Honey bees ignore swarm traps

Several years ago I bought two swarm traps, hoping to catch runaway honey bees. They look like giant paper-mache flower pots with lids. Now swarm trap hanging, baiting, and storing are rituals I repeat every year. So far, however, they have yielded nothing.

Before I purchased the traps I bought the DVD from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm that explains in slow southern detail all the in-and-outs of swarm trapping. It describes where to hang them, how high to hang them, and which direction they should face. It shows how to install the pheromone lure and explains how often to replace it. The DVD features beekeepers who have populated whole apiaries by catching swarms—hundreds of swarms. By the end of the DVD I was sure I could add dozens of hives to my collection.

As it turns out, swarm traps are little more than a storage problem for me. Because western Washington winters are so wet, I take them down in the fall and store them in a shed. In the spring, I buy new lures and hang them up again. I suppose I will keep doing this until they wear out . . . or I do. Something about a fragrant spring morning after a long, dank winter always compels me to try again.

The answer to why they don’t work for me is also in the DVD. For one thing, they are mounted too close to my own apiary. I tried to put them as far away as possible, but that isn’t very far. Honey bees like to move away from a crowded area when they swarm, so I’m highly unlikely to catch my own swarms with traps mounted so nearby.

The other reason is that there are not a lot of beekeepers in my area—at least none that I know about. Swarm traps are really good for catching your neighbor’s honey bees, but if your neighbors don’t have honey bees then you’re left trying to catch feral swarms. But, again, those bees are not going to want to move into a crowded area.

The one swarm I did catch this summer flew right past my swarm traps loaded with fresh pheromones and into an empty top-bar hive that was sitting beside the driveway. That was definitely more convenient for me than moving them from a trap into the hive, but how often is that going to happen?

So for now, up the hill I go. It’s time to bring the swarm traps in for another long, wet winter.

Rusty

Swarm trap in a tree. Photo by the author.
Swarm trap in a tree. Photo by the author.

Comments

Donna Kanyan
Reply

We also use the swarm catchers, and we have had good luck with them. Caught a huge swarm out of a house just about a week ago. Catcher was up about a week prior to the catch.

Rusty
Reply

I’m jealous. I’ve put up two swarm traps every year for many years and never caught a thing. I keep trying, thinking this will be the year.

Cher
Reply

I started with two beehives this month and put out a swarm trap May 23 and found bees in it yesterday. It is only 3 feet off the ground, concealed at the edge of a patch of honeysuckle. I was shocked! Now, I’m not prepared to move them… as I don’t have the equipment ready.

Rusty
Reply

Cher,

I’m so jealous! My swarm traps are now five years old. I put new lures in them every year and they’ve never even seen a bee up close!

Tim
Reply

Rusty,

I just lost a swarm out of my second year hive this weekend. In the future I thought I would keep an empty hive with a lure in it to try and catch the swarm if one of my three hives decides to swarm next May. How far away does this hive have to be from my other three?

Second concern, what should I do to the hive that seems to have lost more than half its population to the swarm? They were working on their second supper of tulip poplar honey when they left Saturday. Do they need sugar water to help them build back up or will they just put it in the honey super and ruin it?

Thanks,

Tim

Rusty
Reply

Tim,

I’ve read all kinds of advice on how far away a bait hive has to be, but I don’t believe it matters that much. I have seen bees move into empty hives that were right beside the hive they just swarmed from. I’ve also seen them ignore a nearby bait hive to go further away. I think the attractiveness of the bait hive is more important than the distance. If you haven’t already, read http://www.honeybeesuite.com/my-design-for-a-bait-hive/. Please note, however, that since I wrote that post I’ve had good results from the commercial swarm lures.

Second question: Do not feed syrup because it will just contaminate your honey. Never feed syrup when you’ve got a honey super in place because the bees treat it just like nectar. You most likely have lots of brood in your hive, and as soon as it starts to hatch the current nurse bees will become foragers and nectar collection will continue. Do check your hive in a couple of weeks to make sure you have a laying queen. If the colony doesn’t manage to raise a viable queen, you will have to introduce one.

Gerry
Reply

Rusty,

I’ve had two 8-frame swarm traps up in place for the past month now with no activity so I’ve basically forgot of them until yesterday evening when my neighbor told me his 2.5 month old colony swarmed on Friday morning (19 Jul). I asked him if he looked around to see where they may have landed he said he hadn’t so I immediately began scouting around the trees behind our home to see if we could possibly locate them balled up somewhere. After 30 minutes of looking, no luck. I told him I had two swarm traps in trees in my back yard and suggested we go take a look at them. Low and behold one of the swarm traps was housing a colony so I assumed this was likely his swarm. I told him we should take a peek into his only hive and see what’s going on in there since he hadn’t looked into it for two weeks. I was expecting to see swarm cells and at least some larva, but upon inspection I couldn’t find a single queen cell or larva…only capped worker brood. Is it possible that the swarm that departed his hive—timed their departure knowing another queen was about to emerge? I’ve heard that a virgin queen (before emerging) will “pipe.” Honey bees are fascinating creatures, but I have a hard time believing they’re THAT intelligent. Fortunately for me, I’ve never (even in the 70’s) dealt with losing a swarm from my hives so I’m not familiar with what the swarm leaves with the “parent” colony, but I thought it would leave the parent colony with at least larvae and swarm cells. Of course, these observations indicate my neighbor’s colony is doomed (unless there’s a virgin queen in there). As a test, I pulled a frame of brood out of one of my hives and inserted it inside his to see if they start building queen cells by Tuesday. Likely, sooner if queenless since I’ve read articles that queenless colonies will realize they’re without her in a matter of hours after she’s gone.

This is the first hive my neighbor every tried to establish. He tells me he started with a 5-frame NUC and introduced in to a 10-frame Lang. The bees drew that foundation out quite well in the deep (but not entirely). Then he tells me he added a medium super of foundation and for some reason added a plastic queen excluder and a deep super of foundation on top of that! He started the hive on May 10th and the only foundation drawn is in the bottom deep chamber. We’re in a dearth of nectar right now and he only fed them a pint of syrup or so after initial start-up and then stopped, but they did have some capped honey stores and pollen in the deep brood chamber. It’s almost looks as though they absconded, but I thought when a colony absconds…that all bees depart. He has what appears to be on the order of a 3# package of bees left at the parent hive…do you think these girls stayed behind because there was so much capped worker brood left? I was shocked not to see any larva or swarm cells. Can the swarm that departed be successfully reintroduced with the colony they left? Perhaps add a swarm guard to the entrance and the old newspaper between supers trick?

Rusty
Reply

Gerry,

A swarm usually leaves just after the queen cells are capped. It’s possible he has a virgin queen in there, or she may have died on her mating flight.

You can re-introduce a swarm to the parent colony. Just use standard combining procedures such as newspaper.

Gerry
Reply

No queen cells were raised from the frame of eggs/larvae that I gave my neighbor’s hive so I assume there’s a virgin queen present, since there are no eggs or larva in the rest brood chamber. I guess we wait at least 10-days or so to see whether there’s any progress.

Nat Davis
Reply

I suggest you guys check out Swarm Traps and Bait Hives by McCartney Taylor. Excellent source of info on the subject and his methods work!

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