Many people will tell you about their fondness for bees. In fact, beekeeping has quickly become a popular hobby for a whole host of people.
However, if you have never been involved in beekeeping – you may have wondered how you even get bees to begin with! A swarm trap is a way that you can get some free bees – but what is a swarm trap?
Essentially, a swarm trap is a container designed to both attract and trap a swarm of bees. Of course though, there’s a lot more to know than just this.
That is why we’ve written this comprehensive guide that tells you everything you need to know (see also: How To Start Beekeeping: Everything You Need to Know)about what a swarm trap is, how you can use it and a whole host more handy pieces of information.
So, if you’re ready to learn much more, then read on and discover the answers!
Swarm Traps – An Overview
Every single year, a huge number of bee colonies will travel in swarms along with their queen, (see also: How To Identify A Queen Bee)in order to find a safe new home to thrive. This is a completely natural process and it allows the bees to form a new colony and grow their population.
Prior to this process though, the queen will leave a hive with around 50% of the bees, including some of the drone bees. The colony will then start the process of getting a replacement queen ready to reign over the new colony of bees that are still there.
What Is A Swarm Trap?
Swarm traps are often spoken about with bee enthusiasts, and if you’re outside of this “sphere”, you may be unaware of what a swarm trap refers to. Well, as we briefly mentioned earlier, a swarm trap is just a container which hopes to attract and trap a swarm of bees.
Sometimes, these traps are referred to as bait hives and they’re designed to be water-tight with a small, roughly 2 inch opening, along with a cavity that holds roughly 40 liters.
The way in which bees can be attracted to these swarm traps is with comb, foundation or using a type of pheromone lure – lemongrass oil is an ideal choice here.
You don’t need to use large swarm traps though. Some beekeepers have been known to use a much smaller, 15 liter cavity for their swarm traps. However, if you are looking to do it yourself, you may wish to opt for the 40 liter size.
This is because research has indicated that bees prefer, and are therefore more likely to head to, a 40 liter bait hive. If you’re struggling to envisage how large these sizes are, we will give you a comparison.
The prices of these packages can vary depending on their size, along with the other more simple factors of shipping costs etc. Of course though, your expenditure will grow when you’ve actually trapped your bees.
What Is The Point Of A Swarm Trap?
Swarm traps are a great way to start a beehive off without having to buy bees (see also: A Beginner’s Guide On Where To Buy Bees). Of course though, even though technically you’re getting bees without paying for them, these bees aren’t necessarily free.
As we just said, your expenditure will indeed increase once you have successfully obtained your bees. Not only this, you’re going to need to spend on the building of your bait hive, or buy one outright yourself.
Whatever the case, swarm trapping is a cost-effective way for you to get more bees without all the headaches and hassle that comes with sourcing and buying other bees.
The Lifespan Of A Swarm Trap
A well built swarm trap will likely have a longevity of many years. Sometimes, you’re better off looking online at some excellently designed and built swarm traps rather than trying to build one yourself.
Remember, this hobby can be dangerous, especially when we’re talking about a swarm of bees in one contained area. Of course this isn’t the only challenge you will face.
For example, having half a colony leave one of your hives – the growth of that population is in jeopardy, meaning you’re likely to see a reduction in honey production.
Now that we’ve got all the basics out of the way, let’s look a little deeper into this topic. We’ll start by examining why and how honey bees swarm to begin with.
Why Do Honey Bees Swarm Anyway?
The aim of any species is reproduction and the continuity of their genetics, and honey bees are no exception to this rule. Bees swarm to expand their population and continue the propagation of their species.
Generally speaking, swarming is a reaction to overcrowding in the hive, or if the queen bee deteriorates through age or health, or dies suddenly. There are other factors that can cause this, but these are the typical ways. Let’s look at these factors in some more detail.
Eventually, and regardless of where the hive has been built; whether that be within an apiary or even in a tree’s hollow, the space in a hive is limited. During the springtime, the queen tends to increase her egg laying.
In turn, the foragers will increase and expand their stores of pollen and nectar – and all of this can lead to significant overcrowding in the hive. Remember, hives have very limited functional space despite their size.
