Saturday, June 14, 2008
Bees vs. Ants
Well, the swelling of my eye has finally subsided. I was able to function normally today, so I returned to the beeyard to finish and assemble a few cypress beehives. I also checked in on the bees. Of course, I took my veil this time!
I wanted to share my experience with the challenges I have been having with bullants in the beeyard. Bullants are a constant threat to your bees. If you have a weak colony the bullants can quickly attack the bees in an effort to claim the honey in the hive. Once the bullants have destroyed most of the bees they will often move in and begin nesting in the hive. It is a very unpleasant suprise to find that you are now the keeper of a nest of bullants, rather than a hive of honey bees!
I try to avoid using any chemicals, preservatives, or pesticides in our operations. I feel that although they may offer a quick and effective solution, they also may compromise the quality of our hive products. I want our customers to be assured they are receiving a fresh, all natural product, that is as pure as it is healthy. Unfortunately, this means that our bees are more susceptible to pests such as the bullants.
I have had a few hives attacked by bullants, and they are a constant nuisance as they forage for food in, on, and around the hives. However, I have discovered a few strategies that can be used to combat the ants naturally, without the threat of harming the bees.
The first strategy I used was to elevate the hive on concrete blocks. I then set the blocks on a tray which I filled with vegetable oil. The ants could not pass through the vegetable oil and soon gave up on trying to infiltrate the hive. I also found that filling the tray with water was equally effective.
Next, I discovered that it is only a weak hive that is susceptible to the sustained attack of the bullants. So as with so many other beeyard pests, if you maintain strong colonies you will avoid many of the problems that pests can cause. Also, make sure to use an entrance reducer on any colonies that are weak. This will help the bees to defend the entrance of the hive. I had an experienced beekeeper tell me that you do not need to use entrance reducers at all in Florida. I strongly disagree. If you can keep all of your colonies strong that is the best solution. However, if you need to make a split, or you end up with a weak colony for some other reason, the entrance reducer will make all the difference in the world.
I was able to capture a photo of a bee struggling to defend itself from an attacking bullant. It seems that the bullants will attack the bees by biting their wings. I have also seen a bullant kill a bee by biting the tip of the bee's stinger as the bee tried to defend itself. With this particular bee the ant clamped its large jaws around the singer itself and even after the bee had killed the ant the head of the ant remained tightly clenched to the bee's partially exposed sting. The bee struggled to remove the now dead ant, but could not free itself. I tried to assist by crushing the head of the ant. Even after my attempt the ants mandibles remained tightly clasped to the sting. Finally, the bee pulled and pulled against the dead ant until the sting seperated from the bees body. Thus the bee was free from the ant, but the action of freeing itself ensured that the bee would soon die.
The message here is that bullants can destroy a hive quickly once they launch an attack. So the beekeeper must act quickly to counter the bullants as soon as they are detected.
Please share your experiences! You can post a description of your beeyard pests in the comments sections below. If you have any tips for dealing with pests in or around the apiary please post them! Best Regards.