Attracting Honey Bee Swarms to a Swarm Trap
One exciting method of getting free bees is by attracting a honey bee swarm to one of your traps. Some beekeepers get lucky and find a bee swarm hanging within reach in a tree. But, setting up swarm traps or bait hives is one get way to catch bees – even when you are not home. The season of bee swarms allows opportunities for beekeepers to get free bees or at least catch their own before they leave!
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 mistakes in beekeeping. That’s okay though – it will happen-everyone has a few beekeeping errors to talk about.
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) try to limit or prevent honey bee swarms . Why? 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 to swarm is a natural tendency. We have to work with the natural traits of our bees.
How to Catch Honey Bees
We can not always stop the swarm from happening. But, we can invest some time in looking for them and attempting to catch the swarm before it leaves your property.
Different styles of bait hives or swarm traps are placed in nearby trees 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.
Honey Bee Swarm Traps
You need more than 1 swarm trap. 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 made of wood pulp. Or some beekeepers prefer to use a small nuc box or plastic/cardboard one.
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.
Pulp Bait Hive
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!
Early Swarm Trap Placement
Most honey bee colonies swarm during good weather. Mild warm days in times of ample forage can bring forth the swarm. Spring is the biggest swarm season.
Swarm traps should be placed in key locations several weeks before warm weather.
Members of the colony will be checking out possible locations for a new home- well in advance of the swarm leaving. It is important to give the scout bees time to find your trap.
Best Time of Year to Catch Swarms
The reproductive season in South Carolina is from March thru September or October. You can adjust that timeline for your climate.
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.
Attracting Scout Bees
Weeks of preparation go into the process of issuing a swarm. During this time some foragers assume the role of scouting – they 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. Some of the scout bees may even spend the night in a potential nest site. It’s rather like a sleep-over!
What does scout bee behavior look like? They seem to be measuring – a forager will come and go from the entrance of the trap. Buzzing all around the outside – perhaps looking for other openings.
When you see an increasing number of scout bees near a swarm trap. That may indicate a bee swarm arrival soon. Be sure to check back in a couple of days.
And sometimes, these scouts chose locations that we do not want – such as the siding of your home – oops.
A Favorite Honey 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.
A favorite type of swarm trap 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.
Use a solid bottom for your bait hive. Unlike a normal solid bottom board (that leaves a large entrance) nail a flat piece of wood to the bottom of the hive body. Then, drill a small 1 inch hole in the hive body about 2 inches up from the bottom.
Or, reduce the entrance to a small 1 – 2 ” opening with an entrance reducer or other. Bees do not want a hard to defend entrance for a new colony.
Honey Bees like darkness inside their hive. Add a tight-fitting top that can be easily removed (with screws-not nails).
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. You may have to experiment a bit to find the perfect combination of box and spot.
Scents that 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 Catch Honey Bees
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 . 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
Final Tips on Attracting Honey Bee Swarms:
Finding a swarm in your bait box is one of the best thrills of beekeeping. It always fills me with excitement – even when I truly don’t need another hive.
Will you always be able to attract a bee swarm to your bait hive? No. It’s a lot like fishing- you put forth your best effort and hope it works.
But, when you are successful at attracting a large honey bee swarm – you feel like a beekeeping hero!