A completely natural (albeit annoying) habit of bees is swarming. During the warm days of late spring or early summer, the old queen and about half of the colony will escape the hive to begin a new life elsewhere. After flying around chaotically for several minutes, they will cluster on the limb of a tree, fence post, nook, or similar place nearby. This cluster usually remains for an hour or so, depending on the success of scouting bees. When a more suitable location is found, the cluster breaks up and relocates to it to begin a new colony. And if you, as a beekeeping are not around, your beestock may have just halved.
As the name suggests, swarm lures are devices used by beekeepers to attract the swarm once it leaves the hive. Typically a small box or container with an entrance hole, Swarm lures contain a scent or pheromone designed to mimic the scent of a queen bee or a bee swarm. They are hung from trees or placed on high points in the apiary to attract the passing swarm. Once the swarm is attracted to the lure, it can be captured and transferred to a new hive, and the new colony started.
Types of lures
Lures can either be purchased, or home made. Often commercial lures will contain synthetic pheromones or natural bee scents. They come in the form of small plastic or cardboard boxes, with a small hole for curious bees to enter.
Homemade swarm lures can be made using a mixture of essential oils. These oils can be mixed with beeswax or Gele Royal to make a solid form and placed in a small container.
Each ingredient has its own characteristics, and beekeepers should experiment with to see which ones work best in their area. Some common ingredients include:
Synthetic pheromones: Commercially available swarm lures often contain synthetic pheromones that mimic the scent of a queen bee or a swarm. These pheromones can be highly effective at attracting bees, as they are specifically designed to trigger the swarming behavior. However, they can also be expensive and may not be as effective as natural scents.
Lemongrass oil: Lemongrass oil is a natural essential oil that is popular as it is relatively inexpensive and easy to obtain. However, the effectiveness of lemongrass oil can vary depending on the concentration and quality.
Mint oil: Mint oil has a strong, pleasant scent that is often mixed sparingly with other essential oils. However, it may not be as effective as other scents in attracting bees.
Beeswax: Beeswax is often used to create a solid lure form. It has its own natural scent that is attractive to bees, but is especially well suited to carrying the scent of other ingredients.
A few considerations when using Swarm lures
Location: Swarm lures should be placed in a location that is clear to passing swarms, ideally at a height of around 10-15 feet. Beekeepers may have noticed areas around there hives that swarms naturally gravitate towards. These are ideal for lure placement. It is also a great idea to place lures in shaded areas during hotter periods.
Timing: The best time to use swarm lures is in the spring and early summer, when the bees are most active, populations have peaked and resources are abundant.
Experimentation: As there are different types of swarm lures available, Beekeepers should try different types to see which ones are most effective in their area. Just because you haven’t had success with one type, doesn’t rule out the chance for success with another.
Maintenance: Swarm lures should be checked and replenished regularly to ensure that the scent remains strong and fresh. This may involve replacing the pheromone or scent periodically, or cleaning the lure to remove any debris or dirt that may have accumulated.
So exactly how effective are they?
With so many factors in play, it is hard to give a definitive answer. The effectiveness of swarm lures will depend upon the type of lure used, the ingredient, the location of placement, the time of year and of course the bees themselves. While some beekeepers have reported great success in using swarm lures to attract swarms, others find them underwhelming.
While commercial lures are generally considered to be the most effective, they are relatively more expensive. On the other hand, beekeepers that have a preferred recipe often swear by them. Your best bet is to try it out and discover what works best for you.