Brushy Mountain Bee Farm Brushy Mountain Bee Farm, Inc.

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We discuss every year about swarm prevention and best management to control swarming. Depending on your location, swarming will begin in spring and can occur throughout the fall. Certain conditions that traditionally transpire during spring are being observed in winter and instigating earlier swarms. A combination of fine weather and a strong nectar flow will entice the swarming urges. Beekeepers will prepare their hives to prevent swarming but it can be difficult to accomplish if the colony has already created swarm cells.

Let’s assume that you have reached the stage where you find swarm cells and are not prepared to create an artificial swarm by splitting the colony. What should you do?

What is actually happening when the colony has decided to swarm?

When a hive decides to swarm and before they depart, they will send out scout bees in search of a new home. Several hundred foragers turned house hunters will seek out an ideal location(s) and on finding a suitable home, the scout bees will perform a recruitment dance to recruit others to discover the new site. This process can happen very fast (within a few hours) or they may search for a couple of days before finding a suitable home. While scout bees are searching for the next home, the swarm will find temporary resting points relatively close to their original hive (roughly 50 to 100 feet). Workers forming the swarm cluster will expose the Nasonov gland for secretion to attract nestmates to the new nest. Nasonov pheromones act as an attractant and orienting pheromone during swarming.

How do they choose their nesting site?

Several different sites will be promoted by scout bees and to determine the appropriate nest will depend upon her ability to convince and recruit other scout bees. The new nest site can be over a mile away from the original hive location. An acceptable nest site must be unoccupied, large enough to house the swarm, protected from the elements (rain), and have a certain amount of shade. The odor of abandoned comb helps in attracting the swarm and provides a head start in getting established.

Here are some best practices for those using a bait hive (Cornell Cooperative Extension Publication, written by Thomas Seeley, Roger Morese, Richard Nowogrodzki):

  • The box should be easily opened for quick inspection and easy transfer to permanent hive. Entrance should be 1-1/4” in diameter.

  • Box needs to have the ability to be suspended or adhered in a high position (15 ft. above ground). Place a nail or other material across the entrance to prevent birds from nesting in box.

  • Take into account the elements (rain) when choosing box material and sealing all cracks.

  • A Waxed Cardboard NUC or Cone Style Trap make excellent bait hives. They are light weight and easy to manage.

What methods can be used to lure or bait the swarm?

Baiting the box is critical for luring the swarm. The secretion of Nasonov pheromone is the swarm’s natural attractant that many synthetic pheromone lures mimic. Having good comb (do not reuse comb from colonies that died from disease) in the nest box is an incentive to entice the bees to remain. Be cognizant that the odor of the lures will dissipate over time and may require additional applications.

Check the baited hive frequently to know if it has been occupied. A bee flying around the entrance does not imply that it is occupied but merely indicates that the hives is being investigated. A bee entering the box with pollen is a key sign of occupancy. Remove and prepare the bait hive for transport to your bee yard. It is advisable to inspect the swarm after a week for signs of queen and health of colony.