How to seduce a swarm, maybe
A friend who lives near Mount Shasta recently told me about a “swarm seducer” he uses to attract swarms that issue from his own hives. While bait hives and swarm traps are often used to woo swarms that are looking for a permanent home, a swarm seducer is meant to provide a temporary resting place for a swarm that has just left its hive. These swarms usually settle near the hive and stay put until the bees have agreed upon a new place to live, which can take anywhere from a few minutes to many days.
If you are lucky, the swarm lands on a fence post, a mail box, or a low shrub. Or with my luck, it lands on a branch 50 feet up from the nearest ground, usually in a big-leaf maple, hemlock, or Douglas-fir—a place that requires binoculars to see. Not good.
Actually, I’ve had good luck catching these swarms on subsequent days by putting out lots of bait hives laced with Swarm Commander, but there are no guarantees, so needless to say, I’m intrigued by the swarm seducer.
My friend’s instructions, which he said were passed down from his Slovenian ancestors, are simple. He melts down old brood combs, the blacker the better, and dips rags or scrap fabrics into the liquid wax. He takes these saturated rags and pins them by one corner onto a branch or clothesline until they harden.
Next, he connects a tossing line (string or twine) onto a rock so he can throw the string over a branch, and then he uses the small line to haul up a rope. (I use this method when I’m hanging a food pack in the trees to keep it from bears. I use nylon fishing line and a lead weight, but anything that is light and easy to throw can be used to haul up something more substantial.)
Once he has a long rope over a branch, he attaches the swarm seducer and hauls it up the tree and ties it off. Honey bees are incredibly attracted to the scent of old brood comb. When a swarm lands on the seducer, he gently lowers it down until he can drop the swarm in a cardboard box. It sounds so simple!
Some people recommend simply hanging an old frame from a branch, but melting the comb has two advantages. First, melting the wax releases volatile compounds that are buried under layers of dried cocoons, akin to roughing up the surface of a cedar board to rejuvenate the scent. Second, by soaking a rag in the wax you are increasing the surface area of the wax and thereby enhancing the rate at which the odor disperses into the air.
If you know which trees your swarms always land in, that is a good place to start. If not, trees near the perimeter of the apiary are a good bet. The more seducers you hang near your hives, the better the chance of catching a swarm.
My friend said his great uncle hung these things all around his bee yard, and then went around nearly every afternoon during swarm season, lowering the swarms into boxes and hauling the seducer back up the tree. He said certain ones were used repeatedly and had a much better chance of attracting a subsequent swarm than a new one.
I like this idea because it gives you another chance to catch a swarm that leaves one of your own hives. Naturally, it’s best to prevent swarms if you can. But if you miss that opportunity, the swarm seducer is your next chance at them. If they don’t choose to land on your seducer, there is still a chance of luring them into a swarm trap or bait hive that is placed further away.
Although I haven’t yet tried this, I wanted to share the idea with you while swarm season is still in full swing. I don’t have any really swarmy hives right now, but I think I will make a few of these anyhow. Can’t wait to try it.
Honey Bee Suite