Honeybees are social bees and are known to swarm during the Spring. This happens because as a honeybee colony starts to increase in population, the beehive becomes too populated, with little room for the rest of the bee population, and the supply also becomes too limited.
Just in time for the bee swarm to find a new place to call their home, beekeepers can use this opportunity to trap bees using a contraption called a swarm trap to obtain a free swarm of bees for their bee farm.
A swarm trap is an artificial hive box with baits in place to lure a swarm into using the box as their new hive instead of building a new one from scratch. The box has a small opening where honeybees can come in. These hives don’t trap bees and can easily go in and out of the contraption. Some beekeepers call these boxes a bait hive. However, this swarm trap is not intended as a permanent hive for the bees and should still be transferred to a bee box.
Now, let us learn more about swarm traps, how to use them, and when is the best time to place them outdoors.
Why do bees swarm?
Before going into the details of the swarm trap, it is important to understand the honeybee behaviors and why they swarm. Bee swarming commonly happens during the Spring as the queen bee ramps up its reproduction and more bees are born. This usually lasts for a couple of weeks.
As the honeybee population starts to grow at a fast rate, the bee hive becomes overpopulated, making the colony harder to feed. So the worker bees prepare for swarming, along with creating new queen cells that will produce a new queen bee. The worker bees will also start to starve the older queen bee to shrink her in preparation for their flight.
However, before completely swarming, the colony will release 20 to 50 scout bees to locate potential new locations for half of the colony to transfer into. They do the scouting first to preserve their energy since they don’t have a nectar and honey food supply.
When the preparation is complete and the new location has been identified, about half of the current bee population will split from the main colony and fly out to establish a new hive .
The new honeybee swarm doesn’t initially fly too far from its original hive at first. Instead, they will gather in a tree or branch nearby, along with the queen bee, to ensure she is safe. Then, the scout bees will fly out first to find their new nest location.
Once the scout bees find a new hive location, they will dance to communicate it to the rest of the bee swarm, which can be determined depending on the excitement of the dance. Bee swarms don’t usually spend more than three days in a temporary location .
Also read: Can Queen Bees Fly?
What is a swarm trap?
When the bee swarm goes to the new location, it is the best time for beekeepers to collect the swarm by luring them into a gadget called a swarm trap. A swarm trap can be as simple as a box made of wood or cardboard or even a plastic trash bin with a small hole that serves as the opening, with a cavity volume of 40 liters.
These swarm “traps” are not actually meant to trap bees but only to lure them, so they will use the box as their new hive. That is why beekeepers usually refer to them as bait hives instead of swarm traps.
Beekeepers also place baits in the swarm trap like combs, foundations (like in a nuc), or pheromones like a Nasonov pheromone  or lemongrass oil to increase the attractiveness of the swarm trap. There are many guides on the Internet that you can use to make a simple swarm trap using cheap materials.
Also read: How many bees are in a nuc?
When is the best time to place swarm traps?
The timing of placing swarm traps is important because if you put them too early, they may be destroyed by the weather or occupied by unwanted insects and pests. On the other hand, if you place them out too late, chances are, you’re too late, and the swarming period is over, and the swarm trap will be useless.
So if you’re going to use swarm traps to lure bees into them, then the best time to place them is during the swarm season in the Spring. This can be during mid-April, just in time, as most of the swarming happens from May to June, giving you more chances of attracting bee swarms.
However, the swarm trap is only meant to temporarily shelter the bees you lure. It should not be used as a permanent hive as winter draws near and the weather becomes colder. The bees will need proper insulation to ensure their survival.
Honeybees swarm when the bee colony population increases and the hive becomes too overpopulated. When this happens, almost half of the colony and an older queen bee will fly out to find another location for a new hive.
Swarming usually happens in the Spring and is the best opportunity for beekeepers to lure a swarm using a swarm trap so they can keep them for free. Once the scout bees are out, they must find your swarm trap so they will lead the rest of the swarming colony there.
A swarm trap can be as simple as a box made of wood or cardboard but is preferably air-tight with a small opening where the bees can go in and out. Beekeepers can also include frames and pheromones to lure bees in.
 – Swarming (honey bee). (2022, July 9). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swarming_(honey_bee)
 – Waggle dance. (2022, September 7). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waggle_dance
 – Nasonov pheromone. (2022, July 11). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nasonov_pheromone