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How to seduce a swarm, maybe

A friend who lives near Mount Shasta recently told me about a “swarm seducer” he uses to attract swarms that issue from his own hives. While bait hives and swarm traps are often used to woo swarms that are looking for a permanent home, a swarm seducer is meant to provide a temporary resting place for a swarm that has just left its hive. These swarms usually settle near the hive and stay put until the bees have agreed upon a new place to live, which can take anywhere from a few minutes to many days.

If you are lucky, the swarm lands on a fence post, a mail box, or a low shrub. Or with my luck, it lands on a branch 50 feet up from the nearest ground, usually in a big-leaf maple, hemlock, or Douglas-fir—a place that requires binoculars to see. Not good.

Actually, I’ve had good luck catching these swarms on subsequent days by putting out lots of bait hives laced with Swarm Commander, but there are no guarantees, so needless to say, I’m intrigued by the swarm seducer.

My friend’s instructions, which he said were passed down from his Slovenian ancestors, are simple. He melts down old brood combs, the blacker the better, and dips rags or scrap fabrics into the liquid wax. He takes these saturated rags and pins them by one corner onto a branch or clothesline until they harden.

Next, he connects a tossing line (string or twine) onto a rock so he can throw the string over a branch, and then he uses the small line to haul up a rope.  (I use this method when I’m hanging a food pack in the trees to keep it from bears. I use nylon fishing line and a lead weight, but anything that is light and easy to throw can be used to haul up something more substantial.)

Swarm in a tree
Most swarms do not cooperate. © Rusty Burlew.

Once he has a long rope over a branch, he attaches the swarm seducer and hauls it up the tree and ties it off. Honey bees are incredibly attracted to the scent of old brood comb. When a swarm lands on the seducer, he gently lowers it down until he can drop the swarm in a cardboard box. It sounds so simple!

Some people recommend simply hanging an old frame from a branch, but melting the comb has two advantages. First, melting the wax releases volatile compounds that are buried under layers of dried cocoons, akin to roughing up the surface of a cedar board to rejuvenate the scent. Second, by soaking a rag in the wax you are increasing the surface area of the wax and thereby enhancing the rate at which the odor disperses into the air.

If you know which trees your swarms always land in, that is a good place to start. If not, trees near the perimeter of the apiary are a good bet. The more seducers you hang near your hives, the better the chance of catching a swarm.

My friend said his great uncle hung these things all around his bee yard, and then went around nearly every afternoon during swarm season, lowering the swarms into boxes and hauling the seducer back up the tree. He said certain ones were used repeatedly and had a much better chance of attracting a subsequent swarm than a new one.

I like this idea because it gives you another chance to catch a swarm that leaves one of your own hives. Naturally, it’s best to prevent swarms if you can. But if you miss that opportunity, the swarm seducer is your next chance at them. If they don’t choose to land on your seducer, there is still a chance of luring them into a swarm trap or bait hive that is placed further away.

Although I haven’t yet tried this, I wanted to share the idea with you while swarm season is still in full swing. I don’t have any really swarmy hives right now, but I think I will make a few of these anyhow. Can’t wait to try it.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Comments

AramF
Reply

If you are good with interpretation of body language and do as I do, and not necessarily as I say, check out this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLiC43IQFTM

I believe he simply attaches an old frame inside.

AramF
Reply

A very rough Bill of material

plywood 36 x 20 x 1/4 (to bend)
plywood 18 x 20 X 1/4 bottom
~2x2x20″ qty2 with 1/4 inch groove
wire screen
handle
staples and screws

Everything else is in the video.

Andrea
Reply

Would this CAUSE a normally content hive TO swarm?

Rusty
Reply

Andrea,

Absolutely not. The decision to swarm occurs many weeks in advance and it requires much preparation by the colony. Bait hives, lemongrass, pheromones etc can affect a swarm but not the decision to swarm.