When the hive becomes too crowded, the queen will struggle to produce as many eggs. The amount of eggs produced will either slow down dramatically or cease altogether. This situation is sometimes referred to as “honey bound”.
The pheromone population of the queen drops and this is the first signaling to the colony that changes are required as soon as possible.
The Queen’s Decline
The capacity for the queen to produce eggs will deteriorate over time, which is a totally natural process – and at the same time, her ability to produce pheromones also diminishes. If this occurs, the same impact of overcrowding in the hive presents itself.
In other words, once the queen is unable to perform her usual duties, the hive begins to take notice and prepares to swarm.
How Do Bees Swarm Exactly?
Now that we know why these bees will swarm, it’s now a good idea that we examine how they swarm.
Once the signal has been raised from the queen that change is required, all the workers will start making preparations to exit the hive with her. In fact, the workers will stop foraging entirely and will gluttonously gorge on their food supplies ready for the journey.
This is because these bees will need plenty of energy. It’s almost akin to marathon runners eating a lot of carbohydrates before a race for a slow burning energy reserve. On top of this, the bees need to take resources with them so they can produce wax comb in the new home.
At the same time, queen cells are built and the process begins for housing potential successors to the throne. In many ways, it’s like abdication.
The preparation for a new successor takes roughly a week or so to complete, and after this time – the queen will leave with about 50% of the workers and some of her drones. This new swarm will find a place nearby, typically in a tree hollow.
Whilst this is happening, scout bees explore nearby areas for a brand new home in which they can thrive.
What Do Scout Bees Look For?
When scout bees are exploring for a brand new home for their colony, there’s a few key factors that they are looking for. They need somewhere:
- Easily accessible
- Large, or large enough
- With good orientation and design
- Not too far away from their “pit stop”
This process can take a few hours or it can take a whole day. It really depends on the nearby opportunities, the weather and other factors. Once this has happened, the one colony has now become two colonies.
It’s a very intriguing process to witness. If you ever get the chance to see it (safely), you will likely hear a very loud, collective buzzing sound, and then you will see a large “cloud” of bees.
You see the bees leave their hive and go into this swarm, straight into their new “pit stop”. After scout bees have successfully done their job, the swarm will leave and head to their new home.
When Do Bees Swarm?
If you were going to witness this process though, when exactly would you get the chance to do so? Well, honey bees typically swarm anywhere from the late springtime to the early parts of the summer.
This is largely in part due to the warming weather conditions and the fact that, with the growth of plants and flowers, nectar and pollen sources become abundant. This also increases the likelihood of overcrowding, which can lead to swarms.
Typically, swarming happens in the mid-morning or in the mid-afternoon, but it can happen at any time of the day. Usually, the conditions are clear for them to do so.
This isn’t a rule set in stone though. For example, swarming often happens earlier than this in the southern states of the US. In Florida, it’s common for swarms to happen as early as February.
In comparison, when looking further east in New York, some reports have suggested that over 80 percent of swarms happen between May and July.
Maryland on the other hand typically sees swarms in the middle of these dates, usually around April time. If you’re not sure when swarms will typically occur in your area, it’s a good idea to ask an experienced beekeeper who should be able to tell you.
When Should I Put Out My Swarm Traps?
Of course, as just mentioned, the time for swarming will vary from region to region and that’s why you should always find out from an experienced beekeeper about these patterns.
However, the best time to set these swarm traps is the early spring season in your region. It’s important to do this as early as possible, because bees trapped later in the year may be limited on time and you won’t get as much from them – particularly in colder states.
Moreover, trapped bees are usually about the same size as a new bee package and they need time to build up stores ready for the winter (see also: Where Do Bees Go In The Winter?)season.
How To Build A Swarm Trap
At this point, you’re probably wondering how you might be able to build your own swarm trap.
We will explore this next in this guide, however before we do – we should inform you that, while building swarm traps is relatively inexpensive, your needs may vary depending on your swarm trap plan. Having said this, typically you will need the following things:
- Either scrap wood or plywood which you will use to create a box, along with a bottom and a cover. Ensure you DO NOT use treated wood though.
