Bait hive success

2015-05-20 21.47.54

Result the bait hive enticed a big swarm into it and it took a few days from the first scout bees to them arriving on mass, seven days to be precise.

Monday the first couple of scout bees arrived at the hive and I took no great interest at this as this can be quite common but an hour later I noticed about a dozen and this got my attention as that was a reasonably rapid increase and at first thought things would advance at a pace.

Tuesday and the scouts returned and increased to about two dozen getting very excited checking all round the hive, hovering in front of the entrance and investigating the inside of the hive.

What the scouts are doing during this investigation and looking at the hive, well it’s not a hive to them it’s just a convenient potential nest site and could be any cavity. What they are doing is actually very calculated and deliberate looking for questions to a list of requirements they have.

They are looking at the height from the ground, not perfect in this case as they prefer something higher as it gives protection from bears.

They are calculating the size of the entrance not too large to cause a draught and hard to defend but not to small that it would cause congestion at busy times.

They are looking at the direction the entrance is facing and prefer south facing.

They are checking all round the nest site looking for any other entrances.

They are assessing if the cavity is dry

When they venture inside the potential nest site they are assessing the position of the entrance in relation to the cavity as they prefer a bottom entrance.  Over a series of trips inside the hive they are calculating the volume of the cavity and they prefer a 40L cavity. To the bees this could be a reasonably long thin cavity as common with tree cavities but just as happy with a short fat cavity and just so happens a standard national brood box is approx 40L.

If the potential nest site ticks all or some of the boxes to the scout or scouts looking at the nest site they return to their original site or swarm and communicate the location of the site with the other scouts using the same bee dance as they use for locating forage and those scouts go to see for themselves but also may have been looking at a different nest site themselves in the opposite direction and so they communicate this to the other scouts and they go and check out that site. So the scouts are checking out each other’s potential nest sites and if one scout thinks the site chosen by the other scout is better than her site she will join forces and perform the same dance favouring the other site. This can go on for some time until hopefully the scouts are in agreement that they have found the best available nest site for them to swarm to.  So the bees are communicating to one another and debating what is the best site to move to.

During the rest of Tuesday the scouts continued but increased to 30+ as more were starting to favour my bait hive and I then set up a time laps camera as I was not going to be at the garden all the time I wanted to try and catch the swarm arrive and at the time thought it looked imminent but nothing on Tuesday.

Wednesday started off the same but now perhaps 40+ scout bees at the hive but this time they were showing signs that they were guarding the hive. Not aggressive guarding but definitely bees hanging around the entrance gently challenging bees as they entered the hive. At approx 12.30 I noticed the hive go quiet for about 35-40 minutes and thought either the beekeeper has inspected and found the hive on the verge of swarming and performed an artificial swarm or the swarm is on its way as the scouts leave to guide the swarm to the new nest site. So camera ready looking up to the sky hoping to see this wonderful spectacle unfold in front of me and all that happened was over the next hour the scouts returned and built up to force once more. After this I had to go and do something away from the garden but was called by my good beekeeping neighbour Sara Ward informing me a swarm has been seen hovering over the school playground heading my way. I went back to the garden expecting to see the swarm but nothing just the same amount of scout bees.

I now think the swarm over the school could be the swarm that eventually moved into the bait hive  and the bait hive going quiet was the time that colony swarmed but for some reason the swarm relocated when the scouts were at my bait hive.

Thursdays forecast was for heavy rain most of the day and boy were they right as I planned to move my boat that day and a long move with a couple of good friends Bill and Jude and we got pretty wet over the cause of the day. Thinking about it if the swarm was clustered in a tree or similar then it to would have had to encounter the rain but then the way they naturally cluster would cause some protection. One great thing about the European Honey Bee is it has developed coping strategies to deal with problems and swarms getting caught in bad weather is perhaps just one problem they have evolved to deal with providing the bad weather is not extreme.

Friday was going to be the day as I was convinced it was going to happen although in the past it has taken five days and this was day four but I thought the high numbers of scouts must be positive but once again it was a no the bees  were just not ready.

Saturday was the same as I started to doubt if it was going to happen.

Sunday started the same as previous day’s loads of scouts at the hive and the guarding of the entrance. I set up the camera and went to check my bees. I thought I would check the hives at Brentf0rd first just as it could be rather embarrassing if the scouts turned out to be from one of my hives. I had just finished them and thankfully all behaving themselves when I got a message to call the house.  It was my good friend Gus who owns the house and garden the bait hive is in rather worried as there are 1000’s of bees flying all round the garden. I shot round to catch the last of the bees landing on the hive marching in through the entrance and forming a large cluster under the hive. Even though I missed the arrival it was still a magical moment and thankfully had some of the action on camera and the time laps camera.

