WHAT'S BUGGING YOU?
Everything from Bears to Varroa Mites!
As beekeepers we tend to think of pests such as Varroa mites and small hive beetles and maybe wax moths. In reality pests can be four-legged and make loud noises! Although most aren’t a daily threat for our bees beekeepers in some areas deal with these more than others realize.
The North American black bear can be a very serious pest for honeybees in certain regions. Beekeepers who contend with these four-legged menaces will attest to the fact that once they discover hives the bears will return night after night in search of brood and honey to feast upon. They ravage the colonies leaving nothing but a pile of rubble where beehives previously stood.
Because of that a great deal of time and expense goes into building bearproof fencing around bee yards in hopes of keeping them out. Although you would think an electric fence would be the solution bears’ thick furry hides let them push through even the “hottest” fences. However, it is the most common approach.
Thankfully cows, horses, and goats are not pests for honeybees. Although in a pasture full of cattle, hives have been known to be used as scratching posts leaving them toppled over in unsuccessful attempts to scratch an itch. The best approach to avoiding this potential disaster is to erect barbed-wire fencing around the hives. It’s good enough to keep cattle in a pasture and it’s good enough to keep them away from your bees.
Skunks, possums, and raccoons are pests. Pests may be the wrong word—probably a better title would be agitator. Since these creatures are night foragers, they will prey on the entrance to a hive by using their paws to pick off the guard bees that come out to investigate. As long as only a few bees come out at a time, the predator can avoid being stung. The result of this nightly agitation can easily be mean bees. It makes sense—if something was bugging you night after night, you would no doubt get agitated! Unfortunately, that means the beekeeper has to deal with mean bees and wonder why. Has the queen’s genetics gone bad? Is the hive queenless? But in all actuality, it’s just a nightly agitator. The solution is relatively easy. Simply install chicken wire around the front entrance to the hive with a staple gun. Wear your protective gear needless to say. Suspending this wire out away from the entrance prevents the critters from sticking their paws up into the entrance and the problem should be solved.
Mouse guards can be used year-round!
Install a piece of carpet tack strip at the entrance to your hive if you have problems with varmints. Works wonders!
Another primarily nighttime issue is that mice love to build nests inside beehives, especially in winter. As far as being a pest for the bees, they don’t physically disturb the bees. The problem occurs when they chew frames and comb to make room for their nests! To prevent this before it can happen, install an entrance reducer or a mouse guard, or fashion a piece of queen excluder over the entrance. Some beekeepers keep these on year-round when this is an ongoing problem.
Photo Credit: Judith Stanton
Yep, you heard it here—toads can be pests for honeybees in certain locations. But to clarify, it looks like most of us do not have this issue. I only included it here because it seems so outrageous! In Australia, the cane toad raised enough concern that the Peri-Urban Environmental Biosecurity Network developed “Project Toad at the Hive” as a “citizen science observation” study in 2020. With little research on the topic, I leave it at that. Feel free to investigate it further. If you find out we’re all in danger of a cane toad invasion, please let me know!
Be still Fred! Can't you get me any closer?
Birds such as shrikes, titmice, kingbirds, swifts, martins, thrushes, mockingbirds, and others may eat honeybees. But since they eat so very few, there’s no reason to do anything. However, birds eating our queens while flying back to the hive after mating are a problem! Unfortunately, that falls under the category of being out of our control.
If you’ve been a beekeeper for any amount of time, you’ve heard of or experienced what can be the devastating results of wax moths. The wax moth isn’t a problem for strong colonies but will overtake weaker dying hives.
Wax moth damage
You’ll first notice a web trail tunneling through frames as the moths eat pollen and wax. Left unchecked, they can consume entire frames of honeycomb and eventually overtake an entire hive. The best solution is to keep strong hives. Beyond that, traps do little to no good. Take care to remove dead hives from your bee yard prior to wax moths moving in, freezing the frames for three days, then storing them properly by spraying them with Certan or using Para-Moth.
Check out our detailed articles on dealing with wax moths.
Ants are typically opportunistic—spilled sugar syrup and ruptured honeycomb are like a beacon that ants can’t resist. Avoiding either will prevent a majority of us from having issues with ants. But some beekeepers live in areas where ants are so prolific that they need to treat mounds around the bee yard, regardless of how careful they are with syrup and inspections. The safest way to kill ant mounds is by using your chemical of choice in the drench form. Warning: These chemicals can kill bees.
Mix according to the directions and douse the mound thoroughly late in the day, if not nearly dark. This will ensure your bees won’t follow you out of curiosity, accidentally getting into the chemical.
Check out this video on What to do about sugar ants
Hornets and yellowjackets can be a real problem in some areas, especially when other food sources they would rather have run out. This tends to be in late fall and early winter for southern states. Wasp traps work to a degree but reducing the entrance and keeping strong hives seem to be the best approach to avoiding issues. In case you missed it the December issue has a great article about yellowjackets!
In my experience roaches tend to be more prevalent when the hive box has experienced a leak and wet wood is present. Beyond that, keeping bees in heavily wooded areas can also lead to roaches that are a nuisance more than a problem. Primarily stored boxes are subject to roaches building nests and defecating all over the woodenware. Stack your reserve used woodenware as if it contains comb even if it doesn’t, such as in the open air where it’s not subject to closed damp areas.
Quick tip: Sticky traps used to trap mice work great for trapping roaches and spiders in your hive box storage area!
Small Hive Beetles
This is the subject of many articles in this very publication and will be included in the next few issues. But to overview, small hive beetles are controlled by strong hives and are easily managed with in-hive traps. Read more about small hive beetles in our Bee Help & Questions page.
We all know what this flying ant can do—eat wood! That’s exactly what they will do to your boxes if left unattended, abandoned in a bee yard or sitting directly on the ground. It’s easy to prevent termites by simply keeping boxes from making ground contact.
Easy natural termite solutions:
- 1/2 cup vinegar + juice from 2 lemons sprayed on termites kills on contact
- Orange oil kills on contact
- Sunlight: Keeping equipment off the ground in a sunny location prevents termites from having a place to nest.
- Stop moisture from entering your hives before it starts by keeping up with box repairs and repainting hive boxes every year.
Although we will see a spider on occasion, few will eat bees. More than likely, you’ll be inspired to knock down any webs near your hives for your own benefit, which will, in turn, prevent bees from being trapped as well.
Last but not least—actually the number-one cause of honeybee death—Varroa mites are in every colony, basically everywhere. Check out "Varroa Destructor: Life Cycle of a Killer" in this issue for more information. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that this is one pest you will spend more money and more time combating than any of the previous pests mentioned. Thankfully it’s doable, and we have an entire industry helping us in the battle!
Check out our library of nearly 60 articles and videos regarding Varroa mites!
Photo Credit: Jennifer Scott
When you have a good product, you can't help but talk about it! This metal REUSABLE beetle trap is a fantastic money saver! Simply fill it with trap oil, install it in your hive between frames left or right of the brood nest, and wait for it to trap and kill the small hive beetles! This trap is nearly double the size of the Beetle Blaster, plus it's reusable!