New beekeepers often wonder if swarm traps or swarm lures installed near their apiary will cause their bees to swarm. The answer is an unqualified “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.
Honey Bee Suite