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How To Attract A Bee Swarm To A Hive

A bee swarm on the branch of a tree

When a bee colony outgrows its current hive, roughly half of the bees will leave in search of a new home. Bee swarming is a symptom of a healthy hive and may occur several times in one season.

A swarm of bees may seem terrifying to some, but it’s a fascinating display of bees in flight for a beekeeper. It’s also an exciting opportunity to get free bees from the wild.

A bee swarm setting up within arm’s reach on a tree would be wonderful luck. But this won’t come around often. Instead, you can use some techniques and tips to lure them into one of your own hives. If you’d like to know how to attract a swarm of bees to your hive, then keep reading. We’ve pulled together this handy guide that’ll walk you through all the steps to get new bees into a bee box of hive.

Beekeepers loves freebies, especially when they’re free bees!

When are bees most likely to swarm?

If you want to attract a swarm, then keep in mind some factors influence the likelihood they’ll be looking for a new home.

Fine weather: Bees don’t like flying in the rain of high winds as their wings aren’t designed to withstand these conditions.

Springtime: A surging colony will occur when there is a plentiful supply of flowers offering nectar and pollen. It’s most likely to see swarms in spring or fall.

Pedicting when bees will swarm in spring is tricky. A harsh winter will reduce colony numbers, meaning a colony will take longer to build its numbers up. Unseasonal warm winters increase the chance of early spring swarms.

How to attract a honey bee swarm to a new hive

You can do everything possible to entice bees into your swarm trap but if it’s in the wrong position, your time has been wasted. A trap needs to resemble a real hive, so hang them on a post or in a tree at a height of 12-15 feet.

They also need to be easily spotted by scouts, or they may get missed. Bees are more likely to choose your trap if it’s out of direct sunlight, in a shady spot. A suitably-sized tree on the edge of a forest is ideal. 

It’s impossible to know exactly what scout bees are looking for in a new home. But researchers have discovered some factors that make a location more appealing and may sway their decision. You only need to use one, as no research has been able to show improved results by using multiple lures.

1. Old brood comb

Brood comb is usually covered in old cocoons and is much darker than regular honeycomb. Scout bees are highly attracted to it and strategically placing a piece in a swarm trap or hive is a good idea. It provides a lived-in feel and the new bees will make quick work of removing any unwanted debris and fixing cracks.

Expert tip: Melt the brood and spread it on the hive’s insides to enhance the scent of the wax.

2. Propolis

Propolis is made by bees using buds from the poplars and other trees that produce cones. This resin-like material is a food source for bees. 

Use propolis and any other hive materials like abandoned equipment as a useful backup swarm attractant. It won’t be as effective as brood, but will still appeal to homeless swarms. 

A hand full of propolis next to a bowl of bee propolis
Propolis is excellent for enticing bee swarms.

3. Sugar-water feeding station

Position a sugar water feeding station near the hive to increase bee activity. Forager bees will appreciate the food source and may remember it in the weeks to come if they eventually become a scout.  

4. Nasonov pheromones

Research has shown Nasonov pheromones to be a honey bee swarm’s favored scent. It gets excreted by scout bees when they locate a new home, helping guide the rest of the swarm to its new location.

Commercial Nasonov pheromone is a highly effective way to attract bee swarms. The biggest problem beekeepers find with this option is that the product is hard to find in stores.

You can make a pheromone extract by soaking a dead queen in a small vial of rubbing alcohol. Otherwise, look for commercial products produced by brands like Mann Lake and Blythewood Bee Company.

5. Lemongrass essential oil

Beekeepers have been using lemongrass for decades to encourage swarms to visit. Only one or two drops are needed as it is pungent. Drip it onto a cotton swab and then apply it inside the trap.  

What can I use as a swarm trap?

If you want to attract bees, you’re best to use a swarm trap or bait hive. They come in a wide range of sizes and shapes, but something as simple as an empty carton will work fine.

Your swarm trap should be a weatherproof 10-18 gallon (45-80 liter) box that has a small entrance near the bottom of one wall. Two five-frame nucs, deep Langstroth boxes, or Layens frames are a good option.

  • The entrance should be around 4” wide and ½” high to create a two-square-inch opening.
  • It needs to be lightweight as you’ll be climbing awkward places with it. Air for a box of no more than 15lb.
  • It should be portrait dimensions, so taller than it is wide.
A closeup of a beehive's opening with bees entering and exiting
Honey bees enjoy the security of a small opening.

Make sure your box is durable so that it will last at least ten seasons. As the layers of pheromones add to the inside, it’ll increase in popularity with bees.

When positioning your swarm trap in a tree, you’ll probably need a ladder to get it into place. You should try wedging it between the trunk and one of its sturdy branches. Otherwise, bang in some nails to keep it in place.

Taking the swarm trap down is a little more difficult, as it will contain bees and possibly honeycomb. You may also have to contend with aggressive guard bees.

Before moving the box, smoke the entrance with a smoker then bring it to the ground. Use gentle movements as the new comb will easily break. 

Safety tips:

  1. Always wear full protective beekeeping clothing when dealing with unpredictable feral bees that can become aggressive.
  2. If the swarm is aggressive towards you without reason, don’t keep them.
A swarm trap on the ground with bees entering
A very basic bait hive is capable of luring honey bees.

Commonly asked questions

Are swarms dangerous?

When honey bees swarm they are docile as they don’t have honey or brood to protect. They’re also full of honey from their previous hive, which makes them less inclined to sting.

Why do some bees swarm in late summer?

Although bees usually swarm in spring, they may swarm in late summer if their colony has a disease outbreak or is attacked by pests. Another reason for swarming close to fall is an insecure or overcrowded colony.

Can I leave out swarm traps all year?

It is best to only put out swarm traps in spring when bees are most likely to be swarming. You may tempt bees, but there’s also a good chance of wax moths or other unwanted insects.  

What time of day do bees swarm?

Although it can happen at any time of day, bees will usually swarm from mid-morning until late afternoon. If they don’t find a new home by nightfall, they’ll cluster at a temporary resting point like a tree branch until morning.

How long do honey bees take to swarm?

A breakaway colony of bees will usually find a new hive within 1-3 days of leaving their original colony. They will initially move to a temporary location like a tree branch until the scouts find a new place to build a nest.

What is the benefit of using bees from a swarm?

Swarms often contain bees from a strong colony so by using them, you’ll improve the genetics of your apiary.

Summing up

Attracting a bee swarm will save you the cost of buying them, but keep in mind there are costs associated with catching wild ones too. You’ll firstly pay in time waiting for a swarm to arrive, and it may never show. Also, there’s usually some cost involved in constructing or buying a swarm trap.

If you’re starting beekeeping, we suggest buying your first package of bees. There are some nuances that you’ll need for catching your own. These skills will only come with a season of being around a hive. But over the long run, drawing in new bees will increase your apiary’s genetic diversity.    

When you try to catch the interest of bees, remember location is very important. Once you have a suitable swarm trap, make sure it’s in the right spot. Then attract the scout bees by using either old brood, propolis, pheromones, or lemongrass essential oil. Within a season or two, you may end up with ten or more swarm traps on your property.

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