- Screws or nails in order to put the box together, however you should always use screws for the top because it’s much easier and safer to remove later.
- Wood glue for all the areas that you do not plan to open again (for the joints specifically)
- Either frames or bars, depending on your plan, so you can quickly and simply relocate the hive later
- Some sort of hanging method, like a tree stand or a hanging board
- An entrance gate for when it comes to moving the trap
- Straps or cords to keep the trap level, secure and stable#
- Paint for the exterior. This will protect the longevity of the trap and protect the wood.
You’re going to look to use around a 40 liter capacity, as we said earlier, this is usually the desired amount which honey bees prefer. Remember, when scout bees explore new opportunities, they look at the cavity sizes to determine suitability.
Think about it in the same way you would when selling your own home. Everything needs to be perfect to attract new owners! Let’s now take a look at some of the potential traps you could build and how might do that.
Plywood Swarm Trap
Perhaps the most basic of swarm traps to build yourself is the plywood swarm trap. There’s lots of guides online for how you can build it, but we’ll take you through it below.
While this trap only has five frames, it still has a large cavity because it’s about double the size than that of a Langstroth. As a result of its thin, but tall stature, it’s actually a very manageable box.
You can build it by using some scrap wood, or leftover T111 plywood. If you use scrap wood, it’s likely that your boxes will end up a bit smaller than you might have expected. At the same time though, it should allow you to make more boxes.
Consider extending the lids further than the outer-edge of the box, so you can have handles. This, along with a screwed-down top should make the boxes really easy to lift and move around.
Things To Note
The material costs have increased over the years, especially timber. It’s worth working out how much the materials cost per box that you can make. The main thing is to make safe, stable swarm traps though.
Deep Box Bait Hives
If you’re looking for an ideal swarm trap, then a 10 frame langstroth with a 42 liter cavity capacity is the thing to look at. Having said that though, an 8 frame deep box can work just fine, but the capacity drops a little to about 35/36 liters.
In general, a hive body is more costly than using plywood, but it’s actually not too far above it.
A hive body will usually be more simple to build as well, being that there’s less measuring and cutting than plywood sheets require. All you will need on top of this is the top, bottom and hanging sheet.
Swarm traps are a really great way to recycle any slightly damaged or old hive boxes. Not only this, but any scents that remain in the boxes can work as an additional attraction method for new swarms.
To make these, you’re going to need:
- An 8 frame or 10 frame deep hive box, if possible one you have used in your apiary
- Half an inch plywood for the top and bottom – of course the size will vary depending on your own box
- Exterior wood screws
- Lumber for hanging boards
- A hardware cloth, roughly half an inch for the entrance
- An entrance gate or a mason jar lid
- A stapler
- Carriage bolts, washers and nuts
- Exterior paint for protection
- A small ventilation hole (screen)
With all of these items, you will also need to have a pencil, a measuring tape, and the right tools for the job. These include a saw, a drill and a jig saw. You will likely need various drill bits but this will depend on your own box.
What To Do
Start by gathering everything you need. This will be your hive box, all of your materials and tools etc. If you’re building your box, obviously this needs to be done first. Let’s now go through step by step instructions.
Cut The Plywood To Size
You’re looking to start with the top and bottom. The exterior measurements will differ depending on a few factors, but largely it depends on the material you have used for the box. We would recommend you measure it rather than rely on online or “standard” figures.
It’s best to overhang the box’s top so that it has some type of rain protection, along with making it much easier to carry around or move.
As we said earlier, it’s a really good idea to use exterior paint on the wood. As the trap is essentially a temporary home, the exterior and interior should be painted, along with other areas like the hanging board.
This paint should help to improve the longevity of the wood and protect it against any elements, including rain, snow, wind and even hot sun. Remember to allow adequate time for the paint to dry before use though.
While mostly, the color of the paint is of little importance, there are some key things you need to know. First, you should avoid using red paint because bees find this color off-putting. Second, you should try to camouflage the traps.
The camouflage is more about protecting the traps from other animals or even vandals that might be in the area.
