Beekeeping Pest Control, Part 3 - Controlling Ants and Tracheal Mites
We now move on to part three in our series of beehive diseases and pests. In our first post, 3 Deadly Enemies Every Beekeeper Faces and How to Crush Them, we looked at varroa mites, Nosema and foulbrood. In our second post, Protecting Hives Against Wax Moths and Mice, we looked at two additional hive pests. Today, we’re going to discuss the control of ants and tracheal mites.
Ants and the Beehive
Ants are known to be on the lookout for a sweet treat which makes a beehive a prime target for these small and invasive pests. They can quickly take up residence in a beehive and start laying eggs, making themselves at home. This can quickly become a problem that may cause bees to fill up with honey and abscond, looking for a place that they don’t have to share.
When trying to repel ants from the hive, it’s best to first consider natural and simple means to control them. If ants are in the hive, you’ll need to clean them out first. Then find a method that keeps them out of the hive.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to create an oil moat around the legs. Thingiverse provides instructions enabling you to print an ant moat. If you don’t have a 3-D printer, their pictures provide you with a good idea of how it works.
To create an oil moat from things you may have laying around, you’ll need to place your hive on a stand with legs and then place each leg in a container - a large can or bucket. The container must be large enough for the leg to fit inside without touching the edges of the container.
Fill the container with a few inches of food-grade oil (olive oil or canola) so that when it overflows – and it will when it rains – the oil won’t contaminate the soil. Refill when needed. The oil will float on top of any water that collects which will keep mosquitos from laying their eggs in the water.
Masking tape can be wrapped around the legs, sticky side out. When the ants hit the sticky surface, they will turn away. Grasshoppers are not as smart. They crawl onto the tape and get stuck. The tape gradually fills up with insects and debris or loses its stickiness over time. When this happens, you’ll need to cut it off and replace it.
Some beekeepers sprinkle cinnamon generously on the ground around the hive to deter ants – they hate the smell. It can also be sprinkled on the inner cover of the hive since cinnamon doesn’t bother the bees. Other beekeepers use a generous sprinkling of diatomaceous earth on the ground around the hive. Both cinnamone and DE will need to be reapplied frequently, especially after rain.
The tracheal mite, Acarapis woodi, is a microscopic mite that infests the breathing tubes (tracheae) of the honeybee and feeds on the bee’s blood. According to samples received by the USDA-ARS bee lab in Beltsville, Maryland, tracheal mites have been on a significant decline in the US over the last 45 years. Some strains of bees have shown greater resistance to tracheal mites, including Buckfast bees and Russian bees.
There are no reliable symptoms or indicators of a tracheal mite infestation. Tracheal mites may cause:
- A shortened lifespan
- Disjointed “K” wings
- Bees being unable to fly and crawling on the ground near the hive
Unfortunately, Nosema and other viral infections can exhibit the same symptoms. Tracheal mites can only be diagnosed through the dissection of an infected bee.
If tracheal mites are present, you can attempt to combat the mites naturally. Create a “grease patty” by mixing together two parts (by volume) white granulated sugar to one-part hydrogenated vegetable shortening. Place a four-ounce patty on the top bars at the center of the brood nest – where the most bees are likely to come into contact with it. The shortening appears to disrupt the female mites’ quest as they search for a host – young bees.
The patty must be present as new brood emerges. New patties need to be placed in the early spring and fall as mite levels increase. As temperatures rise, the shortening can melt and get messy. Mite mortality has been associated with heat; therefore, placing the hives in direct sunlight can limit mite populations; although, you don't want your hive to get too hot if you live in the south
For many, chemical controls may be easier, especially since those same controls can also be used to control Varroa mites. Formic acid, such as that found in Formic Pro Varroa Mite Treatment, is registered for tracheal mite control. Thymol, such as that found in Apiguard Varroa Mite Treatment, has also shown to be effective in the treatment of tracheal mites.
This wraps up our series on some of the most common pests a beekeeper may face. Using the tips discussed in these three blogs should help you keep your hives healthy and your beekeeping journey enjoyable.