Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bee Yard Visitors

Bee yards often attract a number of animal visitors, both domestic and wild. Some of these animals are pests, some are an annoyance to the beekeeper, and some are beneficial to the bee hive. Where bears exist, they seriously damage hives. Here, beekeepers take preventative actions, like using electric fences around the hives. Fortunately, bears are quite rare around our bee yards. Skunks are probably our most serious animal pest of bee hives. These small nocturnal mammals enjoy eating honey bees. They scratch at the hive entrance with their claws to draw out the guard bees. The skunks catch and eat the bees, leaving evidence of their presence: egg-shaped pellets of bee exoskeletons. Skunks will remain at the hive entrance for long periods of time catching and eating bees. The continuous scratching disturbs the hive, making the bees quite defensive. Often our first indication of skunks in the area comes from guard bees greeting us with a sting as soon as we approach the bee yard. Possums and raccoons at times become bee hive nuisances. Whenever any of these small critters start attacking hives, I set a live trap and remove the animal. In today’s photo, a possum, North America’s only marsupial, snarls from inside the live trap. It will be carried miles away and released unharmed in the woods.

If bee hives are located in pastures, we need to fence around the hives if livestock is present. Horses and cattle may brush up against exposed hives. Some birds eat honey bees. Eastern kingbirds like them; purple martins and mockingbirds eat a few. Sparrows, domestic chickens, and guinea fowl forage along the ground around bee hives. Eating small insects, they are probably beneficial to the hives. Bats help control wax moths; owls, cats, snakes, and coyotes help control mice and rat populations around bee yards. I regularly find tree frogs inside bee hives. I don’t think that they do any damage. Guard bees effectively protect hives from most intruders.

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