Humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy snacking on honey. When it comes to protecting a beehive from intruders, many beekeepers find themselves battling nature’s most notorious sweet tooth: the ant. If you’ve found some of these pesky insects in your hive, don’t panic. Most ant infestations don’t pose any immediate risk to your bees, and there are many safe methods for keeping them out of your hive.
The answer to this is simple: ants attack your beehive because they want honey! “Attack” might not be the right word, though. The ants in your hive usually aren’t there to battle your bees. In fact, they probably won’t directly harm the bees at all. Instead, they want to invade and feed on the honey that your bees are producing. Ants are foragers, which means that they are always on the hunt for food. A beehive is an ultimate find for a colony of hungry ants!
If there are ants inside your beehive, it could be a sign that your hive is weak. When there aren’t enough bees to ward off intruders, pests like ants can invade and feed off of parts of the hive.
Try to focus on making your bees stronger. A healthy hive is more difficult for pests to invade and keeping your hive strong is the best way to keep ants out for good.
Do Ants Harm Beehives?
Where in your beehive are ants living? The location of the ants in your hive says a lot about the kind of effect they’re having on your bees. Many ants, for example, are found under the lid of your beehive, on top of the hive but not inside the honeycomb itself. This area is warm and protected from the elements, and it’s located near a great food source – your bees’ honey. Many ants dwell in this area without attempting to move into the actual hive. They can be easily removed by being brushed off the surface of the lid. You might also notice small white ant pupae. This, too, can be brushed off to prevent new ants from appearing in the area.
Even if ants are just stealing honey, they are taking away some of your bees’ food, and this can have negative consequences for your hive. If you notice a large number of ants in your hive and in the honeycomb itself, your bees could be in danger. These ants might be looking for more than honey. They sometimes also feed on the brood, the baby bees in the honeycomb.
Ants consume a wide variety of things. Depending on the ant species, they might eat fruit, sugar, plants, insects, or even other ants. In fact, many ants are omnivorous. Omnivorous ants are a threat to your hive: brood is a good source of protein, and they are easily accessible for ants who have already broken into your beehive. In extreme cases, you might even notice ants attacking weak bees or smaller full-grown bees.
Two of the most common species of beehive-invading ants are Argentine ants and carpenter ants.
Argentine ants are commonly found in the southern United States and South America. Colonies of Argentine ants are usually very large, and these large colonies can completely overwhelm beehives. These ants are known to feed on brood as well as honey.
Carpenter ants, on the other hand, infest the material that your beehive is housed in. They chew through wood and other soft materials, causing structural damage to the supers and frames of your hive while also stealing honey.
At the end of the day, it’s important to treat ants like a serious threat to the health of your hive rather than just a minor nuisance. Addressing an ant problem early allows you to keep your bees healthy, happy, and productive.
How Do Bees Keep Ants Out Of Their Honey?
Bees have some natural defenses against ants and other pests. However, it is easy for bees to become overwhelmed by an ant infestation, especially when there are more ants than bees. This is why it is often necessary for a beekeeper to intervene and take steps to remove invasive ants.
Bees have been observed kicking ants and fanning their wings at them to prevent them from entering a hive. If a hive has been completely overtaken by ants, the bees may decide to leave the hive and start a new, ant-free hive elsewhere.
You should regularly examine your hive for signs of ants. If you notice ants in, on, or around your hive, don’t leave it up to your bees to fight the intruders off themselves. There are many simple, natural steps you can take to keep ants out of your hive. As mentioned above, your first step should be to brush away any ants on the hive or under the lid.
Here are a few more ways to prevent ant infestations:
Raise Your Beehive On Legs
This lifts the entire hive off the ground and makes it less accessible to ground-dwelling ants. Make sure that the legs you use are strong, sturdy, and at least six inches tall. They need to be able to support your hive as it fills with honey and becomes heavier. You can make legs out of wood, metal, plastic, or any other sturdy material. You can also buy pre-made stands online.
Line Your Legs With A Sticky Substance
If your beehive is on legs, consider adding something like petroleum jelly or heavy grease around the bottom of the legs. This prevents ants from crawling up the legs. Note that you will need to regularly reapply your sticky substance of choice.
Install A Moat
This is another great option for people whose beehives are on legs. Place the legs into a dish or can filled with oil, water, or another substance. This makes it much harder for ants to climb the legs up to your hive. To get to the hive, they have to cross a “moat” full of liquid.
Cut The Grass Around Your Beehive or Move The Hive Onto A Grass-less Surface
Ants might be able to climb up to your hive by traveling up long weeds. Even just a single blade of grass can act as a bridge from the ground up to your hive!
Plant Mint Around Your Beehive
Mint naturally repels ants, and it grows and spreads quickly. It’s also a potential nectar source for your bees! If you can’t grow mint around your hive, try placing mint leaves on top of your hive or around the area where ants are entering.
What Is A Bee-Friendly Ant Killer?
Before you turn to ant killers and pesticides, it’s best to try natural methods of ant control. Because bees and ants are biologically similar, the pesticides that kill ants are likely to harm bees as well. Avoiding heavy chemicals is always better for your bees, yourself, and the environment. Plus, you can feel better about enjoying honey when you know that it wasn’t exposed to any chemicals.
When dealing with ants, try to repel them instead of killing them. Think of ways to drive the ants away that won’t harm your bees. Try using cinnamon, an ingredient that ants hate but bees don’t mind. Sprinkle dried cinnamon around your hive. If you have an ant infestation on the cover of your beehive, you can even pour cinnamon directly onto the lid. Your bees won’t be bothered, and the ants will be driven away.
Never spray your entire hive with chemicals. If you do want to use chemicals or poison, you have to make sure that it is accessible to the ants and not accessible to your bees. For example, if you use liquid ant baits you must ensure that the poison inside is only accessible through very tiny openings that your bees can’t fit through. Ant traps often use sweet substances to bait ants, and that will also attract bees!
Ants may be tiny, but in large numbers they pose a real risk to your bees. Even if they’re not directly attacking your bees, they’re out to steal honey, which your bees need to feed their hive. An ant infestation can prevent a hive from growing and flourishing and could even drive bees out of their hive. As soon as you notice an ant infestation, follow the steps above to minimize the damage and keep your bees healthy.