The first scout bees arriving at the hive

The swarm settling on the hive

Time laps of the whole event. You can see scouts at the entrance and at 35 seconds they start to reduce and by 50 seconds the hive is virtually quiet as the scouts have gone to collect and guide the swarm to the hive and a few seconds later the swarm arrives.

There is one problem with swarms and it’s you just don’t know what you are going to get regarding temperament and health but thankfully the bees seem rather nice as I have stood very close to the entrance and they have not bothered me and fly around me and a large swarm must indicate a healthy colony. I will let them stay in situ for a couple more days and then move them to one of my apiaries so they can be transferred into another hive and I can reset the bait hive and more importantly see what I have, a prime swarm with a marked or unmarked queen or a very big cast but more likely a prime swarm.

I don’t know if the swarm is from a wild colony or a managed one but if from a wild colony in another six days a few cast swarms could be about or there is always the chance and plenty of time of another big swarm from another colony 🙂




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10 Responses to Bait hive success

  1. The Apiarist says:

    Freebees … don’t you just love ’em.?
    I know you use foundationless frames a lot. If you have these filling the bait hive you can simply relocate the hive and replace it with another ( I usually try and treat any caught swarms reasonably quickly with oxalic acid to reduce any phoretic mite numbers before any brood have been raised. It’s rare you get a large mite drop – presumably strong, healthy colonies are most likely to swarm – as you say – whereas those riddled with mites are not. However, better safe than sorry, particularly if they’re destined for an occupied apiary.
    Here’s hoping you have either a good young mated queen, or weather over the next fortnight to generate one 😉

    • Thanks and yes you have to love them when they come to you even with the saying “be careful for what you wish for” 🙂 I am always keen to watch the whole process with them. They were reasonably quiet the first two days, probably building comb but could have been low on energy and needed the bees that were out foraging to bring in much needed nectar but now they are extremely busy and doing what swarms do build rapidly but then reduce in size as the older bees die off but then when the brood comes through take off again. I am going to move them on Friday and then will inspect on Sunday. Looks like your bait hives are filling as fast as you set them. It’s a pity more beekeepers don’t bother as it can save time and they can act as a swarm warning alarm with scout bees at the hive.

      • The Apiarist says:

        The link I posted was from last year … this year things are about to kick off. I spent part of today working outside my new house – I’m not even moved in properly yet, but put a bait hive here on arrival. Just after 9am a scout arrived, then two, by 11am there were a couple of dozen, by early afternoon 50+. Then is cooled and they drifted off. Tomorrow is going to be warm, so should be interesting 😎

  2. Lucy Garden says:

    Thanks for this informative blog post, Thomas! It was good to get the background to the fascinating time lapse video you posed on Facebook.

    • Thanks Lucy with look I may get another chance to try a few different settings on the camera. One good thing with bait hives is it can give you a good insight to what the bees get up to at this swarming time of year. We all know the swarm prepositions in our own hives but after that it’s a bit unknown and setting and watching a bait hive fills in a few gaps. Very pleased you enjoyed it and taking the time to tell me 🙂

  3. Emily Scott says:

    Fascinating Tom, one for the newsletter! Not being a practical person I am going to ask a silly question – how did you attach the stand holding the hive up to the brick wall?

    • Hi Emily they are some brackets I made a few years ago and screwed to the wall. Very strong although I don’t think I would trust them if I was to sit on them. The hive is screwed to the brackets just in case.

  4. Fantastic post Tom – the time-lapse video was a pleasure to watch! I’m interested in how the bees prefer a new site at a certain height above ground level to protect against bears. Our bees have never seen a bear (I’m fairly sure of it!) but it must be an ‘inbuilt’ evolutionary behaviour or instinct.

    Your description of the swarming behaviour and decision-making process reminded me much of what I’ve read in Tom Seeley’s Honeybee Democracy, and a post by two Fellows at my work on which asks whether bee-decision making is better than human decisions (I suspect so!)

    Great post again, one to do in a round-up for the website.

    • Thanks Emma I suppose bees have preferred nest sites high of the ground to protect against a number of predators other than bears but the bear been the greatest threat. Also I guess if you are off the ground in a wooded area you are higher and therefore less undergrowth to contend with. The reason why we wear the veil as the only attack defence against a bear for a bee is go for the face and particularly the eyes ;( Reading Tom Seeley’s book at the moment and lent to me from Emily. It’s a great book and after setting and been able to watch most of my bait hives on a daily basis over the past five years is filling in and some of the gaps and questions I had over the selection process. I think more beekeepers should set bait hives as they can be fascinating to watch especially if they receive interest and perhaps help with swarm collection. Not to mention act as an early warning alarm to local beekeepers to check their hives as it can indicate early swarm preparations.

  5. Cubbie Yuuki says:

    I am hoping for this blessing…I cried for you. Thank You

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