It would seem like the most worrisome predator to a bee would be a hungry bear with his mind set on a hive full of honey. The truth is that smaller pests may be bigger problems for bees in some situations. For instance, ants are inherently drawn to beehives and while they do not usually present a danger to the bees themselves, the damage they can do extends beyond stealing honey.
So, why do ants attack beehives?
Ants are very adept at detecting sugar- they love it! Ants attack beehives for the sweet, sweet reward of honey. They can smell the honey and will go to great lengths to enter the hive. Typically, ants do not harm bees in the process, but they can interfere and interrupt the hive, causing stress that can jeopardize the wellbeing of your colony.
Now that you know why ants attack beehives, keep reading to find out what you can do about it!
Problems with Ants
Ants are most likely attracted to a beehive as a source of food. Everyone knows that ants like sugar and sweet things, so why would honey be any different? What you may not realize is that some ants are omnivores, meaning they will eat anything.
In this case, the bee brood– young bees- are at risk- which can compromise the colony and hive for generations to come.
Furthermore, ants invading your hive is a sign of weakness that could mean the entire bee colony is compromised. More on that later!
Hives Under Attack
If it were just about stealing honey, ants may not be a big deal but since they can wipe out a colony if left ignored, you must be on the defensive.
It may help to know what you are dealing with in terms of ants; there are two common species of ants that present issues for beehives in this country.
Argentine ants are commonly found in the southern US, as well as South America. These species live in large colonies that can overwhelm and overtake beehives with ease. These bees are omnivores and will eat honey and young bees, too.
Carpenter ants feed on the materials of the beehive, which can jeopardize the colony in other ways. They can move in and infest the hive, chewing and damaging the structural integrity. They also will eat the honey in the hive.
Watch for Weakness
Your hives could be vulnerable to ants if they are not strong enough. Watch out for signs of a weak hive so you can take efforts to strengthen it. Look closely at the honeycomb when you are inspecting the hive: do you see any ants?
If you see more than ten ants on the honeycomb, this could be a sign that the hive is weak and unable to fend off intruding ants. This is common among smaller bee colonies.
So, how can you strengthen a weak hive?
- Use an internal hive-top feeder to feed the bees. Hungry bees are weak bees that will not be able to defend the hive. Feed them sugar water but watch for pests as they like this, too!
- Use an entrance-reducer on the hive to curb other bees or wasps from preying on and robbing a weak hive.
- Add to the population with healthy capped brood for a weak hive. Uncapped brood may cause more harm than good in this instance. Simply keep the frame warm until it hatches; the queen will take over from there!
- How is the queen? A weak hive may have an unhealthy queen- or no queen at all! Inspect the hive to determine the condition of your queen.
Prevent Ant Attacks
There are many different ways to deter pests and keep ants from destroying your hives. Be thoughtful about the positioning of your apiary to avoid problematic locations that may invite ants to your hives.
Some ways to prevent ant attacks on your hive include:
Create a barrier and block access to the hive. Try sprinkling the perimeter of your apiary with diatomaceous earth, a non-toxic powder found in gardening retail venues. If you get a lot of rain or wind, reapply often. Crawling pests will die when they encounter diatomaceous, but it is not harmful to people, pets, or other wildlife.
Ants are attracted to an overgrown or weedy yard. Make sure that you keep your greenspaces trimmed and maintained when tending hives. This also allows you to see the ant mounds- small mounds of dirt- created by ant colonies so you can intervene before they can attack your hives.
Don’t discard or toss honeycomb around your apiary when tending the hives. The sweet goodness of honey will attract a bevvy of unwanted guests- including ants.
Ants hate mint. Plant mint in patches near and under your hive. It is an added bonus that bees love mint as it is a pollen-rich plant that bees like to forage for making honey.
Take a Stand
Put your hive up high on hive stands. These are easy enough to build out of cement blocks, bricks, or discarded wood. You can get creative and use anything that will help elevate the hives and keep them less accessible to ants and other crawling pests.
Some beekeepers have found that placing the legs of a traditional hive stand in recycled cans of vegetable oil can further deter and curb ants.
Sprinkle dry ground cinnamon around the ground under and near the hive. The smell is repugnant to ants, who will avoid the area like the plague.
This will get washed away in rain, so reapply as needed and never put cinnamon inside or on the hive, itself.
Be wary of planting anything near your apiary. Any moisture from the plants will encourage and foster beetles to breed and grow. Plus, the plant might be used as a convenient means of getting near the hive for clever ants.
If you want to control ants in your hive, you must destroy any ant mounds that you encounter nearby. Granular ant killer works and is easy to manage. Be vigilant and maintain a strong hive to deter ants.
Think ants are getting in your beehives? Use these tips to deter ants from trying to steal honey and stress out your bees. Naturally, ants love honey- who doesn’t? Protect yours and keep ants away with vigilance and these suggestions.