Make The Entrance
You will now need to use a drill bit to make a hole for the bees’ entrance. You need to do this in the lower half of the box, of around 1 inch in size. Some people choose to make two entrances to improve the orientation – which of course, scout bees look for.
It’s important to cut a piece of around a half inch of hardware cloth, which should be big enough to cover the entrance. Staple this into the area in order to keep any birds out.
Half inch openings are an ideal size for bees to get into the box but they’re too small for most birds. Of course, this not only stops birds from being predators to the bees, but it also stops them from using the box as their own nest.
If you do not have any hardware cloth, you can actually just use a nail and drive it into the entrance crossways, acting as a barrier to birds but allowing bees to come right in.
At this point, you will need to screw in an entrance gate onto the entrance hole. When you are trapping bees, this will be open wide but it can then be closed when you are moving them to your apiary.
As we said earlier, you may decide to use a mason jar lid instead of a gate if you wish to.
As soon as your protective exterior paint is dry, you should now attach the plywood bottom to the box by using screws. Remember though, the box’s bottom will not hold a lot of weight so try not to use more than 12 screws.
If you are going to hang the trap, you will need to attach the hanging board to both the bottom and the midpoint of the box. If however, you are going to let the trap remain on a shelf, you do not need to do this step.
Now, you need to drill 3 quarter inch holes through the hanging board and into the box, which are then secured using carriage bolts. Within the box, use washer and nuts to secure the carriage bolts. Two of these should be enough.
Finally, drill two holes into the center line (measured from the top of the hanging board). This will be your slot for the straps or similar, ready to hang your trap.
Once you have completed all of the above steps, you need to add frames and a lure. Attach the top of the box using screws, but as you are going to remove them eventually, you should not need to use more than a maximum of four.
Buy A Swarm Trap Instead
If you do not want to build your own swarm trap, it might be beneficial to simply buy a swarm trap, and these simply need some basic assembly. Typically speaking, these swarm traps which you can find online will be more costly than building your own.
Having said that though, you will be sure that you’ve got everything right and it will come with step by step, easy to understand instructions. While this may cost a little more, it will probably be worth it for the quality in the end.
We’ve found that cardboard or wood-pulp bait hives (which are usually shaped like flower pots) are pretty simple to assemble. These are often the inexpensive option, but as a result of this, they do not usually last any longer than about 12 months.
Not only this, wood-pulp bait hives don’t normally have transferrable frames, where the bees can build a comb. In short, this can cause a very messy and time consuming process, so you might be better off looking at other options.
Wooden bait hives on the other hand will often last a lot longer than this, especially if you look after them well.
How To Bait A Swarm Trap
Prior to putting up your swarm trap, you need to bait it. You do this by adding the following:
- Frames or bars
- Drawn comb
- Foundation strips
- Scented lure
Let’s look at these requirements in a little more detail.
Frames Or Bars
We briefly spoke about this earlier, but you don’t actually need to add all of the frames that you might typically think. For example, an 8 frame box might be built using only 6 frames. However, you should move the swarm before they build on all the frames.
Having said this, without using all of the frames, it’s possible that the other frames can shift, move and even fall completely out of place. As a result, bees might decide to build on the top of the box, which makes removal very difficult.
Remember earlier we spoke about appealing to the scout bees as if you were selling your own home? Well this is poignant here. A bait hive needs to be spacious enough to appeal to the scout bees.
If the frames are full of foundation, this will appear too crowded – so you’re going to want to limit the number of foundation strips, and potentially wire the frames to stabilize any combs that the bees have built.
Speaking of the comb, there are some places in which you may not wish to add a comb. In fact, if you leave a comb unattended when you’re waiting for your swarm, you might find it has become home to wax moths.
While some states will not have this problem, particularly the northern states, you might find it useful to freeze the comb before placing it into your trap. This will ensure that any wax moths, eggs and larvae will be eradicated – along with any other critters that may be there.
It’s important to say here that older comb, especially darker and brood comb is generally the most attractive type of comb. Once again though, it’s important not to overcrowd the area with comb.
You also want to ensure that you’re not blocking the entrance for the bees, so always look out for this.
