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Getting Rid of Ants – Without Harming Bees
Often beekeepers are faced with the problem of getting ants out of beehives. Seeing these intruders sets off alarm signals for many new beekeepers. We feel very protective towards our girls and of course our first thought is that these visitors are doing harm. Sometimes, they do make conditions bad for the colony but often they are just a nuisance. Either way, we do not really want to have an ant farm inside our hives, so what can we do?
In most cases, if you see a few ants in your hive, it is not time to panic. They are drawn to the sweet scent of honey or sugar water. The honey bee colony may ignore them if the numbers are low.
Most of the time this is only a problem when the ant colony is allowed to grow large. For information about specific types of ants, check with local agricultural agencies to verify the types that live in your region.
Do Ants Harm Beehives?
If you live in an area with “Argentine Ants”, be watchful of any problems near your hives. This aggressive ant forms massive colonies. Instead of competing with rival ant colonies, they join forces.
Another type of ant that I am all too familiar with is the Red Imported Fire Ant (RIFA) Solenopsis invcita. These dirt mounds have become a familiar site in South Carolina.
But in most cases, the presence of ants in the hive probably bothers us more than the honey bees. The same is true for really strange insects called Earwigs. Both are opportunists-pests that usually do little harm.
Why Do Ants Raid Beehives?
Why are ants interested in beehives? Well, they need to live and they are looking for a sweet food source.
A honey bee hive offers a good opportunity for food. In addition to stealing honey, some ants are omnivorous. They also eat brood (developing young bees).
In fact, a large ant infestation could upset the colony so badly that the bees leave the hive or abscond. After the ants have killed the hive, they use the honeycomb for their new home. Talk about rude!
How Many Ants are Too Many In the Hive?
Ants are most often seen between the top cover and the inner cover. And if you are currently feeding your bees, you might see them on the feeder. Feeding bees is hard enough, we don’t want to feed an ant colony too.
If you see ants under the hive cover (10-20), just brush them away. Seeing a steady stream of them coming and going is a reason to take action. And, if you find an ant nest with their eggs in the hive – this is definitely not okay.
Why Don’t the Bees Throw Ants Out of the Hive?
While the bees do a pretty good job of handling small numbers of intruders, they do have a limit. If you see ants crawling around on the comb inside the hive, the bees are not able to throw them out.
This means that the colony is not strong enough to patrol the honeycomb area. Small colonies are at the most risk. Having to deal with an ant infestation may be the “last straw” for weak beehives.
Ways to Keep Ants Out of Your Beehives
There are many different ways to keep ants from destroying your hives. Some involve barriers to discourage the pests and hopefully make entering the hive more trouble than it is worth.
But it is important to understand that dealing with ant infestations requires some trial and error. What works in one region may not work for your hives.
Keep Your Bee Yard Clean
Trim grass and tall weeds in the bee yard. A close cut ground cover will aid in the visibility of ant mounds. When you see mounds, treat them.
Search For a Bee Friendly Ant Killer
Because ants and bees are closely related, finding a pesticide that will not harm the bees is almost impossible. Be very cautious with any spray or powdery product that may drift onto the hive or blooming plants.
If you notice any ant colonies in your bee yard, destroy them. You do not want a large powerful colony to be so close by. Use a granualar ant killer to destroy mounds near the hives.
This is not a completely safe alternative but using a granular pesticide (instead of powder) will reduce risk to bees. Read the label carefully for any cautions and spread it gently to avoid pesticide particles landing on the hive entrance.
Beehive Ant Barriers
If you live in an area with Hive Beetles, avoid planting anything too close to the hive. The ground moisture will aid beetle production and the tall plants will serve as a bridge for crawling insects entering the hive.
Another technique used by beekeepers is creating a barrier area on the ground with diatamecous earth, or wood ash. Again, you must reapply often and this can be difficult if your area receives a lot of rain.
Cinnamon for Ant Control
Can cinnamon keep ants out of your beehive? Many beekeepers that I know believe in the use of ground cinnamon for ant control.
The dry cinnamon is spread on the ground around the hive. Ants hate the smell and will avoid the area. This must be reapplied after rain.
None of these items should be placed inside the hive. They may harm your honey bees. Cinnamon did not work for my hives but you may have better luck in your region.
Use a Hive Stand For Your Beehives
One of the easiest things you can do to slow down ants and (save your back) is use a hive stand. Yes, ants will still invade because they can crawl almost anywhere. However, a hive that is sitting close to the ground is ripe for problems with these type of insects.
You can purchase a stand or build a hive stand out of wood or cement blocks – anything to get that hive up off the ground. Also, using a hive stand will keep the ant colony from building a home directly under your bottom board.
If the legs of your hive stand are small enough, you can create an “ant proof hive stand” by putting the legs in a can of vegetable oil.
This beehive ant moat prevents hive access but will have to be monitored for trash etc. (Be sure to shield the container to protect bees from access.).
Another way to keep ants out of the beehive is by using something sticky on the legs. (The legs of the hive stand not the ants…LOL)
Vaseline or a product called tanglefoot or similar substance will keep those legs from becoming an ant highway.
Final Tips for Keeping Ants Away from Beehives
- monitor the level of infestation
- watch for mounds near the hive and treat
- look for ant trails on the beehive exterior
- use granular pesticides for mound control
- plant mint near the hives to deter ants
- create a ground barrier – DE, Wood Ash, Cinnamon
- keep your bee yard clean
- raise the beehive up on a stand
These techniques used alone or in some combination should help minimize your ant problems. For most beekeepers, ants are an aggravation- not a real threat to the colony. But, every beekeeper wants to keep ants out of the hive!