A vital part of caring for beehives is protecting them from various honey bee predators. Of course, in the natural world, we beekeepers can not save the bees from every dangerous threat. But, we do what we can. Today, I share with you some of the most common predators of honey bees that you may see in your bee yard. Keep in mind that you may be able to mitigate the damage caused in some instances.
In hopes of providing some protection for my beehives from natural predators – understanding the enemy is a part of good hive management. We help where we can and must submit to the laws of nature in other cases.
Common Predators of Honey Bee Colonies
In my region, the first honey bee predator to come to mind is the Black Bear. Various species of bears do destroy beehives world-wide.
However, there are other life forms that prey on honey bees. Their actions do have an affect on colonies – they just lack the “wow factor” of a bear attack.
- skunks – small mammals
- other insects
Bears love honey? Yes they do. But, the primary reasons that bears prey on beehives is the tasty brood inside.
This represents a valuable protein source and the bear will consume bees, wax and all. In addition, their attack often results in destruction of the hive.
If you live in a region with bears, you may not see one for years – if ever. However, that is a risk to take – by installing an electric bear fence you can offer some protection to the bee yard.
Small Mammals – Skunks
Several types of small mammals can disturb your beehives. One of the most common small predator of beehives is the skunk.
A skunk will stand in front of the hive at night and scratch as the entrance – when bees come out to investigate, they are eaten.
In many years of being a beekeeper, I have never had a skunk problem. However, I do keep my colonies up on beehive stands – out of reach of skunks.
Another strategy to deter skunks is to use boards with nails barely poking through from the bottom in front of the colony.
Badgers, racoons and the occasional badger may interfere with honey bee colonies but they are a lesser threat.
While the damage to a colony in most cases is limited, there are some birds that eat bees. For most beekeepers, this is not a big problem – so don’t go trying to take out the bird population.
However, in some parts of the world, there are bird species that pose a stronger threat to managed beehives.
Perhaps rats and mice should be considered a pest rather than a predator? But, they can and do eat bee brood on occasion.
The major danger they pose is the destruction of internal hive components – stored honey, beeswax etc.
Especially in cold regions (during Winter), mice will take up residence inside the warm beehive. The clustered colony pays them little attention – the mice have a warmer place to overwinter and food within reach.
If this is an issue for your hives, be sure to place “mouse guards” on the hive entrance before Winter.
In nature, it is common for some insects to eat others. Honey bees are insects and they are on the menu for many predatory species. Most common:
- robber flies
Many species of wasps can be a threat to honey bees. One of the most common is the Yellow Jacket Wasp – a relative of honey bees – yet, they are meat eaters.
In some cases, these wasps can be a serious danger to weak colonies in late Summer. Beekeepers often buy or make yellow jacket traps to reduce their numbers.
Another serious insect predator is the species of hornets that eat bees. Able to catch foraging honey bees, hornets will also “hunt” at the entrance of the hive. The only realistic control is to destroy any hornet nests near your apiary.
Robber flies, Assassin bugs and some other insects are also known to prey on honey bees. However, the number caught is normally too low to make a big impact on a colony.
Less Common Threats
Spiders, lizards and toads are among some of the less common honey bee predators. Again, the numbers of bees lost is relatively low. If you see a spider building a web near your beehive, take it down.
But, don’t go on a vendetta against these creatures. They are important for control of bothersome pests and have a place in the ecosystem.
Common predators of honey bees include spiders, birds, lizards, toads, and some insects like wasps and hornets. However, bears can do major damage to beehives.
Toads are not a major predator of honey bees in most regions. But, they can catch bees with their sticky tongues and eat them.
Honey bees strive against many negative forces. They must deal with various honey bee pests and even prevalent bee diseases that weaken the colony. Beyond that, predators do take a toll on beehive productivity – sometimes beekeepers can help. Yet, we too must bow to the rules of nature.