It has been a while since I posted, but I wanted to share a little about my swarm trapping adventures for 2016 so far. I wasn’t able to purchase packages of bees this year. The biggest reason I didn’t buy packages is because of the price. 3 pound Packages of bees were about $120 a piece. I really didn’t want to pay this, and ultimately decided that I was going to try to catch some swarms this year. I don’t really understand the economics of the packaged bee market, but I remember purchasing a 20 frame fully established hive for the same price about 5 years ago. I just couldn’t bring myself to spend the same amount of money for a single 3 pound package.
I have 5 hives set out so far. Four of them are 5 framers, and one of them is a ten frame. I have slowly added more and more traps as I have had time and equipment to spare. So far things are going good. I have had a lot of activity around all of my traps, but two of them are receiving quite a bit more activity than the others. From past experience, this kind of activity usually means a swarm will follow soon. If you look closely at the pictures below, you can see that there are a lot of bees at the entrances of the trap. When I first started swarm trapping, I had a hard time telling the difference between scout bees sizing up the hive and an established swarm.
If you look at the pictures you can see that there are quite a few bees and it is easy to get excited that a swarm might be in the trap. For those of you that are new to swarm trapping, I wanted to give you an idea of what to expect from scout bees, so you aren’t disappointed like I was when I started.
Don’t be Fooled
It is sometimes hard to tell if a swarm is in a trap when there is a lot of scout activity. The best way to tell the difference between scouting behavior, and regular entrance behavior of an established hive or swarm is to see if pollen is coming in. Scout bees do not carry pollen into a swarm trap. If you see pollen coming in, you have caught a swarm. I am usually not able to get close enough to see this because I hoist my swarm traps high into a tree with rope. If you aren’t sure you’ve caught a swarm, the best thing you can do is leave them alone.
If you have a lot of scout activity at a hive it usually means that a swarm is seriously considering making your trap their home. The last thing you want to do is pull the hive down. If you Disturb the swarm trap while the scouts are inspecting it they might decide go somewhere else. This is especially important when there is a lot of scout activity like in the photos above. In the past, whenever I would see this behavior, I could accurately predict a swarm entering the box within 48 hours.
There is a lot of work that is put in by the bees to find a new home. It has always been fascinating to me how the bees actually choose a new home. Especially because it appears that there is a voting process and a group decision being made as a swarm decides where to make their home. These decisions made by the hive are complicated and not fully understood, but there have been some convincing attempts to explain the mysteries of the hive.
One of the most fascinating books that I have read that focuses on the complicated hive processes like swarming is “Honeybee Democracy” by Dr. Thomas D. Seeley. This is an entertaining and eye opening book. Not only is there a good section on scout bees and swarming behaviors, but a lot of good information that helps beekeepers understand their bees a little better.