Swarm trapping can be lots of fun and there is plenty of room for experimenting and
increasing our knowledge. Back in the mid 80's I started a program at the Carl Hayden Bee
Research Center to develop an effective way to lure swarms into traps or boxes. The key
turns out to be the pheromone lure. Swarming bees use their Nasonov pheromone as their
main chemical cue to organize house hunting, and what I did was make a synthetic slow
release Nasonov pheromone lure that lasts about a year and is wonderfully attractive to
swarms. The trap itself, the location of the trap, the time of year and other factors are also
important. For European bees the best traps are the pulp based traps or old hive boxes.
Cardboard boxes, plastic boxes, buckets, etc. are not suitable nests for bees and the
bees recognize that. The result is very poor swarm occupancy in traps made of those
Until the pheromone became available, the best attractants were hive materials, especially
old combs, propolis, etc. Africans used hollow logs with bee materials inside quite
successfully to attract swarms. Part of our investigations were to determine just how
important pheromone was and whether we could â€œtweakâ€ the system by substituting,
adding to, or deleting pheromone. In new clean traps, those with pheromone attracted 19
swarms; those without pheromone attracted only 4 swarms (Schmidt, J. Chem. Ecol. 20:
1053-56 ). This clearly indicated that without pheromone most swarms were getting
But what about old comb, and other hive products? A paper is just now submitted to
address that situation, but some of the results are summarized in an abstract in the Dec.
1990 issue of American Bee J. on p. 812. In essence, it turns out that if one compares
traps with pheromone as well as either an added old comb or that had housed a colony,
with traps lacking pheromone, but had an added old comb or had housed a colony, the
pheromone traps caught 13 swarms to the 3 of the traps with comb and no pheromone.
This ratio is no different from the â€œcleanâ€ test results of 19 to 4. Thus, old comb does not
enhance the attractiveness of pheromone.
But what about old comb in the absence of pheromone? In this case (although it took a long
time to attract enough swarms to get the numbers) the results were 11 swarms in traps with
comb to 0 in traps without comb. This shows that in the absence of pheromone, comb has
some attractiveness and is clearly better than nothing. The catch is that comb without
pheromone is still not terribly attractive relative to pheromone. Bees have a distinct
hierarchy of preferences!
A couple of other points. Comb does have the disadvantages of being attractive to wax
moths which make a mess, comb can have spores of foulbrood or other diseases, and in
some states it is technically illegal to have comb out where it can spread disease. Comb is
also expensive and valuable, something you might not want to lose.
The main problem with pheromone is its availability. Mann Lake does sell the pheromone
lures, as does Beemaster in Tucson (520 770-1463) and Fisher Enterprises (POB 1364,
Coupeville, WA 98239; 360 678-8401) and perhaps some others. It is simple to make.
The only problem is that the chemical suppliers will not sell the components to individuals
(some excuse about lawyers and liability is my suspicion). Thus, beekeepers are basically
stuck having to buy the pre-made lures.
Information on the lures is in Amer. Bee J. 129: 468-71 (1989). Ted Fischer brings up an
interesting observation. Often when a lure is in a trap, one will see clusters of a few to
several hundred bees that just â€œhang aroundâ€ inside the trap for weeks. We see that also
and do not know exactly what it means. It could be either scouts that are so attracted to the
cavity and lure that they do not leave, or it could be that they got lost and stranded (their
swarm might have moved on) and have no place to go and are just naturally attracted to
cluster around their own pheromone. Maybe somebody has some observations on this.
Happy swarm hunting!
Justin O. Schmidt, PhD
USDA-ARS Carl Hayden Bee Research Center
2000 East Allen Rd., Tucson, Arizona 85719, U.S.A.
Office: 520 670-6380, extension 109 (voicemail) FAX: 520 670-6493
For Bee & Pollination information on the World Wide Web Please visit us athttp://gears.tucson.ars.ag.gov/