Why Do Beekeepers Need Mouse Guards?

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As Winter approaches, some beekeepers face an increased threat to their hives. Small, furry intruders (mice) are looking for a warm Winter home and food supply. To combat this threat, beekeepers use mouse guards on their hives to protect the colony from damage. In this guide, we will explore what a mouse guard is, why you may need one and how it works.

Honey bees enter hive through metal mouse guard.

As a Master Beekeeper, I speak to other beekeepers in all parts of the world. It is interesting to learn how required beekeeping tools and supplies vary from one region to another. You may not need the same equipment as someone in a very different climate.

What is a Mouse Guard?

A mouse guard is a specially designed barrier that fits across the entrance to a hive. Guards are usually made of metal or plastic – but you can make a homemade mouse guard too.

The design features small holes or slots (normally 3/8” diameter) that allow bees to freely come and go – but restricts larger creatures – like mice!

This is an essential tool for beekeepers living in the northern regions where Winters are long and cold. By installing a mouse guard, the colony resources (comb, honey, frames etc) are protected from chewing vermin.

However, it is not only useful for cold regions – they are beneficial for beekeepers in any area with severe rodent infestations.

Metal mouse guards one a stationary piece with drilled honey - the other can be flipped to allow ventilation only.

Types of Mouse Guards

Beehive mouse guards come in a variety of styles and materials. Which one is best for your hives? That depends on the type of beehive you have and personal preference.

Each one has advantages and disadvantages. And, sometimes – we choose one because of easy availability.

  • Metal
  • Plastic
  • Combination-Hybrid
  • DIY Guards

Metal Mouse Guards

These are the traditional choice and most widely used. Made of galvanized steel or stainless steel – they are very durable and will last for years – resisting the chewing teeth of mice.

However, they do cost a little more and can be more troublesome to install on the hives. The ones that come with a sliding entrance reducer can become harder to adjust over time.

Plastic Mouse Guards

As with most things these days – mouse guards are available in plastic. They are a lightweight option and usually more affordable than metal. They are also easier to adjust.

But, they are not as durable as metal. Plastic may not hold up as well to extreme weather exposure so you may have to replace them more often.

Also, if you have very determined mice – they may chew through a plastic guard. Try to purchase those of the sturdiest material.

Hybrid plastic metal mouse guards on two hives with bees at front.

Combination-Hybrid Guards

If you seek the best of both worlds, the combination mouse guards that contain metal and plastic parts are a good idea. They offer the durability of some metal components and the ease of use of plastic.

The only drawback is availability and cost. Hybrid models are usually more expensive that the old standards.

DIY Mouse Guard

For those of you will a little ingenuity, it is possible to make your own DIY mouse guard for your hive. It is a great feeling to make something useful for your beehive – especially from materials you have on hand.

However, it can be time consuming and the effectiveness depends on the material used and your craftsmanship.

  • wire stapled across the entrance (no larger than 1/2″ mess but at least 3/8″)
  • flat pieces of wood or metal that reduce the width and height of the entrance

How to Use a Mouse Guard

If you want to protect your beehive from mice, you need to know the proper way to use a mouse guard. Here is a guide basic installation and maintenance.

  • Make sure the mouse guard you choose fits your hive entrance (i.e. Langstroth 8 or 10 frame?)
  • Prepare the hive make sure the entrance is clean and free of debris (wax, propolis etc.)
  • Attach the guard to the hive: metal (screws or nails) – plastic (clips or adhesive tape)
  • Make sure it fits snuggly and is secure – no large gaps
  • The bees should be able to freely come and go
Infographic chart on tips for using mouse guards.

When to Put on a Mouse Guard

Mouse guards are typically installed in late Summer or early Fall. Just as there is no use in fixing the barn door after the cow has escaped – do not wait for cold weather to install your guard.

You do not want to trap the mouse in the hive – that rather defeats the purpose.

If you get behind in placing the guards, look inside the hive entrance with a flashlight (in cold temps) to check for obvious signs of infestation. (Chewed wax, nesting materials, rat feces etc.)

Maintenance and Monitoring

Continue to monitor your hive entrance during the cold season. Winter Beekeeping involves a lot of waiting and hoping.

But sometimes, we have to make adjustments. Check for wear or damage and clean away and debris that may block the openings.

Good hive ventilation is important to the Winter hive and the bees need to be able to fly on warmish days.

FAQ

What does a mouse guard do?

A mouse guard is a hive accessory placed across the entrance of a beehive to prevent mice from entering – yet allowing bees to freely come and go.

When should I put a mouse guard on the hive?

If you know you will need one – install a mouse guard on the hive when you assemble it – before bees are installed (this works for guards with adjustable openings). For seasonal use, install the mouse guard before cold weather arrives in your area.

Can I make a mouse guard for my hive?

Yes, a folded piece of hardware cloth (with ½” mesh) can be nailed across the hive entrance – preventing mice from entering the hive.

Why not leave a mouse guard on the hive all year?

Depending on the design, you may not want to leave the guard on the hive all year. Non adjustable models with stationary holes may restrict bee traffic during the honey flow.

Can mouse guards serve multiple purposes?

Yes, many mouse guards can be flipped over. One side down offers openings for bees to come and go – the other side down allows ventilation but prevents bees from exiting (handy when you need to move a beehive.)

Finally

Incorporating mouse guards as a part of normal apiary management is an effective way to protect colony resources. This will not be an essential Summer beekeeping task until late in the season. And, not a piece of equipment that every beekeeper will need (I don’t need them in the South) – a well-fitted mouse guard will save many hives in area with cold months or abundant mice populations.

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