swarming

Will tanging bring your bees to ground?

An airborne swarm of bees. Pixabay.

The ancient practice of tanging has plenty of modern followers. But does it work?

Tanging for bees has been around since mankind first yearned for swarms. Old drawings show beekeepers banging pots with metal spoons while the bees obediently fly into the keeper’s hive.

For some reason, the lore of tanging has staying power. And many beekeepers have stories about the time they tried it and their swarm answered the call.

Bees and loud sounds

But here’s the thing. Other beekeepers say loud noises can repel bees or even cause established colonies to abscond. I’ve heard tales of colonies decamping after encountering barking dogs, pressure washers, fireworks, and screaming children. So why would clanging metal be any different?

When I’ve voiced this discrepancy, I’ve been told, “No! The crash must come from copper!” Some say only cymbals are effective. Others say the timing is key: the swarm must be airborne for tanging to work. To the believers, everyone who fails is simply doing it wrong.

I’ve also read that the sound mimics thunder, making the bees think rain is coming, so they land before their wings get wet. But metal on metal is clangy, thunder is not. More to the point, bees are not stupid.

Tanging just because

On numerous occasions, I’ve seen airborne swarms settle into one of my bait hives. They did this without any siren-calling from me. But I suppose if I had quickly retrieved a copper pot and banged upon it rhythmically, I could have claimed success. No?

Perhaps not, but I think that’s exactly what’s happening. In some cases, people happened to be tanging away just as a swarm decided to settle. It’s the old question of correlation vs causation. More than likely the bees settled in spite of the racket, not because of it.

Likewise, when people claim they recalled a swarm to the hive by tanging, I think of all those times when I’ve seen a swarm leave and return, no tanging involved. In those cases, something is usually wrong. The queen didn’t leave with the swarm or she wasn’t able to keep up for some reason. A swarm needs a queen, mated or not, to survive, so returning swarms happen frequently.

As American as apple pie

Tanging seems to be an oddly American thing. I say that because it surely didn’t start here; it began long before honey bees were brought to the Americas. But tanging worked its way into American folklore and stayed there — fake news before social media.

Several knowledgeable historians have suggested that tanging was never meant to entice bees. Instead, it was meant to inform other humans that a swarm was spoken for. It was a way of staking claim to property, as was often done with land acquisitions in the American West. “I got here first, I marked it, and now it’s mine.”

Others insist tanging was a way to say, “This swarm issued from my hive, so it’s my swarm, even though I caught it on your land.” We will probably never know for certain.

Tang, the word

The word tang, at least in this genteel usage, means a loud ringing sound, twang, or clang. It has plenty of other meanings, some useful, some less so, that are dependent on the company you keep. For beekeepers, though, it simply means the cacophony resulting from hitting a pot with a spoon.

Since I want to give equal time here, be sure to let me know how many swarms you caught with this method, and how long it took to regain your hearing!

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Today, learn about washboarding bees (cool video), spotted lanternfly honey, or how to move a bumble bee nest. It’s never too late to learn something new!

15 Comments

  • I have never tried tanging and all my swarms disappear into the 60-foot tall trees, so that must be evidence in favor of tanging, right?

    (Wrong, me hearties, that’s just an example of a logical fallacy.)

  • Tanging is a fallacy. The swarm lands whether it’s tanged or not. The fallacy is stated in this Latin phrase: “hoc ergo propter hoc” Translated: After this because of that.

  • I’ve tanged three swarms from my own hives. The tanging produces a very different response than a swarm that decides to return home on it’s own. The mass of bees sort of falls apart in clumps, sometimes landing on the ground. They seem to become disoriented, too. If I couldn’t hear the god-awful noise, and could only see what was happening, I’d think the temperature had dropped to below freezing and some of the bees were succumbing to the cold while others were hightailing it back to the hive.

    It’s hard to describe, but it’s a distinct behaviour. It’s also impossible to film while you’re doing it 🙂

  • Tanging worked 2 out of 3 times for me. I wondered if it didn’t work the third time because they were already out of the hive and some settled in a tree. The two times it worked is was when the swarm was just starting. Who knows? But I will keep trying 😊

  • Interesting. You know when our now adult kids were infants, I had an aunt who told my wife, that our kid’s teething pain could be alleviated by rubbing the warm rabbit brains from a freshly killed rabbit on their gums. We never tested her claim. Since I don’t have any copper pots, let alone one in our apiaries, it would seem that for me “tanging” will have to go into the same file as warm rabbit brains…

    Thanks for all your super posts, Rusty

  • I had disturbed a swarm in a pile of brush recently and they began flying around. I remembered reading about tanging so I quickly put a nuc on ground and started clanging two hive tools together and they all went into the nuc. Was it a coincidence or not, it worked.

  • I was at a state beekeepers meeting a few years back. An older man told me (I was about 65 at the time) that to get bees out of a tree after they land you could take a small mirror and reflect the sun onto the swarm and then onto your hive sitting on a white sheet on the ground then on the swarm. Just keep doing this and they were supposed to go to the hive. I finally got a swarm on a high small tree branch so I decided to try it. As luck would have it, it was a heavily overcast day but there was a little break in the clouds and I grabbed the mirror. A part of the swarm broke off the main cluster and began to fall. The little hole in the clouds closed and I was out of luck for the rest of the afternoon. Has anyone heard of this?

  • I believe that bees do not have ears so cannot hear the way we do. So, the tanging must send vibrations into the air which they pick up on. I would think it would make them leave in a hurry.

    Brains are really hard to get out of skulls, even rabbits. I imagine the rabbit was cooked for dinner, after the brain was out. My grandfather said to put a little homebrew on the offending tooth. Seems a lot easier.

  • I’ve done it a few times and had it “work.” I’m inclined to try again if I ever witness bees leaving my hives. First, it might work! Second, it provides a cool excuse to watch your bees swarm, which is super interesting always. Third, it’s a fun entree into conversations with neighbors about swarming, which I think is always a good thing. I think the pots I’ve used are stainless 😛

  • Rusty, seriously, you need to turn your blog into a book. Your information is brilliant and your writing is elegant. You’re a modern day Sue Hubbell.

  • Yes it worked, at least for me. Last summer the swarm was 40′ in the air getting organized, I ran to the barn and grabbed a piece of galvanized tin and a short piece of 2×2. I vacuumed up the swarm found the queen and moved her into my observation hive as punishment. She just got released back into a 10 frame at the apiary on good behavior.

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