Catching Bees With A Swarm Trap

Just five days into spring and already I’m thinking about this season’s first inevitable swarm. There are a number of reasons why swarms occur and no matter how diligent you are as a bee keeper it can sometimes be difficult to prevent them. The possibility of losing 50% or more of ones bees is no laughing matter as it weakens the hive and reduces the amount of honey that can be harvested.

I remember being rather grumpy when I lost my first lot of bees due to a swarm as I couldn’t comprehend why my girls wanted to leave me and the cosy home I had so lovingly set up for them. Now when it happens emotions still run high but its more about retrieving the bees and having them stay put. The swarms I’ve been unable to catch over the years have probably been caught by another bee keeper or have perished.  Sadly without human intervention bees in the wild will eventually succumb to the dreaded varroa mite. Now that this evil pest is part of the New Zealand bee keeping scene feral bees are no more than a memory. Whenever our bees decide to shift home I’m always fearful that they will cluster high up a tree and be out of reach. Cutting back the odd branch here and there is no drama but felling a tree is a little extreme. Once scout bees return from reconnoitering out a new home its often a case of bye bye bees therefore time can also be the bee keeper’s enemy. The large swarm shown above settled towards the top of this tree and only after some precarious ladder and pruning work was I able to to get them back to ground.  The tree looked worse for wear however I did save the swarm. This same tree will be the location of my first attempted swarm trap which will hopefully encourage any wayward bees to hang about. It’s situated about 30 metres from our apiary and tends to be a popular first port of call during the swarm season. The brood box has a small yet defendable entrance, five used frames, some old bee comb and sufficient space to give them the impression that there’s room enough for a new home.

Newly Setup Swarm Trap

Hopefully this exercise will be successful and will form the subject of a not too distant blog post.

Watch this space.

One Response

  1. Jerold Q. Poole
    Jerold Q. Poole |

    When a honey bee swarm emerges from a hive they do not fly far at first. They may gather in a tree or on a branch only a few meters from the hive. There, they cluster about the queen and send 20 – 50 scout bees out to find a suitable new nest locations. The scout bees are the most experienced foragers in the cluster. An individual scout returning to the cluster promotes a location she found. She uses a dance similar to the waggle dance to indicate direction and distance to others in the cluster. The more excited she is about her findings the more excitedly she dances. If she can convince other scouts to check out the location she found, they may take off, check out the proposed site and promote the site further upon their return. Several different sites may be promoted by different scouts at first. After several hours and sometimes days, slowly a favorite location emerges from this decision making process. In order for a decision to be made in a relatively short amount of time (the swarm can only survive for about 3 days with the honey they gorged themselves with before leaving the hive), a decision will often be made when somewhere around 80% of the scouts have agreed upon a single location. When that happens, the whole cluster takes off and flies to it. A swarm may fly a kilometer or more to the scouted location. This collective decision making process is remarkably successful in identifying the most suitable new nest site and keeping the swarm intact. A good nest site has to be large enough to accommodate the swarm (about 15 liters in volume), has to be well protected from the elements, receive a certain amount of warmth from the sun and be not infested with ants.

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