Baiting and colonisation

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Baiting and colonisation

Beekeepers in many parts of the world depend on natural swarming to stock their hives, cavities or rafters. Rapid colonisation of hives needs plenty of honey bee colonies in the area. Bees need to find the beekeepers' intended site and then to decide that it is the best place in the area for them to make their home. The ease of hive colonisation is a measure of the ecological health of the environment. Where natural resources are being destroyed or where careless agricultural spraying occurs, the wild colonies that would be the parents of the swarms are easily destroyed. This not only affects the colonisation of beehives for beekeepers but also farmers' crop production and biodiversity in the area.

Positioning and baiting beehives in order to optimise their attractiveness to colonising swarms will vary depending on the environment. Nonetheless there will be certain principles that will be helpful to all beekeepers who want to establish a colony of bees. 

  • In the first instance, whether it is natural nest sites, rafters or beehives that are to be colonised, if they have previously been colonised by bees then they will be more attractive than something that is new and raw. This is because the bees will be able to smell the residual odours of previous bees.
  • The relatively fresh remains of dead bee brood and comb that has been used for raising brood is also very attractive. However, this also carries the danger of disease for the bees and it will quickly become damaged by wax moth cocoons which will render it very unappealing so it cannot be used over a long period.
  • Bees are especially attracted by beeswax so plenty of beeswax should be used to bait the hives.  Using a fresh starter strip of beeswax on the top-bars of a movable comb hive will act as a swarm attractant.
  • Certain types of materials are more attractive to bees than others. It has long been noted that traditional hives are more quickly colonised than top-bar or frame hives. Plastic hives and other man-made materials are often unattractive while some types of wood can have a strong smell which is potentially repellent to bees. Scorched wood, where hives have been flamed to remove infection or pests, often seem to have additional interest, perhaps because of the minerals that may become available to scouting bees.
  • Some indigenous herbs are used as attractants, in particular those smelling of lemon such as lemon grass. Among many other attractants people have tried are palm wine, banana skins and cassava flour - which may or may not attract bees but will certainly attract ants unless the hive is carefully set up.  Indigenous knowledge is one of the greatest assets to a new beekeeper as it is local beekeepers who will have the most relevant practical experience to share.

The size of the cavity, swarm catcher or hive also has a bearing on its attractiveness. The optimum size will vary with the size of the bee - with smaller honey bee ecotypes such as Apis cerana or African Apis mellifera being attracted to smaller sized cavities or hives.

Bees have been shown to have preferences about the orientation of the entrance to the sun and whether the hive is in a shady position - temperate bees will avoid a shady place while tropical bees require it.

An effective means of swarm catching is to use a special swarm catcher box placed along a known route for swarming or migrating bees. These routes are best identified by observation or by discussions with local beekeepers.  Once colonised the swarm catchers can be moved to the main apiary. If a movable comb or frame hive is used only the combs need to be transferred while the swarm catcher can be reused to collect another swarm.

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  • Language English
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  • Author Bees for Development
  • Publisher Bees for Development
  • Published Date October 2016
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