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How to Protect Your Apiary from Skunks, Raccoons and Mice
In our last post, we discussed what you can do to protect your hives from bears. Today, we’re going to look at what you can do to keep smaller predators — skunks, raccoons, and mice -- from raiding and causing damage to your hives. These smaller predators may not cause as much destruction as bears, such as ripping the hives apart to get to the honey and bees; however, they can trigger your bees to feel unsafe and abscond in the process, taking as much honey as they can carry with them.
Protecting Beehives from Skunks
Skunks are insect eaters by nature, so a bee is a nice, sweet delicacy. When a skunk finds a hive, it scratches at the entrance, causing the bees to come and investigate. When they do, the skunk snatches them up as a tasty treat.
You’ll know skunks have been visiting your hives when you see scratches on the lower parts of the hive. You’ll also find remnants of bees lying around on the ground outside the hive. This is because skunks often suck on the bees, drawing out the bee’s juicy inner parts, and then spitting out the exoskeleton.
Fortunately, you have a few options when it comes to deterring skunks.
The first is to elevate the hive, placing it on a stand that is several feet above the ground. This forces the skunk to expose its tender underbelly to stings when it stands on its hind legs to gain access to the entrance. Once the bees determine the skunk is a threat, they have a larger target — the skunk’s underbelly — to attack.
Secondly, you can create a bed of nails or spike strips to deter them. Drive nails into a two-foot-wide piece of plywood that is a little wider than the hive and place it, nail points up, under the entrance. Of course, you’ll need to be careful not to step on the nails yourself when you’re working around your hive.
Lastly, you can enclose your apiary with poultry netting. Skunks can’t climb poultry fencing but other pests such as raccoons and weasels can. If you are trying to deter skunks only, the poultry netting doesn't need to be electrified since they can’t climb it; however, skunks can dig under the fencing.
Protecting Beehives from Raccoons
Raccoons are clever and much smarter than skunks. Raccoons are also strong enough and large enough to take the top off of a hive. To prevent them from removing the tops from your hives, place a heavy rock on top of the hive’s outer cover or secure the top with straps.
Electric netting, such as that used to deter bears, also works to discourage raccoons.
And, just as a bed of nails dissuaded skunks, spike or nail strips work to deter raccoons but must be used on all four sides of the hive to prevent the raccoon from getting to the hive. Carpeting tack boards can also be used to create a spiky deterrent against raccoons and skunks.
Specialty lighting systems are used successfully by many beekeepers. When these lighting systems are installed, they simulate eyes glowing in the dark. The raccoon sees the “glowing eyes” which, to them, may mean bear, skunk or another raccoon, and decides not to chance an encounter with another animal who is “watching” them. These systems use red light which is beyond the bees’ visual spectrum; therefore, it doesn’t bother the bees.
Live traps can be used to capture both raccoons and skunks, but if you catch a skunk, you'll have a smelly mess to deal with. Live traps do work for some predators, but they work more like a band-aid rather than an actual solution. Plus, you’ll need a location in which to relocate the animal once it has been caught, possibly creating a problem for someone else.
Protecting Hives from Mice
In the fall, mice begin to look for a toasty place to build a nest and call home as cool weather sets in. Although mice won’t harm the bees, they will cause significant damage to the honeycomb, foundation and frames. To prevent mice from entering the hive, install a mouse guard. Mouse guards, or entrance reducers, are an easy fix to prevent mice from entering the hive but have holes large enough for bees to pass through.
Before installing a mouse guard, make sure that a mouse hasn’t already set up residence by “sweeping” the floor of the bottom board with a long stick or coat hanger wire.