Anthony Planakis
Reply

Hey Rusty,
Hmmmmm!!!! I think you’re onto something!!
Great idea!!! Will be trying that and also, pinning a cotton ball laced with lemon grass oil
on 2 of 4, will keep you posted if and when
swarm takes the bait and which one they preferred!!
All the best!!
Tonybees…

Rusty
Reply

Tonybees,

Sounds like fun. I’ve already begun collecting a pot of black combs and will give it a try as well.

George
Reply

How about just cutting a nice piece of black comb and hauling that up directly? I melt my old combs and filter the wax for further use. I’m guessing the Slovenian seduction is to melt the comb then drench a piece of fabric into the unfiltered mixture.

Palladio
Reply

Interesting Idea. Wish I would have read this 2 weeks ago.
I use top bars and have some dark comb where bees had cross-combed the box, very wavy and beautiful. It’s several years old, finally split the box up and this might be good use for it. I assume if it’s in shade it’d hold up. wonder if it would attract wax moths, which are consistent nuisance here.

Rusty
Reply

Palladio,

Wax moths do not like light, so they only go where it’s dark.

Myrna Warren
Reply

I’m thrilled to know that the old black comb is good for something. We have a swarm trap (the paper mache flower pot looking thing). Besides the Swarm Commander, I put pieces of some dark comb inside it and rubbed some of the old melted wax around the entrance. As you said the plans to swarm goes on for some time before they actually do. I’ve been seeing a few bees checking out the swarm trap for over a week. Today there were lots of bees in and out. They definitely took the bait. It’s so exciting to catch a swarm. I’ll be putting up some of the swarm seducer rags and see how that works.

Muzafar
Reply

Hello sir,

I have two hives. Fom one of the two I got some honey yesterday. This one has no drones and small number of bees as well. But the other one, which is looking strong, much bees much drones, but I did not get any honey from that. What might be the reason? I think more drones sink sources. If it is the reason, how to evacuate drones? please help

Rusty
Reply

Muzafar,

You can try killing drone brood while it is still in the hive. More bees eat more, but they also store more food. Still, I doubt the drones are the real problem. The amount of available forage or the weather may the cause.

Tom
Reply

I had one of my hives swarm this year and they found my fire pit full of wood scraps quite interesting. After putting them in a brood box and moving them to the apiary in the evening, I had several hundred return to the fire pit the next morning, evidently they didn’t get the memo. Eventually they found their way back to the rest of the colony in the bee yard. I have since burnt the scrap wood but maybe I should have kept that particular punkey log and hung it from a limb.

Roger
Reply

Why not just hang a old deep frame of brood comb? If it attracts a swarm then it can go right into the box.

bil aylor
Reply

Hi Rusty, thanks for tons of great work!

Do you have any follow up to this article on “How to seduce a swarm, maybe”? Would like to hear of your experiences with the method.

Bil

Rusty
Reply

Bil,

I never got around to trying it, but I have a friend up in B.C. who swears by it. She says she gets several swarms every year from one seducer. I’m still using Swarm Commander, which works really well. But now that you’ve reminded me, maybe I will go make some of these.

Nicholas Law
Reply

Hello Rusty,

I have a Langstroth hive that has been empty for a while, with wax foundations on the 10 panels and have stuck the hive up on my roof terrace in full morning sun. I have smeared a home-made olive oil-old-wax-and-lemongrass lure mixture on the panels inside the hive and am hoping to attract a swarm. Will the attraction of the smeared lure mixture wear off over time and if so how often should I re-smear the panels and the entrances to the hive?

Rusty
Reply

Nicholas,

That will depend on how much you smeared on, the concentration of the lure, the percentage of old wax, etc. Every case will be different. But as a general rule, it doesn’t take a lot to attract a swarm, and too strong of a scent will drive them away. You can rough up the surface every couple of weeks (with a brush or rag) if you want. Like sanding old cedar, roughing up the surface releases more scent molecules.

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