As beekeepers, we do have a double standard. We are awed by the industriousness of our insects…
On instinct alone, they make immaculate builds, travel miles and find their way back, give directions by way of interpretative dance, and of course, their efficient division of labor which ensures the longevity of the colony.
Of course, there are so many other things bees do that keep us beeks entranced by their presence. However, we abhor the same spirit in other six-legged creatures, in this case, ants.
Ants are opportunists and will, therefore, take advantage of a weakened colony in a beehive.
In that way, they are similar to wax moths. When you discover ants in a beehive, it’s usually a symptom of a bigger problem and could put your hives in serious danger.
In fact, when particular species of ants form colonies and happen to cross paths with honey bees, they can fight to the death and significantly harm and even kill a beehive.
Ants come in various colors and sizes and in most cases would only be a minor irritation for a beekeeper. Generally, a strong colony is usually able to defend the beehive from ants.
Unfortunately, there are times when ants can become more than a slight inconvenience so your little ladies may need your help with this one.
Here’s what you can do to help your bees when you find ants in or around a hive.
In a hurry or just plain curious?
Do Ants Harm Beehives?
Ants are the annoying neighbors that get a little too familiar. You let them borrow a screwdriver one day, the next day they’ve moved into your house, wiped out the pantry, and seem a little peeved that you run out of beer before they arrived.
Most of the local ant species are like that. They come in when the hive’s defenses are down. They love the honey and will also take the bee larvae as a rich source of protein.
This is very difficult for them to do if the colony is vibrant. This means that should you open the hive and find it overrun by ants that usually means that the bees weren’t doing very well anyway.
Now Argentine ants can use their numbers aggressively. It is believed that they do carry some viruses such as the Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) which has debilitating effects on a developing bee.
So, do ants harm beehives? Yes, they do. The hive itself may remain intact, but the colony is going to be terribly affected. A raid on their honey affects their ability to make it through the winter. If the colony was struggling to begin with, they often cut their losses and abscond.
What to do About Ants in Your beehive
Many beekeepers have found that ants like to build their nests between the inner cover and the telescoping cover. It’s warm, dark, and relatively close to a food source of either sugar syrup or honey.
If you find that they have already gotten cozy in that space, the easiest thing to do is to scrape them away and find their trail. Once you know their access point, cut them off. We shall see the various ways you can do that in just a bit.
The problem with dealing with ants in the hive is that biologically, they are very similar to bees. Poisoning them would poison the bees.
If the bees are still in the hive, your only option is mechanical. That can be tricky because ants are much smaller in size. It’s more effective to prevent their entry in the first place.
The good news is that ants are heavily dependent on their pheromone trail. If you interrupt this trail, then they get disoriented and can’t figure out where to go.
You may have come across a video that shows a lot of ants just moving around in a circle. It is believed that they are army ants, completely blind and wholly dependent on the pheromones left by the ant in front of them.
Somehow, the trail made some sort of loop and all the ants continued to follow that loop leading to this spiral movement. This spiral continues until the ants die.
This is good news for you. Once you’ve scraped away the ants that you’ve found in the hive, just interrupt the pheromone trail by using one of the odor deterrents we shall discuss and this can prevent more ants from entering the hive.
Can You Kill Ants Without Killing Bees?
This will depend on the method you use. For instance, you can drown ants without affecting the bees.
However, chemical warfare would be counterproductive. Ants belong to the same scientific order of Hymenoptera, just like bees. So what would chemically annihilate an ant, will probably have a similar effect on the bees.
On a non-scientific note, Argentine ants have behavior that seems very similar to swarming.
Sometimes one queen ant will walk away from the nest accompanied by a few workers and set up shop elsewhere.
Most other species have a queen going off on her own beginning her empire from scratch. Just a fun fact I thought I should share.
When planning what deterrents to use on ants in your hive, you need to consider the least amount of damage to your bees.
New and improved moats have a sort of cover to prevent curious bees from drowning, yet the gap between the lid and the moat is too large for ants to get across.
How to Keep Ants Out of Your Beehive (7 Ways)
Beekeepers are like old wives, we have so many tales but many of them do hold water. Here are some of the ideas and ways you can use that will help deter and keep ants out of your beehive.
1. Build moats around the legs of your hive stands
This seems to be a beekeeper favorite. It has worked wonderfully and is very easy to implement.
All that is required is for you to get 4 wide containers that allow for your hive stand legs to fit while leaving enough room between the leg and the edge of the container.
