apiary creatures

Things you can catch in a bait hive

Some beekeepers dislike landing boards because they invite other critters.

Every year I put swarm traps in the trees and place bait hives around the property. Most years I catch two or three swarms, sometimes more. So far this season I’ve captured two, both swarms from my own hives.

But yesterday I happened to notice other things in my traps. The lizard below is apparently living in a bait have, and he seems to like the idea of a porch. He pops out to sleep in the sun and ponder life. Kinda cute. It was a blistery hot day when I first saw him, but the bait hive is partially shaded and low to the ground. A giant ant hill is a few feet away, probably a good place to catch a meal.

What lurks within?

On my way back to the house, I spotted insects coming and going from one of the tree-mounted swarm traps. At first I thought they were honey bees, but their flight pattern was different, more erratic. When I enlarged the photos, I could see they were aerial yellowjackets.

The two crisscross nails at the entrance keep out birds and small mammals. But behind them, you can clearly see the striated nest covering. This type of yellowjacket, in the genus Dolichovespula, is closely related to the bald-faced hornet. These insects collect and chew wood fibers, add a dollop of saliva, and make a paste that they use for building a multilayered nest cover. Inside the protective cover, which is about the size and shape of a large melon, circular combs hold the yellowjacket brood.

Although I’ve seen yellowjackets build their nests in protected spots, I’ve never seen one in such a tight space. It reminds me of sailing ship built in a bottle. It will be interesting to see how large it gets before I have to take it down. Once the summer dearth hits, this colony could cause a lot of trouble for my honey bees.

Honey Bee Suite

Lizard in a bait hive

This lizard seems to like the shaded porch. On these hot days, how can you blame him?

Lizard in a bait hive. Close up.

Up close, he’s cute. Most lizards eat insects, although I don’t know about bees. © Rusty Burlew.

Swarm trap in a tree.

This swarm trap is about 12 feet up in an alder tree. The crisscross nails help to discourage birds and small mammals.

Yellowjacket nest visible inside swarm trap

Inside the trap you can see the layered yellowjacket nest covering.

Wasps at the entrance to the swarm trap.

The colony is fairly busy with wasps coming or going every few seconds.

Discover more from Honey Bee Suite

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.


  • how late in the season do you catch a swarm?
    And how did you get rid of the wasps?

    • Carmen,

      1. You can catch swarms any time during your swarm season. Here where I live that’s roughly mid-April through mid-June, although I’ve caught some in early July. It all depends on where you live.

      2. I didn’t.

  • We have a lizard who lives near the hives. He appears to consume dead bees and other things and is quite tame and fat. Also, the dog can’t get him. A good spot.

  • Hello Rusty,
    I have a curious question about the style of trap in the alder tree. How do you get the bees out of the trap and into a Langstroth style hive? I have seen this style of hive for sale and they would blend in perfectly on my hunting land. Do you have to destroy the hive to get the colony out?

    • Richard,

      I normally just carry the trap down and dump it in the hive, just like a package. Takes about two minutes. As long as you monitor the traps daily, you shouldn’t find any combs in there. And if they’ve begun a few combs, I leave them in there to attract the next swarm. I once got two complete swarms from one trap: one inside and one hanging from the bottom.

  • Hi Rusty, that looks like a Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis). We have them in San Diego too, and I have watched them hunting bees on our garden path. They only seem to catch the “crawlers”, non-flying bees thrown out of the hive. I view them as reducing the bee pathogen burden in our area, as healthy bees are too fast for them to catch! 🙂

  • Rusty,

    How do you attach these swarm traps to the tree, so that they are secure but easy to remove when the bees have moved in?

  • Not surprised the yellowjackets moved in. Those planter pots are basically made from the exact same kind of materials the wasps make their nest out of, so create ideal conditions- as long as nothing else has moved in previous.

    • Jeff,

      Good point, although I’ve been using the set same of “pots” for twelve years and this is the first time for yellowjackets to move in. Furthermore I don’t think they provide ideal conditions because they’re soaked in some kind of waterproof stuff that looks like tar. But whatever is going on, a second one has now been occupied by wasps.

