Swarm Trap Study Results

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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 “tweak” 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 [1994]). 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 “clean” 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 “hang around” 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 at

 Old hive locations, where comb is still intact such as in a wall void or ceiling, time and again attracts swarms to move in. In fact even if the hive is removed it is still attractive to swarms, that's why removing a hive is not enough security that the area will not get bees again. Bee-proofing is an absolute must! I have removed hives from houses that had hives in the same exact spot previously, because the area was not sealed properly. I have also removed hives from houses that have had multiple hives throughout the yrs. In fact, I will go out on a limb here and say that most structures that have hives will get them again. If not in the exact spot, a spot adjacent to where the previous hive was removed. With that said, I always use swarm pheremone in my traps and have very good results luring swarms. On swarm calls where the bees are on something like a wall, or umbrella, etc...whereby its not possible to shake them off, swarm traps with pheremone come in real handy. I usually just take handfuls of bees and place them in the trap, always on the look out for the queen. They usually go right in the trap within a short period of time. In summary, swarm pheremone in my experience is great in attracting swarms, but so are the components of old hives or hive locations, such as wall voids.

Sincerely, JP

NWIN Beekeeper:
Justin is no slouch at swarm trapping:

Schmidt, J O (1994) Attraction of reproductive honey bee swarms to artificial nests by Nasonov pheromone. J Chem Ecol 20, 1053-1056

Schmidt, J O, Thoenes, S C (1987) Swarm cavities for survey and control of Africanized honey bees. Bull Entomol Soc Amer 33, 155-158

Schmidt, J O, Thoenes, S C (1992) Criteria for nest site selection in honey bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae): preferences between pheromone attractants and cavity shapes. Environ Entomol 21, 1130-1133

Schmidt, J O, Slessor, K N, Winston, M L (1993) Roles of Nasonov and queen pheromones in attraction of honeybee swarms. Naturwissenschaften 80, 573-575

Schmidt, J O, Thoenes, S C, Hurley, R (1989) Swarm traps. Amer Bee J 129, 468-471

All of them are awesome reads if you can get your hands on them and don't mind distilling through the "white paper" jargon.

Should we assume that the lemongrass oil trick was  not tested? Only the real store bought stuff?

It seems prudent to rub a little beeswax on the frames. My bees kinda turn their collective noses up at my plastic foundation until I rub a generous amount of beeswax on them ......I know its not the same, but it may not hurt.

I'm sure counting on a few of the pulp traps this year...and I'm going to put out my nucs, too. Any stray swarms I can catch will only be a plus for me! I've got lemongrass oil, I hope that is sufficient.


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