beekeeping equipment swarming

Swarm traps can be powerful or no good at all

Sometimes things can go wrong with swarm traps. This one contains a wasp nest.

Sometimes swarm traps just don’t work. When I took this one down, I found it filled with an aerial yellowjacket nest. You can see the base of the nest in the entrance hole.

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.

Inside: This post first published in 2010 reflects my first few years with swarm traps. Since then, I have caught dozens of swarms in these same traps. I now think that practice (and weathering) makes perfect.

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 hundreds of swarms. By the end of the DVD, I was sure I could add dozens of hives to my collection.

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 superb for catching your neighbor’s honey bees. However, if your neighbors don’t have honey bees, then you’re left trying to catch feral swarms. But, again, those bees will not want to move into a crowded area.

The one swarm I caught this summer flew right past my swarm traps loaded with fresh pheromones. But, with a stroke of luck, they flew 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.

Honey Bee Suite


Swarm trap in a tree. Photo by the author.


  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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!

  • 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?



    • 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 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.

  • 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?

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

    • Rusty & fellow followers,

      Okay, so I’ve read your posts. At first I was thinking my winter in the garage making swarm traps was fruitless, as I read on it appears the information grew more positive. I live in Washington State, I often wonder about the bees, meaning are there dead zones, “no bees”, is there enough pollen to feed the bees in my area, “it’s kinda wooded”. It would only make sense to continue to relocate the swarm traps due to the cost of a nuc box. Remembering I live in Washington State it makes little sense to purchase a nuc from the Md West, East Coast or even California you would think the climate change would kill them, so why not continue to experiment within my climate in hopes of a win. As I continue to read I’m encouraged to give it a go, I’ll post my win or loss at the end of summer.

      • Jim,

        Nothing wrong with the idea. Just remember that most swarms issue from a first or second-year colony that originally came from a package shipped in from somewhere else, usually California. Yes, there are others as well, and some may have come from wild overwintered colonies. But it’s a numbers game, and the overwhelming odds tell us most local swarms originated from non-local bees.

        I still use swarm traps and I catch a lot of bees, but I always assume they came from imported bees.

  • if Any of You that Wish to Give Me Your Equipment , I am VERY MUCH Interested and I did Catch a Swarm Last Year, In California WE CAN SURE USE THEM to Support Bees From Dying !!

  • Rusty just something to try to make the most out of those traps, I use that same trap and to save a little bit of money I found that Greenhouse Mega Store has actual wood pulp flower pots the same size ans an inch or so wider and deeper with a piece of plywood screwed over the wide part and a hole drilled in the middle the same size as the hole on the package bee container that i cover so I can get the bees out with great success. It wasn’t always successful though, I’d add fresh pheromone every two weeks and not catch anything when some old seasoned beekeeper told me why honey bees so willingly move into baited empty hives. It’s the smell of the bees wax plus the added pheromones that draw the swarms. Heat up some capping wax and paint the inside real well with the wax that’s just barely liquified and then add the bait like you’ve been doing and your luck will change. The wax needs to be refreshed every 4 or 5 years to keep the sent strong and the pheromone is just the topping on the cake. I use Swarm Commander Lure, it also works great and the jell last longer or just push a pin through the plastic vial to last the whole season. Good Luck

    • Barney,

      I wrote that post 7 years ago. Now that I use Swarm Commander, I catch swarms in all my traps and bait hives.

  • I’ve also tried adding lemongrass, peppermint, spearmint, wintergreen, and clove essential oils mixed with the wax and although the trap smelled great it didn’t get me any more bees. I suppose it’s how deep your pockets are weather you use it or not but the swarm commander has those same smells.

    • Barney,

      It’s not the smells we can smell that attracts the bees. It’s the nine different queen pheromones they add to that stuff to make it work. Unless you mix queen pheromones (especially QMP) to your essential oils, they won’t work very often.

  • I use traps from Horizontal Hives…..and some I made from his plans. I add Swarm Commander and for the last three year have caught a swarm in 2 out of three traps each year.

  • Hello,

    You mention a yellowjacket screen to prevent them from invading a honey bee hive. Where can they be purchased? Or do you make them? If so do you have plans?