The ants can’t get to the stand without swimming through the moat. If you don’t have a hive stand like this one, then getting one could be a solid investment.
In case you’re wondering, they don’t swim, but they can float. That brings us to the second section, what to place in the moat.
What to place in the moat
Water, though a good idea, can act as a bridge because the ants can use the surface tension to get around. It’s safer to use some soapy water.
Some people use vegetable oil, other’s have used motor oil. Used motor oil is much cheaper, but vegetable oil is more environmentally friendly should it rain and the container overflows.
You have a choice between the low-budget DIY option like the image below or purchasing a stand that already has the moats fitted.
Regardless of how you choose to add the moats, the diagram below will give you a better understanding of how to ant-proof your beehive using moats.
The advantage of the latter is that the designs available comprise of two dishes, one at the bottom to hold the liquid you choose, and another at the top which prevents bees from entering the moat and drowning.
The DIY option is quite easy to set up as well though you may lose a few bees to curiosity, but no alarming numbers I assure you.
2. Use dirty motor oil/grease to paint a strip on the leg of your hive stand
Instead of using a moat to keep bees away from your hives, you could paint the supporting beam/leg of the hive stand with inexpensive motor oil like this brand here.
That is usually enough to deter the ants. However, since your hive stand is outside at the mercy of the elements, your stand will need a touch up every few months.
3. Spice Up the Area Around the Beehive With Cinnamon
We are not sure why this works, but it seems to deter ants from the hive without affecting the bees at all.
Outside of some hearty sneezing, being around cinnamon is relatively safe for you as well, and is very easy to purchase and apply.
However, you need to use ground cinnamon like this one here.
Cinnamon sticks don’t seem particularly effective, probably because the ants can easily get around them.
Ground cinnamon is easier to spread and much harder for the ants to work around.
Once again, you’ll find that this method works best in conjunction with some of the others, such as clearing nearby brush and keeping the hive spill-free.
4. Remove all-natural bridges to the hive
Though weeds and various wild grasses are great for bees, ants can use them as ladders to get to your hive even when you raise it off the ground.
This works best in conjunction with other methods, such as using the moats. You could choose to cover the area immediately under and around the hive with gravel to prevent undergrowth.
5. Slather on some tanglefoot
Tanglefoot is nature’s version of crazy glue is also a good way to go.
It can be very messy so you have to be careful when you use it. It is a natural product often used to protect fruit trees from crawling pests such as ants and some moths.
With trees, the application is a little tricky because one has to be mindful of the bark, which you still want to protect.
With hive stands, you can just spread some of this sticky substance directly on the surface of the legs.
It’s advisable to have the strip closer to the ground to reduce the number of bees getting stuck on it.
You’ll need to reapply after a month or two because the tanglefoot can get washed away or be covered in debris.
6. Beware of spillage and fallen combs
Sugar syrup and loose combs are like a bell call for ants and other pests. In fact, spillages are notoriously known to encourage robbing behavior.
When visiting the hive to do an inspection, always have a bucket with you. If you’re going to provide your bees with some syrup, you need to ensure you keep your spillages to a minimum.
What you do spill, you need to clean up otherwise the not-so-friendly neighbors will come, lap it up and break in looking for more.
If you have made a feeder out of a jar, you want to turn it upside down in the bucket so that the initial dripping is contained before placing it in the hive.
Any burr comb in the hive should be cut out and placed in the bucket as well. Don’t provide any additional motivation to the ants to come calling.
7. Make the hive stand as slippery as possible
Ants are slaves to friction, just like we are. If there’s no friction, they can’t move.
Some people spread Vaseline on the hive stand, while others use grease.
Others can wrap it with cling film and spray the surface with a lubricant.
There are even commercial products like this one here that are geared toward creating a slippery surface that keeps ants away.
How do Bees Keep Ants Out of Their Honey?
As with most problems, the trick is in early detection.
When a strong colony is faced with a forming ant trail, they are capable of throwing the sneaky intruders out, because they are considerably smaller than the bees.
It has also been observed that the guard bees keep moving across the forming ant trail. It is thought that this interrupts the pheromone trail which disorients the ants.
A strong colony can then dedicate a sizeable amount of the workforce to engaging and discarding the ants.
The only exception is the Argentine ant, whose size and number really works to the detriment of the bee colony.
Don’t let ants near your beehive get you down. Dealing with the threat is quite easy, especially if you are proactive. Ants be gone. May you be victorious battling against ants in your beehive.