swarming

Swarm traps won’t cause your bees to swarm

New beekeepers often wonder if swarm traps or swarm lures installed near their apiary will cause their bees to swarm. The answer is an unequivocal “No.” This is not something you should worry about.

Although we don’t know all the triggers, we know the swarm impulse is regulated by conditions within a colony. It results from a complex interplay of factors including the season, the climate, the overall health of the colony, crowding, availability of forage, and genetics. Remember, swarming is an act of reproduction at the colony level. For a colony to split into two or more viable pieces, conditions need to be perfect.

House hunting among the bees

As beekeepers, we can often read the signs of an impending swarm and take proactive steps to delay or even prevent a swarm. But the one thing we can’t do is cause a swarm by enticing it with pleasant odors or beautiful houses. A colony that’s not ready to swarm will be completely uninterested in your real estate offerings.

Although I’m frequently accused of anthropomorphizing, here goes again. Very few people run out and buy a different house just because they passed an empty one on the street, not even if the agent is giving away freshly baked cookies. The decision to move arises from the needs of the residents themselves, not because some other dwelling is available down the street.

Oh honey, look at that cute house! Let’s reproduce and move in!

Things change when swarming begins

However, once the decision to swarm is made, the bees in a colony will begin examining the available housing choices. The scent lures you set out are suddenly compelling, as are the various available cavities. You may see scout bees examining these, going in and out the entrance, and examining all six sides of your box.

These bees are working to solve the problem of where to live, but they are doing it because they know a swarm is going to happen. Nothing you put out there caused the swarm, and removing the lures and bait hives won’t prevent it.

Further away is better for the bees

In most cases, a swarm won’t decide on a new home that is close to the parent apiary. Yes, it does happen occasionally, but moving further away is advantageous to the nascent colony because it reduces competition with the old one.

The new swarm will likely make its first landing very close to where it came from. It will stay there until the scout bees report their findings and the new colony decides among the choices. This is the best time to catch a swarm that originated from your own apiary, but you need to work fast. While some swarms on the run may stay in place for days, others land for only a few minutes.

Placing your swarm traps further away from the parent colonies can sometimes increase your chances of catching your own swarms, but you can’t count on it. Much of their decision will depend on what is available, and that will depend on where you live.

Surround your apiary with traps

Even though most swarms move away from the home apiary, I find it beneficial to hang swarm traps at the perimeter of my apiary. Although I proactively split rapidly growing colonies, I sometimes miss. I’ve been able to catch a certain percentage of those in traps, so it seems worthwhile. In addition, I’ve been able to catch swarms from outside my own apiary in those traps, as evidenced by queens I didn’t mark.

So have fun with the swarm traps and bait hives and don’t worry. You can’t initiate the swarm impulse by just setting up a bait hive. If only nature were that simple.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Beekeepers cannot cause their bees to swarm. The bees know when the time is right.
Honey bees know when the time is right. Image by rbu rbu from Pixabay

8 Comments

  • I have been a keeper of bees for 5 years. I have chosen not to work to prevent swarms. That is the natural process for bees. To ensure that something survives. So I lose some production of honey. But I am allowing them to do what they have done long before I came along. I often catch the swarms and say thanks. Now I have another hive. 👍👍👍👍

  • I think around a meter from the parent colony is best as I catch many swarms. Burn some old comb and make it smoke and then see how scouts get attract madly.

    Catch some and put them in a swarm trap with some old combs.

  • Around here, we put our boxes out by the wood line where the woods meet the fields and for some reason, the bees are attracted to these boxes and then you can move them wherever you want. Old beekeeper’s trick. Almost swarm season right now.

    • Debbie,

      You are right about that. The intersection between woods and open land is a favorite bee place.

  • I had 8 swarm traps out last summer and never caught one swarm. However, I did catch one that swarmed in my own backyard from one of my own hives. At the same time two smaller swarms also perched in the same tree but I didn’t have any more hives to put them in, so I just left them there and three days later they were gone.

  • Rusty, loving all your writing. Hoping for swarms in my traps this year…fingers crossed! You are exceptionally well-spoken, and I have thoroughly enjoyed your ironic sense of humor. Thanks so much for making your articles available!

  • By keeping bees in my backyard swarms are a concern. I don’t believe letting nature take its course would be the way to go as they probably nest in someone’s house, that’s just being an irresponsible bad neighbor, plus adding the immense ignorance about bees, (me included before I started to be interested in beekeeping, and still), bees will continue to have a bad rap as a pest and I don’t want to be a proponent of that with lazy beekeeping. At what distance is appropriate to place traps.

    Rusty, where can I find information on how to control my bee population so it doesn’t swarm as I don’t have more room for more hives by splitting.

    • Javier,

      I’m glad to hear you want to be a responsible beekeeper. Probably the best way to prevent swarms is to split colonies into small units to keep them from getting large enough to swarm. Healthy colonies swarm just like all healthy animals reproduce, so the best you can do is split. Most other artificial ways of preventing a swarm are not very effective. If you can’t split, you really don’t have a choice short of keeping them weak and unhealthy.

      Traps should be as far away from the hives as possible with your set-up.

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