Dangers, Great and Small
Beekeepers tend to focus much of their efforts on the potential threats of mites and disease, with good reason. This is understandable, because either can completely decimate a hive in short time.
Beyond these, though, there are threats from larger foe. In this lesson we offer an overview of insects and animals that can seriously reduce the health of the colony.
Ants are a common problem for many beekeepers. A strong colony can usually defend its honey reserves – a big magnet to ants – without too much of a problem. But an immature or weak colony may experience significant problems with ants. In such a situation the bees may abscond (leave the hive), rather than try to defend against the mass of ants.
The colony is very protective of the honey store and can use propolis tactically to protect the comb. However, some types of feeders installed by the beekeeper are often easy pickings for ants.
It is common for a hive-top feeder to be placed on top of the inner cover, surrounded by an empty box and then the top cover placed over that. This is a very convenient way to feed bees and is a good guard against robbers, But for the crafty ant this can create a convenient and protected environment, within which they can feast on the sugar syrup or other delights you have placed there.
It is disheartening to approach your hive for an inspection and see an organized line of ants, climbing up and down the hive.
Thankfully, there are a number of ways to deter ants.
You may like cinnamon. And bees don’t seem to mind. But ants DETEST cinnamon. Try it – find some ants in your garden and sprinkle some ground cinnamon around them. Absolute mayhem!!!
This neat fact can be used successfully for your bee’s benefit. Sprinkle ground cinnamon around the legs of your hive stand, as well as around the inner cover. Your hive will remind you henceforth of a visit to Cinnabon, but you will have less ants!
One drawback with this approach is that, over time, the cinnamon washes away, such as after a rain shower. Therefore, your cinnamon field may need refreshing occasionally.
Another common approach is to place the legs of your hive stand in some sort of can. Then fill the can with something ants can’t pass over or through. Since they are not in the Michael Phelps class, a little motor oil usually does the trick, forming a moat of sorts within the can.
This is again an excellent ant deterrent. Apply it around the legs of the hive stand and mix it into the grass and soil too. Ants won’t want to trudge through this.
This does need to be used with caution. Diatomaceous earth is toxic to insects with an exoskeleton – like bees. If the earth is trampled into the ground beneath the hive it should not create a problem though.
The wax moth can cause major problems. Like many threats, a strong colony is normally quite able to deal with wax moth, but a small or weak colony may not.
The wax moth often flies into the hive after dark. She lays eggs on the honeycomb, the resultant larvae hatch and find themselves surrounded by a feast of brood and pollen. They feed on this and can destroy the honeycomb. They can also spin a “cocoon” around the frames of your hive.
The wax moth can partially remove caps on brood cells. When this happens workers tend to clean up, removing the remainder of the cap. This is called bald brood. This means the pupa will develop without the protective capping on the cell. The excrement from the wax moth can affect the development of the bee, which can have deformed legs or wings. Wax moth in hives is a bad thing!
Depending on how far along an infestation of wax moth has progressed, it may eventually be very, very easy to spot! Watch this…
If you are a mouse and winter is approaching, any warm place is very attractive. Any place that is warm AND filled with honey…is heavenly!
Mice like beehives. The minor detail with which they have to cope, though, is that bees are not too keen on mice coming into the hive. Sure enough, if an active, mobile colony sees a mouse then those stingers come in very handy. They can easily kill a mouse in just a few minutes. They will then drag the dead mouse out or – if they can’t – mummify it in propolis, to ensure the decomposing mouse does not put them at risk (or smell rank!).
There’s one period, though, when mice have a window of opportunity, namely the winter cluster. During winter, bees will move around the hive, consuming honey as a single cluster, rather than spread out through the hive. This means many areas of the hive – including where other honey is stored – will not be populated by bees. This is a golden chance for mice to climb in, settle down and start consuming sweet honey in a warm(ish) environment.
This does create a timing challenge for mice, since they can’t go in too early (bees will get them) or after the cluster has disbanded (ditto). But they enter hives regardless and can be a problem.
Beekeepers deploy entrance reducers and/or mouse guardsat the appropriate time. Before installing, though, use a long stick to “sweep” the bottom board, to ensure no mice have already taken residence.
Some birds eat bees. That may sound concerning until you do the math. You will sometimes – though rarely – see a bird swoop down and grab a tasty bee.
But with tens of thousands of bees in a hive, plus a queen laying maybe 2,000 eggs per day, the numerical balance is on the side of the bees!
Bears however are a very different story! Many of the threats we consider – mites, disease, Small Hive Beetle, Wax Moth, etc – might be considered to do damage at the micro level, namely a cell or a larvae at a time.
Bears work at the macro level! A hungry bear, with her legendary taste for honey, will simply rampage through a beehive and tear it apart.
You don’t deter bears with cinnamon! There is only one realistic and common way to protect your bees from bears if you live in bear country. That is the installation of an electric fence around your hives. The market for these is reasonably well established and most beekeepers who live in the back country need to consider this as the only viable solution.
If you would like to observe some creativity with the “leg-in-a-can” approach, see this video.
When bears find honey, this can happen.