You can actually find and purchase some packages scented lure for all of your bee hives. It’s important to recognize that they tend to be costly though. Some of these scented lure packages tend to last for up to a month, but some cheaper ones last around a week.
One of the most popular types of scented lure is lemongrass oil because the scent mimics the natural pheromones released by the worker bees. There are various types of this lemongrass oil on the market, and the majority work just fine.
Swarm Science has a great option and it’s usually highly effective. While it might be a little more costly than other types of scented lure, it’s worth it in the long run, assuming that everything else is up to code.
Whatever type of scented lure you use, it’s a good idea to use a cotton swab and spread it over the trap. This should save you some money as sprays can use a lot of liquid very quickly, meaning you will need to buy more frequently.
Having said that though, if you are seriously struggling with attracting bees after a few weeks, most people will use a scented lure spray over the entrance.
How Do I Put Up A Swarm Trap?
We’ve discussed how you can build a hanging trap, and we’ve shown the main methods. Using a hanging board with a nail is pretty much the simplest of all the methods.
A wooden board which is bolted on the one side can extend relatively far, to around 18 inches above the box’s top. Then, a one inch hole in the board gives it an excellent place to hang on using a steel nail driven into a tree.
As the trap can get quite heavy, the larger the nail is, the better and more stable it will be. This is a critical thing to note, because while straps or cords can be useful, sometimes they aren’t stable enough and you notice they’re a bit precarious.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t use them, as it varies from place to place and swarm to swarm. In fact, you may decide to use something similar to this like rope or bungee cords.
The Best Location For A Swarm Trap
Of course, when you’re looking to put up your swarm trap, a lot of the success will depend on its location. So you’ll probably be asking yourself where the best location is for a swarm trap.
We’ve found that the best place to put a swarm trap is around 15 feet in height – but this will depend on your own safety. Most people will set it up between six and eight feet high instead.
This is because, while 15 feet in height is ideal for the bees, it’s going to be a serious problem for most people to access. You would need a ladder, which can be dangerous on its own.
Remember, if you have trouble when you’re on a ladder with bees (like being stung), you’re going to be in significant danger. If however, you can set up the trap this high in a safe way, then this is perfect.
You will also want to think about how bees travel and what they might look for. Therefore, tree lines and canals might be an excellent area to look at. In fact, canals are ideal because you don’t want to stray too far away from a source of water.
You should ensure that the entrance opening is facing south and try to make sure you’ve provided enough shade for it. You’ll also want to make sure that these traps can be seen by the bees, but they’re protected from other animals and vandals.
Above all, you need to remember safety and do not ever place these traps on someone else’s property if you have no secured permission to do so.
When To Check Your Bait Hives
Now that you’ve got everything up and running, the next question to pose to yourself is how often you might want to check your bait hives.
Generally speaking, checking these traps on a weekly basis is ample. You should try not to leave these hives unattended for more than two weeks though. This is why you will want to think about their location carefully.
For example, if you have placed them 15 feet high, sourcing a ladder every week can be very time consuming and exhausting. In another point, having a trap too far away from your location can be troublesome (can cost you gas money!).
As we mentioned previously, if you check your bait hives regularly and you have not seen any evidence of bees, you will need to consider using some more scented lure and continue to check again regularly.
It’s important to check for any bee activity coming from the entrance. For example, you might even see the scout bees examining the bait hive for their new home.
Frequently Asked Questions
Once the swarm has moved in, a few weeks should pass for them to have some brood – this will keep them in and allow them to be ready for movement. Remember, you don’t want to wait too long because they will become accustomed to the trap.
Typically, swarm trapping has more pros than cons. These include:
– You could save money by essentially having “free” bees for years
– The swarms you have trapped will be local and provide the best genetics
– You could potentially sell your swarm for a lot of money
– It’s a relatively simple process
– The process can be super fun!
But swarm trapping is not without its flaws. These cons include:
– Potentially dangerous, such as heights and stings
– You may accidentally trap other wildlife like wasps or birds
– Traps can be damaged by other people or animals
– The process can be time consuming
Of course, ultimately, you will decide whether swarm trapping is for you or not.
And that is essentially all you need to know about what a swarm trap is and how you can get some free bees! We hope this helped.