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.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bee Sting to the Eye

I received a painful bee sting to the lower eyelid. I was creating a split from one of the thriving colonies when a guard bee flew up and landed underneath my glasses. Before I could remove my glasses the bee stung me right on the edge of my lower eyelid. I went inside and removed the stinger from the lower lid.

The pain of being stung in, on, or around the eye is incredible! The problem is that the bees venom contains a compound that helps to spread the toxins into the surrounding tissues. This means that the toxins move not only into the site of the sting, but they also quickly moved to my upper cheek, upper eyelid, and the eyeball itself. I started to worry that this could result in permanent loss of visual accuity. So I began to do a little research.

I found that there are very few documented cases of permanent damage from a sting to the eye. In fact, some cases of damage to the optic nerve or retina have been reported, but most of these were caused by stings to the head rather than the eye itself.

So how do you treat a bee or wasp sting to the eye? The best recommendations are to try to reduce the swelling. This is usually accomplished by the administration of an antihistamine or a non-steroidal anti-inflamitory. Remove the sting if it is safe to do so. If the sting becomes embedded in the eye it is recommended that it be left alone to avoid damaging the structure of the eye itself.

So here is what my experience was like. Shortly after the sting occurred my eyes became extremely bloodshot. The affected eye began to tear heavily accompanied by heavy secretion of mucosa from the lacrimal gland. I did not have any medications available, so I placed an ice pack on the eye to help relieve the pain. I do not know if this is advisable, but it did help relieve the pain in my case. I laid down and after about an hour the heavy tearing and vasodialation of the eyes had subsided. The next morning I was unable to open the affected eye due to heavy mucous on the eyelids. I had to use a washcloth with hot water to dampen the eyelashes and wipe away the dried mucous. I have not had any other complications other than the general discomfort caused by the swelling.

Here is a link to the article that I found regarding bee and wasp stings of the eye.

The document is in adobe acrobat (.pdf) format so you will need the acrobat reader. If you do not have adobe acrobat you can download it for free from here:

Please share your experiences! You can post a description of your most painful bee sting in the comments section below. If you have any tips for treating bee stings please post them! Best Regards.