      • Rusty, tar as in crude oil by-product, or some kind of pine pitch resin? I imagine bees and wasps might dislike the oil derived variety. Perhaps after 12 years and having captured a few bee colonies, the traps have become more wasp inviting?

        • Jeff,

          I’ve asked around and been told it’s a petroleum product of some kind. I’m actually surprised they attract swarms, but I’ve caught gotten many over the years. I’ve noticed, however, that they’re better as they age, so maybe they have to off-gas a few years. Maybe the wasps are more sensitive to the smell than honey bees? Interesting topic.

          • Wow, if I were in the business of supplying “organic” styled planter boxes, I don’t know I would be using a petroleum based sealer! But weathering is bound to make them more appealing to all six legged critters.

            How were the traps stored over Winter? Did you visually inspect the internals before setting them out for this season?

            Could it be you had wasp queen’s over-winter inside the traps and they went unnoticed, thus the traps were wasp “baited”before you put them out?

            • Jeff,

              I don’t think anyone implied “organic,” just waterproof. But anyway, for winter I separate the pot part from the backing board. I stack the boards, and insert the pots inside each other to save space. In the spring, I take them outside, separate everything, clean out the spiders and dust with a garden hose, let them dry in the sun, and then staple a packet containing a fresh swarm lure on the inside of each. In short, they are clean, dry, and dust-free before I hang them.

  • Well the yellowjackets look pretty much like ours down here ins south Louisiana, but a bit smaller. But that Lizard, well, he doesn’t look anything like ours, which technically I believe are chameleons. Yours looks like what we would call a skink. We have those too, but bigger and fatter and with bright blue tails. We also get a lot of black widow spiders in our hives and traps. Do you? The worst pest we get around hives is fire ants. And that is almost a nuclear war on a daily basis. So you have a problem with them, if so, how do you treat it?

  • I didn’t know where to post this. I am just too excited not to tell someone. I captured my first swarm today. Right after I left a post on footwear I went to take my dog out and the back yard was abuzz with thousands of bees.
    I took the dog to the side yard then brought him in and went to investigate. The past few days my hives have been a bit more active toward evening, lots of bees gathering around the entrances. I was going to inspect this Saturday but the bees wouldn’t wait.

    As I rounded the corner of my garage I saw a small cluster forming on a limb of the oak tree about eight feet from the ground. I instantly knew what was happening. I scrambled to the garage for my sawhorses and a board to make a makeshift table to place under them. Then I gathered together an extra deep box and some new frames. I also grabbed a hive stand and a cardboard box the size of the hive body.

    I slowly started to bring all my equipment around to the back yard, all the time watching the cluster get bigger and bigger. Finally after about 30 minutes the back yard was almost quiet and the cluster was huge. After putting on my gear I began to set up my equipment to collect them. The limb that was once eight feet off the ground was now only four feet high which worked out perfectly for the makeshift table that I placed the cardboard box on directly under the swarm. I found a good handhold on the limb and gave it a good shake or two and the whole swarm dropped into the box like clockwork. There weren’t very many bees left on the limb so I checked it well as not to leave the queen behind then released it slowly so as not to have it snap back. I folded the lid closed on the cardboard box and just left it cracked open a bit to collect the stragglers.

    While I was waiting for things to calm down a bit I set up my spare hive parts and inspected the hive I had thought was the culprit, and true to form they cleaned out all the honey before they left.

    On a strange note I found a queen running across one of the frames of the hive that swarmed. I also found 5 unopened queen cells that I removed before closing it back up.

    Now the easy part, I took one drawn frame of empty comb from the donor hive and placed it in the middle of the new frames in the new hive, sprayed the new frames with some sugar syrup opened the cardboard box and turned it upside down over the new hive body, gave it a tap and they all dropped in.

    Wow, what an exciting morning!

