When bees outgrow their current hive, roughly half will leave in search of a new home. Bee swarming is often a symptom of a healthy colony and may occur several times in one season.
A swarm of bees may terrify some, but it’s an exciting opportunity for beekeepers. Finding one hanging on a nearby tree is rare, so we created this guide which explains how to attract a swarm of bees to your hive. It provides five ways to entice bees into a bee box or hive.
How to attract a honey bee swarm to a new hive
Some popular options for encouraging a swarm to move in include using old brood comb, propolis, feeding stations, Nasonov pheromones, or lemongrass. Research has yet to show improved results using multiple lures, so selecting one is recommended.
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 new bees will quickly remove any unwanted debris and fix the cracks.
Expert tip: Melt the brood and spread it on the hive’s insides to enhance the scent of the wax.
Bees make propolis using buds from the poplars and other trees that produce cones. This resin-like material is a food source for bees.
Use propolis and other hive materials like abandoned equipment as a helpful backup swarm attractant. While not as effective as brood, it will still appeal to homeless 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 the location if they become scouts later.
4. Nasonov pheromones
Research has shown that honey bees are highly attracted to the scent of Nasonov pheromones. It is 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 an effective way to attract bee swarms. The biggest challenge for beekeepers is finding the product in stores.
If you have a dead queen, consider soaking it 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. Drip the liquid onto a cotton swab and dab it around the trap’s inside. Only one or two drops are needed as it is pungent.
You can also make a spreadable paste using the oil. Here’s how it’s done.
- 3 ounces of beeswax (filtered and pure)
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 20 drops of pure lemongrass essential oil
- Place a small metal bowl in a pan of simmering water.
- Add beeswax and oil to the bowl and allow it to fully melt.
- Stir in lemongrass oil until combined.
- Pour into a small glass jar and allow to set into a paste.
Beekeepers loves freebies, especially when they’re free bees!
How important is location when placing a trap?
Do everything possible to entice bees into a swarm trap, but it’s time wasted if you’re in the wrong position. Try to mimic a real hive by hanging traps on a post or in a tree at a height of 12-15 feet.
Set them in a visible location so that scouts easily spot them. A suitably-sized tree on the edge of a forest is ideal. Bees are more likely to choose your trap if it’s out of direct sunlight and in a shady spot.
When are bees most likely to swarm?
There is a range of conditions that increase the likelihood of swarming bees. Keep these factors in mind if you’re looking to attract a swarm:
Fine weather: Bees don’t fly in the rain or high winds as their wings are delicate and easily damaged.
Springtime: A surging colony will occur when flowers offering nectar and pollen are plentiful. It’s most likely to see swarms in spring or fall.
Predicting when bees will swarm in spring is tricky. Unseasonal warm winters increase the chance of early spring swarms. A harsh winter will reduce colony numbers, meaning their numbers will take longer to build.
What can I use as a swarm trap?
Swarm traps and bait hives are excellent ways to entice a swarm. They come in various 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 with a small entrance near the bottom of one wall. Two five-frame nucs, deep Langstroth boxes, or Layens frames are good options.
- To create a two-square-inch opening, the entrance should be around 4″ wide and ½” high.
- It must be lightweight as you’ll be climbing awkward places with it. Aim for a box of no more than 15lb.
- Ideally, select a box that’s taller than it is wide.
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 honey bees.
When positioning a swarm trap in a tree, use a ladder to get it into place. Wedge it between the trunk and one of its sturdy branches or bang in some nails to keep it in place.
Taking the swarm trap down is a little more complicated, 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 and bring it to the ground. You can find the best hive smokers here. Use gentle movements, as the new comb will easily break.
- Always wear full protective beekeeping clothing when dealing with unpredictable feral bees that can become aggressive.
- If the swarm is aggressive towards you without reason, don’t keep them.
Commonly asked questions
Are swarms dangerous?
As honey bees swarm, they are in a docile state 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 set off in late summer if their colony suffers from disease or a pest invasion. 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 put out swarm traps in spring when bees are most likely to swarm. You may tempt bees at other times of the year, 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 using them improves the genetics of your apiary.
What are the limitations of using bees from a swarm?
Welcoming bees from an unknown source carries some risk for the beekeeper. The swarm may spread disease or pests through your beekeeping operation. The bees may also have an aggressive trait that is difficult to manage.
Attracting a bee swarm can help beekeepers reduce their operating costs. Drawing in new bees will also increase the apiary’s genetic diversity.
Keep in mind there are costs associated with catching wild bees. You’ll firstly pay in time waiting for a swarm to arrive, and it may never show. There’s also some cost involved in constructing or buying a swarm trap.
If you’re starting beekeeping, we suggest buying your first package of bees. Skills that help catch a swarm often come after one to two seasons of keeping bees.
Location is critical when attracting a scout’s attention. Once you have a suitable swarm trap, ensure it’s in the right spot. Attract bees using old brood, propolis, pheromones, or lemongrass essential oil. You may have ten swarm traps on your property within a season or two.