is important to not beat themselves up when things go wrong. It is natural to have some failures.
Many beekeepers (including myself) put honey bee swarm prevention strategies in place. We don’t want our colonies to swarm.
This is because a honey bee colony that produces a swarm – often makes less honey that season.
However, bees have a different agenda than we do – and this is a natural tendency. We have to work with the natural traits of our bees.
Swarm Traps Can Help Catch Swarms
We can not always stop the swarm from happening, so it is a good idea to invest some time in catching a honey bee swarm before they leave your property.
One swarm management technique is to put out bait hives or swarm traps early in the season.
Our goal is to entice any relocating bees into one of these boxes. Then, we can later move the colony to a permanent hive.
This is a great way to expand your apiary and have more colonies without having to buy bees.
Honey Bee Swarm Traps
It is a good idea to put out several swarm traps in various locations. Not every location will be successful.
The traps can be made of many different materials. And we beekeepers can argue all day about which style or size is the best.
You may choose a more “earthy” type of trap. Or use a small nuc box or plastic/cardboard one to catch a swarm.
Do you have a nuc box? This is a small hive box that is half the size of a regular 10 frame hive. Every beekeeper needs to keep a nuc on hand.
Nucs made of wood last for years. But, special cardboard nucs are great to have as well.
I have caught bees many times in nuc sized boxes but you may miss some bigger swarms that want more room.
Swarm Traps Placement
Most honey bee colonies swarm during good weather. Swarming is also more likely in times of ample forage.
Spring is the biggest swarm season. In my region, I see the most bee swarms during late March, April and through May.
This means that my swarm traps are out by mid February. Weeks before the main mass of bees leave the colony, scout bees will be checking out possible locations for a new home.
It is important to give the scout bees time to find your trap. You may have a swarm move in immediately but this is not the normal thing.
When Bee Swarms Occur
The reproductive season in South Carolina is from March thru September or October.
Do I ever see honey bee swarms in February or late October? You bet! Never attempt to say what bees will or will not do, they will prove you wrong.
Warmer than normal weather in early Spring can speed up swarming. Fall bee swarms are not uncommon either.
So I tend to leave my swarm traps in place until late October. Some years, I forget to bring them in for Winter.
Scout Bees Are the Realtors of The Bee Swarm World
Weeks of preparation go into the process of issuing a swarm. During this time scout bees are out looking – and hopefully at YOUR bait hive or swarm trap.
We want them to really like the size and placement of our bee swarm traps. If your goal is attracting honey bee swarms, your target is to attract the scout bees first.
Some of the scout bees may even spend the night in a potential nest site. It’s rather like a sleep-over!
A forager will come and go from a hive site with determination. If you see numerous bees buzzing around the entrance of your swarm trap, seeming to measure – thats a good sign.
When you see an increasing number of scout bees near a swarm trap. That may indicate a bee swarm arrival soon.
A Favorite Bee Swarm Trap Setup
We can find bees residing in many different locations. From the expected, prepared swarm trap to the unused gas grill on your neighbor’s porch. You just never know.
My favorite type of swarm trap or bait hive is an old hive body. A used hive body has the smell of bees! Old pieces of beeswax and propolis scent remains in the wood.
I like to use a solid bottom. Unlike a normal solid bottom board, I actually nail a flat piece of wood to the bottom of the hive body.
My trap will not be used by the bees year-round. I will transfer them to a permanent bee box.
Honey Bees like darkness inside their hive. I add a tight-fitting top that can be easily removed (with screws-not nails) and a small 1-inch hole drilled in the hive body about 2 inches up from the bottom.
The small entrance gives the bees a feeling of safety. They are better able to protect a small entrance from robber bees.
Commercial Pulp Bait Hives
Some beekeepers like to use the commercially available beehive traps made out of a pulp-like material. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
It is not a long lasting solution but they are lightweight and easy to handle. I have seen some beekeepers make a swarm trap from an XL pulp flower pot!
Best Swarm Trap Locations
What is the perfect location for your swarm trap? Well, that subject is open to debate and there are many different ideas.
Most resources agree that a swarm trap with the interior size of a deep hive body is a good choice. And, elevating the bait hive off the ground is good.
Some people get overly-concerned about the height of a trap to catch swarms. As I mentioned before, bees tend to do what they want. They can fly.
I have had great success attracting bee swarms to traps less than 10 feet off the ground. Many folks like to have traps higher – at about 15 ft. Be safe!
Getting an empty swarm trap up in the tree is one thing. Will you be able to get it down with 10-20 pounds of weight inside?
You will have a better chance of attracting honey bee swarms if your trap is in a shaded location. A tree at the edge of the forest line is a good choice.
And don’t forget swarm trap maintenance. Each season, check your trap to make sure it is in good shape.
Not every swarm trap location will work. You may have to experiment a bit to find the perfect combination of box and spot.
Scent Lures Attract Swarming Bees
One of the most reliable methods of attracting a swarm of honey bees is to lure them with scent. Several options can be used for scent.
Do you have an old frame of used honeycomb? The smell of beeswax will encourage scout bees to check out the location.
In my experience, I have had better luck using just a couple of old frames with comb in my bait trap. When I filled the box with 10 frames, I caught fewer swarms.
This method requires you to monitor the swarm trap often. When the bees move in, they will begin to build honeycomb from the top of the box.
I don’t expect them to use the old frame, it is just there for scent. Other beekeepers like to use 1 frame with old comb and fill the rest of the space with empty frames.
Swarm Lures to Attract A Honey Bee Swarm
Many beekeepers chose to use a commercial swarm lure to attract honey bees.
This is especially helpful if you do not have an old hive box or used honeycomb. Honestly, I use both old comb and lure.
My current favorite is one called Swarm Commander (see on Amazon). I use the liquid form (most often) and dabble a few drops at the trap entrance.
Repeated every 2-3 weeks. The ready to use vials are simply placed inside the trap.
Any of these methods can be successful, find out what works for you in your area.
Honey Bee Trap Quick Guide
- Place your trap out 3-4 weeks before the Spring Nectar Flow
- Use a large container/old hive body with solid floor and top
- Drill a 1″ opening for an entrance
- An old piece of honeycomb inside attracts scout bees
- Use a commercial swarm lure if desired
- Check your traps often
- When bees moves in – relocate to a permanent location
Will you always be able to attract a bee swarm to your bait hive? No. Attracting bee swarms is a lot like fishing.
You put forth your best effort and hope it works. Sometimes it will not work – so we try something different.