    Tomorrow I will check to make sure they are still there and probably set up a top feeder for them so they can draw out those new wax frames. The only thing that worries me a bit is that I found a queen in the hive that swarmed. I guess time will tell.

    Hoped you enjoyed hearing about my morning adventure.

    • Jeffrey,

      The first swarm is so exciting! Actually, they all are. The only thing I question is removing the swarm cells. Did you keep them? I don’t know about that queen either, but something is off. Maybe the new queen emerged before the swarm left, but you’d think she would destroy the other cells herself.

      • Rusty,

        No, I didn’t keep the swarm cells. I do have a reserve queen in a mating box if I need her. I will have to move her to a NUC shortly though. She is going to out grow that soon. If they look like they might swarm again I may try to split them and use my reserve queen to form a nuc. We will have to wait and see, they have me baffled at the moment.

        I usually cause my own grief, but this time they started it. HaHaHaHaHa!

        Thanks again.

  • Rusty,

    I’m looking for advice? Just a follow up on yesterdays swarm adventure. I inspected the swarm hive this morning and it was empty. Then I inspected my other hives and all are back to normal like nothing ever happened, minus the honey reserves in hive suspected of swarming. I disassembled and removed the spare hive from my small bee yard, (apiary to some), and put it back in storage.

    What could have happened? I don’t seem to be lite on any bees, it’s like they all returned home and gave up on the idea of swarming. Should I be concerned? Do you think they will try again? Do you think I should add a third brood box for them to expand into for July? I am worried about the dearth that’s coming soon. Any thoughts would be welcome. Thanks

    • Jeffrey,

      Well, at least now the whole thing makes sense.

      Swarms will often return to the hive if they don’t have the queen with them. Sometimes she never leaves the hive, sometimes she tries but doesn’t quite make it. I’ve seen it happen in my own apiary. Usually, they try again in the next day or two.

      So the queen you saw was the old queen, and she was running around the combs because she missed her flight.

      But with you taking their swarm cells, they cannot leave again tomorrow. But they will leave eventually because the swarm impulse has not been satisfied. If all goes well, they will build more cells and try again. If it doesn’t go so well, a swarm may try to leave under less than ideal circumstances. This is just one of many, many reasons that I never destroy swarm cells. We never know more than the bees do.

      When you see a swarm return, you can usually intervene and make a split using the old queen in the new part and the cells in the old part. This maneuver replicates a true swarm and usually satisfies the swarm instinct.

      So, to answer your questions:

      What could have happened?

      The swarm returned because the queen wasn’t with them.

      I don’t seem to be lite on any bees, it’s like they all returned home and gave up on the idea of swarming.

      They did give up, at least for the moment.

      Should I be concerned?

      Depends. Without ripe queen cells, the whole process is delayed. If there are no longer eggs or very young larvae in the hive, you will have to supply some.

      Do you think they will try again?


      Do you think I should add a third brood box for them to expand into for July? I am worried about the dearth that’s coming soon.

      A third brood box will not satisfy the swarm instinct, especially at this point. The decision to swarm was made weeks ago. And if you have a dearth coming, they certainly won’t expand into a third box.

      • Thanks for the advice. I will keep a close eye on them and if they make another swarm cell I will split them. I plan to mark all my queens this weekend so I will be able to tell if they are my original ones. I only wanted 3 hives this year and it looks like I may end up with 5. Maybe someone in my area would like to purchase one of the splits if all goes well. I will ask around if it comes to it. Thanks again.

        My thought for the day, (Working with bees is like learning to ride a bike, after you fall off a few times you go by a trike).

  • This spring I made four bait hives put in lures and spread them around. Three were proper brood-boxes on their own stands with their own roofs. One I knocked together quickly. It was fairly crude, just a box with legs attached, a crown board and simple roof. The three “good” boxes caught none. The “crude” box caught three swarms. I am still puzzling out why they like this particular box. I am missing something somewhere…..

    • I’ve seen this happen before. People take wooden boxes, drill a hole somewhere near the bottom, and nail them to a post. Works like a charm.