How to Attract a Swarm of Bees

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Every new beekeeper wants to learn how to attract a swarm of bees. Perhaps, you wish to lure them into an empty beehive – or a favorite bait trap. The use of a swarm trap (bait) is the easiest way to acquire free bees. But, how can you convince the swarm to move in? Here are some tips for attracting honey bees to your hives and traps.

Swarm of bees attracted to nuc bait trap image.

Over many years of beekeeping, I have tried various tricks and schemes to lure swarming honey bees into my traps. Consistency is the problem – things don’t work the same every time so you end up trying a lot of ideas.

Best Practices to Attract Bees to a Hive

While there is a wide variety of successful methods used-to consider, the following all play an important role in luring bees to a hive trap.

  • location
  • scent attractant and lures

Choose a Good Location

I have already shared with you some good tips for how to set up a swarm trap. Indirectly, this has an affect on whether or not you catch bees. No matter the type of lure you choose to use – a trap in a bad location is not as likely to be successful.

Some people get overly-concerned about the height of a trap to catch swarms. Bees 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. A tree at the edge of the forest line is a good choice. My traps in cedar trees seem to do well.

Using Scent or Lure-Bee Attractants

One of the most reliable methods of luring in a swarm of bees is to use scent. Honey bees are very sensitive to smell. Another reason why you don’t want to go to the bee yard smelling like a bear – or a flower.

There are several ways beekeepers use scent as a swarm lure:

  • old brood comb – beeswax
  • commercial swarm lures
  • homemade swarm lures

Old Comb

In addition to using an old bee box, consider some dark or even black honeycomb. The scent of old brood comb causes scout bees to take a second look.

If you have an frame – or even a small piece of older comb rotated out of a hive – that’s a good lure.

Old comb contains cocoons, bee propolis, pollen and honey smells. It doesn’t matter if the comb is old and black – in fact the scout bees may like it even better that way.

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Odors attract worker bees inside swarm bait nuc box image.

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Swarm Lures

Many beekeepers chose to use a commercial swarm lure to attract honey bee swarms. These lures contain a synthetic hormone that simulates the nasonov pheromone. They simply get the attention of scout bees.

This is especially helpful if you do not have an old hive box or used honeycomb. Honestly, I use both old comb and pheromone lure.

My current favorite is one called Swarm Commander. I use the liquid form (most often) and dabble a few drops at the trap entrance. (Don’t over do it). Repeat every 2-3 weeks. The ready to use vials are simply placed inside the trap.

Homemade Swarm Lures

In addition to purchasing lures you can make your own. One method is to simply use two or three drops of Lemongrass Essential Oil placed on the top of one of the frames in the trap.

Be careful – a little bit is enough. Lemongrass Oil may need to be replaced a bit more often that the commercial stuff but don’t over do it.

Honey bee scout attracted to a pulp swarm trap image.

When Swarm Scout Bees Arrive

One of the most important considerations when trying to attract a swarm of bees is the scouts. These female workers are responsible for searching for food sources and new homes.

Get your traps out early, scout bees will be checking well in advance of the swarm leaving the mother hive.

Some of them may even spend the night in a potential nest site. It’s rather like a honey bee sleep-over

If you see an increasing number of scout bees near a trap, do not attempt to make adjustments to the trap at this time. Continue to monitor your trap and check back in a couple of days.

If you see normal foraging flights coming and going, that may indicate that your trap was successful in attracting a swarm.

Why Attractants Don’t Always Work

Any of these methods can be successful. Yet, sometimes they will not work. You can have the “seemingly” perfect setup that should be attractive to any bee swarm – yet they go somewhere else.

We don’t always know why. Perhaps, there are many new colony sites in your area that the bees like better. Maybe you used too little or too much swarm lure – beekeepers do make mistakes. But, it could have been a number of factors.


How do you attract a swarm of bees?

The easiest way to attract a swarm of bees is to use a commercial swarm lure. These contain pheromones that attract honey bees. Homemade lures are another possibility.

What bait for bee swarms?

In addition to commercial lures, many beekeepers use lemongrass essential oil as bait to attract swarms to a hive. Lemongrass oil is the best natural bait for a trap.

Do swarm lures work?

While swarm lures increase your chances of success in attracting a swarm – nothing works every time. There will be times when you do not catch the swarm.

Final Thoughts

I encourage you to try attracting bee swarms to an empty bait hive or swarm trap. It is a lot of fun and can be profitable too. With the cost of bees, the idea of luring one into an empty hive is worth a shot. But, sometimes the bees don’t go in the box – they hang in a tree nearby. In that case, you need to know how to catch a swarm of bees in a tree safely.