  • I’m excited. We’re getting close to swarm season. Been in the garage building swarm boxes throughout winter, probably have more than I’ll use. Been reading your posts, thank you Rusty for your reply, the feed back is welcomed. Once I figure out how to send pics I’ll do so. Good luck to all 🙂

  • What would happen if I bait a swarm trap with one spray of swarm commander, that already has one or two scout bees?

  • Just happened across this so figured I’d write. As I was getting tired of buying packages of bees every spring, this winter I decided to try making some swarm traps. Got 2 sheets of ply and made 4 traps.

    Got 2 of them mounted (several miles from my hives and about a mile apart), and after just 4 days, one of them had a swarm. It was about as big as a package so I figure I’m ahead of the game as the plywood etc only cost about $40 total.

    Still trying to find a location for the other two, but I am happy with the results so far.

  • Bonjour,

    Merci pour cet excelent article.
    Pour attraper un essaim, je vous suggere de diluer de la propolis dans de l alcool a 96° .
    Vous la filtrez et en vaporisez les parrois de votre piege a essaim avec un vaporisateur a main. Il en faut peu , juste humecter les parrois. Puis vous mettez quelques gouttes d huile essentiel de citronnelle ou lemongrass a l interieur. L ideal est de melanger cette huile essentiel avec de la paraffine pharmaceutique ( la paraffine qui n est pas pharmaceutique contient trop d impurtes, elle a un gout de graisse ). Vous mettez un peu de cette paraffine parfumee sur les parrois et a l entree du piege.
    Mettez en egalement un peu dans un sachet ou entre deux feuilles de plastique que vous poserez au fond du piege.
    Cette technique est d une efficacite redoutable. Cette annee j ai piege deux essaims a 10 jours d intervalle.
    Je vous souhaite une bonne chasse et une bonne annee apicole.

    [Google Translation]:

    Thank you for this excellent article.

    To catch a swarm, I suggest you dilute propolis in 96° alcohol.

    You filter it and spray the parrots of your swarm trap with a hand spray. It does not take much, just moisten the parrots. Then you put a few drops of essential oil of lemongrass or lemongrass inside. The ideal is to mix this essential oil with pharmaceutical paraffin (paraffin which is not pharmaceutical contains too many impurities, it has a taste of fat). You put some of this perfumed paraffin on the parrots and at the entrance of the trap.

    Put a little bit in a bag or between two sheets of plastic that you put in the bottom of the trap. This technique is of formidable efficiency. This year I trapped two swarms 10 days apart.

    I wish you a good hunt and a good year of beekeeping.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I plan to use the same molded fiber planting pot that you show in your photo this year for my swarm traps. If I am successful in attracting a swarm to one of these traps, how do I get the swarm into a nuc or full size hive? Do I unscrew the fiber pot from the plywood and dump the bees into the new box or do I cut a portion of the fiber pot (perhaps on the bottom) and dump them out that way?


    • Kevin,

      Don’t damage the pot! The odor from a recent swarm can easily attract another swarm. Just remove the pot and dump it in the box, making sure the queen goes with the rest of the bees. Wherever the queen is, the bees will stay.

  • Those pots look very small.

    I didn’t read the other comments but try a bigger box. I would think the reason you caught a swarm in your empty hive over the trap is because of lack of room for a big hive.

    Honey bees swarm because they ran out of room in the first place. So it’s a probability that it’s going to be a large number of bees.

    • Ty,

      “Those pots look very small.” They are the standard size sold by beekeeping supply houses.

      “…lack of room for a big hive.” I assume you mean a lack of room for a big colony.

      “Honey bees swarm because they ran out of room in the first place.” Well, that’s pretty much backward. Bees swarm because of the biological imperative to reproduce. To do that, they must increase their numbers so that both halves can survive. As their numbers increase they get crowded, which is a result of the reproductive imperative, not the cause of it.

  • I place my swarm traps within 30 feet of my hives, and I always get 2-5 swarms every year. Here is the other thing, I don’t bait my traps with anything.

    • Brett.

      If your traps ever contained bees, they are baited with the smell of former colonies. Even if they were only there a short time, the scent remains.

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