How to Keep Ants Out of Beehives

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A common beekeeping struggle is keeping ants out of beehives. Sometimes, a minor issue – but ant infestations can threaten the health and productivity of your colonies. Learn how I use preventative methods to keep my hives ant-free and happy. Also, various strategies that you can use to keep ants out or get them out of your hives.

Ant in beehive eating honey image.

As a Master Beekeeper, I always look for potential problems during routine hive inspections. Seeing a line of ants crawling up the side of the hive means it is past time to take action against this honey bee pest.

Effective Strategies

There are many different ways to keep ants from destroying your hives. 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.

3 Approaches to Ant Control

  • prevention
  • repellents
  • physical barriers
  • mound control

Prevention

Avoiding a problem is often easier than fixing one. There are things you can do to make your hive area less attractive to ant colonies. And honestly, if you are feeding sugar water to your bees, don’t spill it.

Keep Your Bee Yard Clean

When you are working your colonies, avoid throwing down pieces of honey comb, burr comb and other types of hive debris. This attracts many types of predators and pests that are looking for a free meal.

Trim grass and tall weeds in the bee yard – put something under the beehives or use a close cut ground cover. This will aid in the visibility of ant mounds.

Monitor Conditions Near the Hive

Stroll through the apiary on a warm afternoon and look for external problems. A small ant trail is no cause for alarm, but it may signal the need to take a closer look. When you see mounds, destroy them.

Natural Repellents

Some beekeepers have success with various types of natural repellents. Essential oils such as peppermint, cinnamon, and citronella can be strategically applied around the hive (but not on the hive) to create a deterrent barrier against invading ants.

Herbal plants such as mint and basil may deter ants due to their aromatic properties. If you live in an area with Small 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.

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Local beekeepers often use ground cinnamon (spread in a ring on the ground around a hive.) My ants seem to like it-but it works for some folks.

DE diatomaceous earth powder spread on ground to keep ants away from beehives.

Another substance – DE (diatomaceous earth) is a fine powder derived from fossilized algae. It is really more of a physical barrier than a repellent but it is natural.

Do not get it on the landing board (entrance) of your hive and take care not to breath in the fine dust. Wood ash is sometimes used in the same manner.

Physical Barriers

One of the easiest things you can do to help keep ants out of a beehive is to use a hive stand.  Yes, ants can still invade because they can crawl almost anywhere.

But, 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 or soapy water.

Row of beehives on stands to repel ants and insects.

Also, using a hive stand will keep the ant colony from building a home directly under your bottom board

Another way to keep ants out of the beehive is by using something sticky on the legs of the stand. Vaseline, grease or a product called tanglefoot will keep those legs from becoming an ant highway.

Mound Control

If the ants have already set up housekeeping near your beehives, you many need to do some mound control.

Because ants and bees are closely related, finding a pesticide that will not harm the bees is almost impossible.

Fire ant mound in field.

Granular Bee Friendly Ant Killer

Be very cautious with any spray or powdery product that may drift onto the hive or blooming plants-use a granular 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.

Expert Tip

After many years of beekeeping, I know that prevention is the key to avoiding problems with ants in your hives. Practice good bee yard hygiene (no spills or discarded sweet comb) and create a barrier around your hives to discourage foraging ants.

If you have an active infestation, the preventive measures may solve the problem. However, if the ants have moved in and are living in your hive – you may have to move it to a new location to get them out.

FAQs

Why do ants raid beehives?

Ants are attracted to sweet food inside the hive : honey, nectar, pollen, sugar water. In addition to stealing honey, some ants are omnivorous. They will eat bee brood (developing bees).

Can cinnamon keep ants out of your beehive?

Many beekeepers believe in the use of ground cinnamon for ant control. Dry cinnamon is spread on the ground around the hive. Ants hate the smell and will avoid it. This must be reapplied after rain.

Can I place anything inside the hive to kill ants?

No, there are no effective substances to place inside the hive that will kill ants and not harm honey bees.

Do ants harm beehives?

Often ants are a minor aggravation to a bee colony and may annoy the beekeeper more than the bees. However, ants do pose several risks to the balance of the hive.

How many ants are too many in the hive?

A few ants under the hive cover (10 or so) no big deal, just brush them away. Seeing a steady stream of them coming and going is a reason to take action.

Will ants in a beehive cause the bees to leave?

A large ant infestation could upset the colony so badly that the bees leave the hive or abscond. Then the ants will move in.

Why don’t bee throw the ants out of the hive?

Ants crawling around on the comb inside the hive means that the colony is not strong enough to patrol all the honeycomb area. Small colonies are at the most risk.

What is the easiest way to keep ants out of my beehive?

The simplest solution is to create an ant moat for your hive. Place hive stand legs in small containers (tuna can, cat food can-or similar) and fill can with soap water, vegetable oil or similar to prevent ants from accessing the hive.

What types of ants are attracted to beehives?

Any species of ant can be attracted to beehives in search of sweet food. Some of the most challenging pests are the aggressive Argentine Ants and the Red Imported Fire Ants. Both are especially troublesome to remove from an area.

A Final Word

Over the years, I have used many of these techniques to avoid major problems with ants in my beehives. My methods will help you prevent and keep ants out of your hives using the most natural and bee safe options.

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