A bait hive is an empty hive that is set up to attract a swarm during the swarming season.
For about a week before a colony swarms it sends out scout bees to find a new home. Although we shouldn’t try to humanize bees there are several criteria that seem attractive to them, these being:-
- Where bees have lived before.
- Sufficiently large cavity to store enough food to survive during harsh times.
- Easily defendable.
- In the shade to aid ventilation.
- Where ley lines cross.
Before a swarm actually departs, it will put a lot of energy into finding the perfect new home. Cue the scout bees. These foragers turned house hunters will seek out ideal nesting locations often spending 30 minutes or more thoroughly evaluating the site. This process can take days and the more attractive a site is to the swarm, the more scouts will appear. It often starts with one to two bees hovering around their potential home. You can always tell when this is happening because the bees seem to be scanning the surface and entrances very carefully. If the scouts approve of the site, they will shortly be joined by many more scouts who will all perform the same thorough examination. As the swarm gets closer to “moving day” the number of scouts will surge. You will see as many as a hundred scouts investigating a nesting site the day before the swarm arrives! During this site evaluation period, it is important not to disturb anything or you might dissuade the bees from settling there. Scouts from a single swarm will scout as many as 10 different nesting sites, often narrowing the choices down to two or three by the end.
Most beekeepers have always put bait hives out and been successful at attracting swarms. They set them up as follows:-
- An old brood box and crown board that haven’t been cleaned, so they still have wax and propolis on them. This seems to attract swarms better.
- One old comb inside if the bait hive is at home, a full box of old comb if it is away from home.
- A small entrance about the area of the end or side of a matchbox. Too big and you will reduce your chances of success.
- In the shade.
If bees become interested in a bait hive the first thing to do is to check your own colonies. Even though you may think they are alright, there is a possibility there may be supersedure cells or queen cells you have missed. If they are not your bees they could come from another beekeeper or a feral colony, so take the usual precautions to avoid the possibility of them being infected with foul brood.