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Bait Traps for Swarms

Thousands or tens of thousands of bees are soon to be on the move as SPRING IS ON ITS WAY! These swarms will temporarily land on a limb, branch, fence post or other objects, forming what appears to be a “beard.” (Usually 15’- 75’ away from home) Scout bees will soon leave from this temporary landing site going in all directions in search of a new home. (May take hours or a few days) Notice: Multiple, generally docile families ISO (In search of) 1 bedroom Bait Hive- 1 story, partially shaded, light weight, durable, high and dry home. Volume size – 10 to 18 gallons and a two-inch entrance towards the bottom. Short term lease preferred. Fully furnished with propolis, natural beeswax and Nasanov gland pheromone. Beekeeper management required! 

Photo credit: Klaus Langpohl

Each spring, healthy colonies become overcrowded. As a result, a new queen is raised in each colony to replace the old mother queen. They will soon depart with about half of their colony while leaving most all resources and the remaining bees. They can be captured while bearded by dropping them into a box. Otherwise, luring the swarms to bait boxes might be the goal.

Swarms tend to happen on a warm sunny day between 10am-2pm. The swarm’s “ISO criteria” have been verified by scout bees and the signals given to their sisters to occupy the new bait box home. Let’s briefly consider why these new homes were likely chosen.

Timing - The newly occupied bait hives were placed “on the market” (installed) prior to the local Swarm season which occurs in early Spring, (concurring with the nectar flow). The goal was to have the bait box in place 2-3 weeks before the scouts started looking for new homes. Consider the following: A swarm of bees in May is worth a bale of hay. (prior to nectar flow) A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon. (during nectar flow) A swarm of bees in July is not worth a fly. (after nectar flow) In other words - Swarms caught in early season are usually more productive.

Location, location, location - The chosen bait hives were partially selected due to their locations. When searching, the scouts preferred locations that had water, older trees, roads, power lines and/or fence rows. Our bait hives were indeed in productive locations having several of the above priorities. Other needs which were met included morning and evening sun exposure with shade in the middle of the day. Apparently, the boxes were very level and mostly placed for beekeeper safety and easy retrieval. While the most widely recognized mounting height is 21 feet above ground, ours ranged 6-12 feet.

Photo credit:

Options, options, options - Types of bait hives available

Bait homes that have great curb appeal and occupancy, include – Standard Langstroth hives, Nuc boxes, paper Mâché pots and custom-made boxes. The easiest and lightest weight bait hive is the paper Mâché pots (molded paper fiber design). This design has the option of hanging both horizontally or vertically. One of the newly occupied homes was a used Nuc box. While small in size, this model quickly attracted a family. Similar to Nuc boxes are custom made bait hives. Multiple plans are available for these on the internet. Another of the chosen bait hives happened to be a 10 frame Langstroth hive with a solid bottom board which was staged with an old drawn brood frame from a healthy colony. Located beside this frame were 9 foundationless frames with starter strips (see photo).

Photo credit: Beekeeping in Onterio

The open strips created space for the scouts to measure the volume of this new home which was undoubtedly appreciated.

Other attractants that could have been used in moderation are

both of which mimic Nasonov gland pheromone, and are both good choices! Above and Beyond, some locations also contained drizzled beeswax and propolis smeared on the inside as a bonus!

Tip - It helps a lot if the bait hive smells like bees (old comb – beeswax - propolis) and is facing south. CHECK BACK every 7-10 days after move-in was recognized and incoming pollen was observed! No longer docile, these newly established colonies are now ready to be moved to a permanent location.

By: James Elam

Credits Honeybee Democracy- Thomas Seeley Seeley and Morse 1977 Schmidt 1995 The Apiarist Fife, Scotland Bee Culture

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