Pooh Bear knows what all the other bears know — honey is delicious. So it’s no surprise that bears are the primary mammalian concern in many regions, with one article after another discussing how to bear-proof bee yards in bear country. Electric fencing is often the best route to go. But what about all those other strange creatures lurking about the bee yard? Which ones are a concern? And which ones should we leave alone? Here’s a little primer on which creatures to keep a watch out for.
Anyone whose been to at least one beginning beekeeping class or has read one beekeeping book will know about small hive beetles and how devastating they can be. However, these tiny beetles aren’t the only beetles scurrying about in the apiary. Most of the other types of beetles, such as ladybugs, are not pests and are generally attracted to the hive in search of dead brood and adults as they go about their business recycling various types of organic matter within their own environment. And the good news is that the occasional beetle you find in the yard with a bee in its grasp is only capable of consuming a few bees, so no harm done. With beetles, it’s most often best to let them be. Just be sure to properly educate yourself on the difference between small hive beetles and the other types. Simple task to accomplish, as most beetles in the bee yard bear little to no resemblance to small hive beetles.
Most bee yards are rife with spiders in both the bee yard and lurking about on the various parts of the hives. In one of my yards this past summer, I had a “pet” female black widow that returned to the underside of one specific hive cover no matter how many times I relocated her to the grass several feet away. Other spiders like to reside on the underside of the hive setup or around the hive stand. And still others enjoy building tunnels of webbing in the grass nearby as they wait for their next meal to wander too close.
However, while spiders tend to creep many folks out just with their odd appearance, spiders are of little concern in the bee yard as the number of bees they consume is minimal, causing no real harm to the bee colony. The only exception is if the spider builds a web inside the hive, such as under the inner cover or near the entrance, which entangles the bees. Keep in mind that if the spider can build its web inside the hive among the frames, larger issues are likely involved, such as a weak colony, and corrective actions should likely occur. However, it is advisable to remove all webbing and spiders from any colony, just so the bees don’t have to work around it.
Robber flies are the bane of many queen rearers’ existence, at least in my neck of the woods. About the end of June, our area experiences an influx of these nasty flying insects as they hover about every bee yard in anticipation of catching my queens and foragers in mid-flight. We can do not much with these pests except maintain clean flyways around the apiary with grass kept clipped short, so the robber flies have fewer areas to land and hang out waiting for bees to fly. The only other management practice I have discovered to alleviate the threat of these pests is to have all queen rearing operations completed before this pest’s anticipated arrival. As for how many foragers they consume, it’s never enough to worry about, so unless you’re raising queens, these robber flies are of little concern in the grand scheme of things.
Frogs, Toads, and Lizards
I don’t know about Kermit the Frog. Still, tree frogs and many other amphibians enjoy hanging about in the bee yard, especially as summer cools down into the more comfortable fall weather. Some prefer to rest on the underside of the outer cover that overhangs the hive bodies, while others take a rest at the hive entrance. And while it is true that many of these amphibians enjoy the occasional sweet-tasting honeybee, many are simply hanging about waiting for other bee-eating pests to wander by for a quick meal. If lizards or other amphibians seem to be taking up too much space, remove grass and other foliage from around the beehive to reduce the number of cool hiding places provided by the shade of the grass.
Grasshoppers, Ants, and Wheel Bugs
While the list of potential insects that visit the bee yard is virtually endless, grasshoppers, ants, and wheel bugs are a few of the most common insects you’ll see at each visit throughout the season. However, just as with many of the other creatures that enjoy the occasional honeybee feast, these visitors pose little threat to the healthy bee colony and most often may be left in place.
The exception to this is a large colony of ants that sets up residence within the hive. Ant colonies thriving within the hive suggest the honeybee colony is weak. Immediately remove the ant colony to improve colony health and vigor. Otherwise, a hive that has a handful of ants wandering about the inner cover is nothing to be concerned about in most regions and may be left alone in most cases. Should ant removal be warranted, place hive stand legs in cups of water or oil, replenished as needed, to keep ants out of the hive.
Honeybee yards are rife with insects and other creatures eager to have a taste of that sweet-tasting honey. And while varroa, wax moths, and small hive beetles require immediate action to avoid total devastation within the honeybee colony, most insects and other creatures only take a taste or two (or maybe a few more), but nothing enough to warrant concern. So, take the time to learn which creatures are a concern and which ones to leave alone to make your beekeeping experience a fun and rewarding venture.
Photos credit: Kristi Cook
Originally published in the April/May 2022 issue of Backyard Beekeeping and regularly vetted for accuracy.