World of Honey

Bee Traps

So What’s a Bee Trap?

You may not have heard of bee traps.  If this is the case, I hope you will find this page an interesting read.  People generally mean one of two completely different devices when they talk about these:

  1. A device designed to catch unwanted bees, yellowjackets and other stinging insects that are regarded as pests, so that the immediate area is not plagued by them.  These are often used at barbecues; on campsites, or on the porch, for example.
  2. A device used by beekeepers.

On this page, I am going to talk about point 1 – the device used to catch unwanted insects.

You can either make your own trap or buy a commercial one.  Most of these traps use a sweet liquid to attract the insects.  In practice this means they tend to attract only wasps or yellowjackets.  This is because it is only these species that are attracted to just about any sugary substance whatever it looks like and wherever it is.  Bees tend to go for flower nectar and basically don’t care to feed on anything that’s not inside a flower.  So really, your average home-made “bee trap” is actually a trap for wasps or yellowjackets.  In construction, there are entrance holes and a funnel of some sort on each hole, so that any insect will be able to crawl/fly in at the big end of the funnel but not easily find the hole at the small end of the funnel to get out.  The orientation of the entrance holes also helps to prevent bees being attracted because they don’t fly directly upwards in the same way as yellowjackets.  The sweet liquid, usually based on sugar, is at the base of the trap.  The insects eventually fall into it and drown.

Environmental Considerations

Ironically, the last thing you want is for your bee trap to catch bees!  Honey bees and bumble bees are a vital part of the food chain, being responsible for pollinating an estimated ¼ of the world’s food crops.  Because bees are in such a steep decline in number at the moment for reasons that we don’t fully understand, it really is a very bad idea to kill them using bee traps.  Besides, honey bees and bumble bees will not harm you unless they are threatened.

As already mentioned, most bee traps are actually designed to catch yellowjackets and wasps.  Some use feromones or so-called “sex hormones” to attracts insects.  This is harmful to the environment – let me explain:  Wasps and yellowjackets prey on insects during the earlier part of the season, taking this food to the young grubs in the nest.  It is during this time that the yellowjackets and wasps are sexually active and responsive to feromones.  Using traps containing feromones during the early part of the season will attract and kill them before they have a chance to mate and ensure offspring next year.  This could  have a serious effect on insect populations and is harmful to the environment.     Some of these traps are marketed as environmentally-friendly because they contain no pesticides, but they are not anything like environmentally-friendly in my opinion.  You should not use traps containing feromones if you care about the world in which we live.

Feromones aside, almost all traps result in the death of the wasps that are captured.  In fact, unless all of the wasps are captured and killed first time, they will return to the nest and tell all of the other wasps about the fantastic new food source they have found.  This means you need to be very careful with that home-made trap, because if even one of the wasps escapes, she is very likely to bring along 10 of her friends to the next meal.  So an inefficient home-made trap can actually make your wasp problem worse!

An efficient trap has, therefore, to kill all of its visitors, so this is not exactly friendly to the world around you.  Catching, say, 100 wasps in one trap would quite likely leave a nest so depleted that it would not be able to function properly and may die out.  Now you might say “good” to that, and if you don’t care if the world has one less wasp nest, congratulations.  But if you are one of the growing band of people who are starting to care a little more about the impact we all have on the world, you will not want to use any trap that kills the insects, especially one that caused a nest to die out.  So what are the alternatives?

A bee trap that just captures insects alive is a rarity, but would be a little more friendly.  You need a way of keeping them from drowning in the bait, using perhaps a thinner coating of it, or a mesh over the top of the liquid so they cannot fall in.  You would keep them captive for a few hours (best in the shade so they don’t overheat) and then release them at the end of your picnic or barbecue.  If you take them miles from where they were caught, I don’t know what would happen, but I know I would not like to be taken to a strange place and dumped there with nothing and no way of finding my way home!  Better to just release them where they were caught – just keep well back because they may not go out of their way to show their gratitude that you let them live!  I would also move the trap to a new location the next day, or bring it out only on days when you are using your yard, because more yellowjackets and wasps will come to it out of habit if you leave it in the same place.

Change of Attitude?

Some would argue that instead of buying or making bee traps, what people need is a change in attitude towards stinging insects.  Most of these insects will not sting you unless:

  • you get too close to their nest
  • you partially squash them, say up a sleeve or the leg of your pants
  • you sit on them
  • you poke them
  • you attempt to swat them or otherwise attack them
  • they are drunk!

If you leave them alone, they’ll most likely leave you alone.  After all, a female honey bee will die if she stings you, so she is not going to do it lightly.  The exception is the drunken yellowjacket or wasp.  When unpicked fruit falls to the ground at the end of the summer, it starts to rot and ferment, producing alcohol.  Yellowjackets, having finished their work for the season, have a boozy last supper on this rotting fruit, and rather like a few young adult humans I know, they just don’t understand when they have had enough.  These intoxicated insects are responsible for most stings to people – they lose all their inhibitions and fear, just like drunken humans.

Apart from this group of partygoers, bees, yellowjackets and wasps should not normally bother you unless you bother them.  Honestly, a couple of years back I was on a beach in September when there was a real plague of wasps.  People were flapping around, running, jumping in the sea to get away from them.  I was just lying there.  Now and then, a wasp would land on me and I just let it crawl around until it realized I wasn’t edible then it went away.  This happened dozens of times – no problems, no stings.  I actually enjoyed watching them.

However, if you still feel that you need a bee trap because you have just too many insects buzzing around the porch, please use the information on this page to make a good decision; one that takes the environment into account.