Guest Blog: Tom Seeley on Bait Hives.


Tom Bee Hunting.

Tom Seeley is Emeritus Professor of Biology at Cornell University NY. As one of the world’s most prominent scientists, Tom has contributed much to our present understanding of honey bee behaviour and shares this knowledge in his many books. Honeybee Democracy must be the most fascinating book that I’ve read about bees and is a great favourite with many other beekeepers.

Tom has been fascinated by bees since he was a small boy watching a swarm of bees move into a walnut tree near his home in Ithaca, upper New York. Since then he has been closely involved with this intriguing insect. He writes about beekeeping both as a scientist and an experienced beekeeper which makes his work doubly valuable and the information easy for any beekeeper to access.

Tom is one of the few beekeepers to have a species of bee named after him, Neocorynurella seeleyi, and to be called over to Southeast Asia to solve a mystery. See Yellow-rain article.

In 2016, Tom and others were presented with a Golden Goose award for The Honey Bee Algorithm which is rather an amazing bit of work that uses information gleaned from studying honey bee communication and employs it to enhance IT in the business world.

It’s now over to Tom to tell us about his own beekeeping experiences with bait hives. I’m very appreciative to him for contributing to beelistener and I know you will enjoy this.

Bait Hives.

Last Saturday, the second day of May, the weather was warm and sunny, so I decided to devote the morning to setting out 10 bait hives to trap some swarms.  I put out bait hives mainly to replace colonies lost over winter, but also to have some fun.  I enjoy the spring ritual of pulling from my storage shed the 6-frame, “nucleus box” hives that I use for this purpose; filling each one with frames holding old, aromatic comb; and driving my old pickup truck around to secluded places in my home valley (Ellis Hollow).  This is where I have been trapping swarms in bait hives for more than 40 years.  The photos show four of these places, each with a bait hive set in place. 

We now know what makes an attractive nesting cavity for honey bees:  volume at least 25 liters, entrance hole small (about 20 cm2) and high above ground level (the higher the better), and presence of combs built by a prior colony.  My bait hives fulfill all of these desiderata, except that I do not put my boxes more than a meter or so above ground level.  This is for safety.   When it comes time to collect an occupied bait hive, it can be heavy with bees and honey, so getting it down a ladder can be dangerous.  Last summer, for example, I fell off a ladder while taking an occupied bait hive down from the roof of a shed.  I was lucky:  somehow, I landed on my bottom, and the hive landed in my lap with its entrance still screened tight and its lid still on top.  Ever since this close call, I have told myself firmly, “Tom, no more bait hives high off the ground!”

Besides filling each bait hive with 6 frames filled with old comb, I will tuck a swarm lure in the entrance of each bait hive.  This lure–sometimes called a “swarm bait”–is a small, plastic vial that holds a few drops of the Nasonov gland pheromone and releases it slowly.  I buy my swarm lures from Betterbee (see  I know from my investigations of how swarms choose their homes that these swarm lures make potential dwelling places conspicuous to nest-site scouts.  Note:  I will tuck a swarm lure inside a bait hive’s entrance only after I have set the hive in its place, so the lure cannot fall out while I am moving the hive around.

Once I have my bait hives in place, I like to check them every 10-14 days or so.  Finding a heavy traffic of bees at a hive is always a thrill, but to be sure that a swarm has indeed moved into a bait hive, I look for bees bearing loads of pollen entering the hive.  Seeing this tells me that a busyness of bees at a bait hive is not merely a mob of robbers stealing honey from the combs or a crowd of scouts inspecting the site.  If I see pollen collectors, I know for sure that a swarm has moved in.

The final task is to collect the bait hive and bring it home. This is a matter of coming to it either at daybreak or evening (so the bees’ traffic at your bait hive will be minimal), then putting wire screen over its entrance opening, and finally moving the bait hive to your apiary.  If it has been occupied by a large swarm, or it has been occupied for some time, then you may need to “nudge” (with smoke) the bees to move inside before you screen the entrance.  It is important to minimize the time that the bait hive’s entrance is screened, for it may contain a strong colony.  If so, then the colony will be vulnerable to overheating during the move.

Important note:  you will need to move the occupied bait hive at least 3 km (and preferably 4+ km) to prevent its occupants from returning to their previous home address.

To my mind, the complete honey bee enthusiast is a beekeeper (who manages colonies living in hives), a bee hunter (who tracks down colonies living in trees and buildings), and a bee trapper (who catches swarms with bait hives).  I hope this blog will be helpful to those who want to pursue this third way of having fun with our best friend among the insects, Apis mellifera.

11 thoughts on “Guest Blog: Tom Seeley on Bait Hives.”

    1. Thank you, Megan, I’m glad that you enjoyed this post so much. I think that it will help a lot of people to know that they don’t have to place bait hives too high up for them to work well.

  1. I enjoyed that, Ann and Tom. Thank you. I will copy and paste the paragraph on Toms unfortunate accident, onto a message and send it to my son who is planning to put a hive on his garage roof in London. He will take notice of this, as he has sat with me at The national Honey Show and been fascinated by Tom’s lectures. (A mother’s natural anxiety isn’t enough to deter him). xx

  2. Lovely to read this blog. I still have good memories of Tom coming over to my house last year we all had a cup of tea sitting on the wall while Tom set up his little box with aniseed oil to attract the wild bees in the area then see how long it took for one to visit, be marked, then let the others know and working out time then approx mileage. It was fascinating. What a lovely man. He has such incredible insight when it comes to bees and you can see why bees have been his life’s work.

    1. Thank you. Yes, that was fun Susan. Tea on the wall was memorable. I’m keen to follow up on those bees near your old home. Maybe if the field is clear of cattle with young calves it could be tried again. Linton will help me once the OSR is over and the bees are keen for nectar. It might work then. Keep a look out for honey bees over at Errogie. Our bee hunting adventures feature in June’s Bee Craft magazine.

  3. Thanks for this Ann and Tom. I have beginners setting out bait hives at the moment, just in case the swarm prevention measures don’t go to plan. And who knows, they may catch a stray swarm from elsewhere. I will pass on the link to your blog, it’s always good to get sound, tried and tested, advise from a fellow enthusiast. Yvonne

  4. A lovely post, for me attracting a swarm, especially a feral swarm, in a bait box is a sign that you are beginning to understand them and may in fact be worthy of being their keeper.

    1. Hello Tristan. Welcome to beelistener and thank you for commenting on Tom’s guest blog. I agree with you. Having a bait hive has made me more aware of what is going on in my own apiary too. When I saw bees sniffing round one on my bait hives 2 weeks ago it made me think that swarming was imminent. Sure enough, during inspections on Saturday I discovered that in one colony the queen was slimmer and had reduced egg laying. Some cells in the middle of the brood frames were being back filled with nectar. The bottom brood box had 4 swarm cells. I used the nuc method of control. These bees are quite orange/yellow and the same colour as the scouts at the bait hive, whereas all the other colonies are dark with a high proportion of Carniolan genes.

  5. Thank you so much Tom for sharing your knowledge and experience. I’m getting a lot of good ideas from your blog to improve my bee trapping. It is great fun like foraging, finding something good and precious for free. I hope you’ve a successful year!🙂👍
    Anna Maria

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