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Getting Rid of Ants In Your Beehives
Finding ants in beehives sets off alarm signals for many new beekeepers. We feel very protective towards our girls and of course our first thought is that the ants are doing harm. Sometimes, they do harm the bees and sometimes they are just a nuisance. If you would live to avoid having these pests of the bees in your hives, there are a few strategies you can try.
Do Ants Harm Beehives?
In most cases, if you see a few ants in beehives, it is not time to panic. These ants are drawn to the sweet scent of honey or sugar water.
The honey bee colony may ignore the ant invasion as long as it is low key. A small amount of invaders is not normally a problem.
Honestly, when we beekeepers find ants in our beehives, it often bothers us more than the honey bees.
However, there are situations where ants can cause hive failure. I have known beekeepers who have lost hives to Red Fire Ant attacks and also Argentine Ants.
If you live in a region with these types of aggressive ants, you must be even more vigilant to watch for problems.
But even if you do not have very aggressive ants close by, you probably have some type of ant that will be aggravating to your beekeeping efforts.
These are several techniques that might help keep ants out of your hives. Dealing with ant infestations requires some trial and error. What works in one region may not work for your hives.
Why Do Ants Raid Beehives?
Why are ants interested in beehives? Well, ants need to live and they are looking for a sweet food source.
A honey bee hive offers a good opportunity for food. A large ant infestation could upset the colony so badly that the bees leave the hive or abscond.
In addition to stealing honey, some ants are omnivorous. These ants also eat brood (developing young bees).
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. Or, if you are feeding your bees, you might see ants on the feeder.
I have had problems with ants in my feeders. Beekeepers don’t like having ants near the bees and we certainly don’t want to feed the ants too!
If you see ants under the hive cover, just brush them away. Worker bees do a pretty good job of keeping them a bay.
Why Don’t the Bees Throw Ants Out of the Hive?
The honey bee colony does a pretty good job of handling small numbers of ant intruders. However, if you should not see ants crawling around on the comb inside the hive.
This could be a signal that the colony is not strong enough to patrol the honeycomb area. Small colonies are at the most risk of suffering from ant problems.
These bees already have a lot of hive tasks to do. Foraging for food, feeding young bees and defending the hive in general is a lot of work.
Having to deal with an ant infestation may be the “last straw” for weak beehives.
This is true of any type of honey bee pest. There must be enough bees to patrol the inside.
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 beehive or blooming plants.
Some ants are 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 of ants that live in your region.
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 of fire ants have become a familiar site in South Carolina.
If the mound is disturbed, thousands of ants surge from the ground and bite. It is very painful. I despise, yes I said despise-Fire Ants. I try to keep them 100% out of my bee yard.
They are as dangerous to the beekeeper as to the beehives. 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.
Keep Your Bee Yard Clean to Discourage Ants
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.
When you are working your colonies, avoid throwing down pieces of honey comb. This attracts ants to your hive location.
Ways to Keep Ants Out of Your Beehive
There are many different ways to keep ants from destroying your hives. Some involve barriers to discourage the ants and hopefully make entering the hive more trouble than it is worth.
Creating a Ground Ant Barrier
Planting mint near your hives may repel ant colonies. Keep in mind that most varieties of mint can be invasive. But your bees will enjoy having some herbal flowers nearby.
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 ants entering the hive.
Other items used by beekeepers are a barrier on the ground include: 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 an ant problem and (save your back) is use a hive stand. Yes, some 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 that is especially designed to raise your wooden ware higher up. Or you can build a hive stand out of wood or cement blocks – anything to get that hive up off the ground.
Also, a common 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.
Another way to prevent ant entry 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.
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.- thanks George).
You may lose a few nosy bees but it should not be a big problem as they are not attracted to the oil.
Final Tips for Ant Control around 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
For most beekeepers, ants are an aggravation but not a real threat to the colony. But, every beekeeper wants to keep ants out of the hive!