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How to Protect Your Honey Bee Apiary from Bears

How to Protect Your Honey Bee Apiary from Bears

Most beekeepers wear protective gear — bee suits, hats or veils and gloves — to protect themselves from the stings of agitated and angry bees; therefore, it can be easy to assume that the bees are able to protect themselves from most predators.

Wild animals, such as bears, skunks and raccoons can be problematic, however, raiding hives, eating honey and bees, and causing lots of destruction in the process. Even domesticated animals can be a threat to your apiary. Continue reading to learn how to protect your apiary from these wild predators.

Protecting Beehives from Bears

Anyone who has ever watched Winnie the Pooh knows how much bears love honey. Unfortunately, real bears are not as mild-mannered as Pooh and can cause a lot of damage during a raid in your apiary.

If bears are in your area, they will find your hives. They can smell honey up to a mile away! If you live where bears also live, it’s best to be proactive. You don’t want to wait until they find your hives and then decide to do something about it. By that time, it may be too late. You may not have a hive left to defend.

When a bear raids a hive, it tears into it with abandon, smashing and breaking hive components, while eating honey, bees and larvae. It’s all good to them. Bee brood is, in fact, a great protein source for bears. And, once they get a taste, you can almost guarantee they’ll be back for seconds, now even more determined knowing that it’s there. It’s best to stop them before they get their first taste.

A Shocking Solution

The best way, and really the only way, to keep bears from raiding your hives is to surround your apiary with an electric fence. A regular fence will not stop a bear. Even an electric fence is no guarantee because the bear’s fur protects it from shock. So, if you decide to use electric fencing, you'll want to take a few things into consideration.

A very determined bear will go through an electric fence. That’s why it’s important to stop them from getting to the hives in the first place. Once they’ve had a taste, they’ll be more determined and will return again and again until all your hives are destroyed.

You can use electric netting rather than single wire fencing to eliminate a few problems. With electric netting, you won’t have to worry about installing multiple strands of wire to try to keep a bear from going over, crawling under or going through your fencing. The netting has another advantage over wire — it also provides a visual barrier.

Add Some Bait

In areas where bears are especially troublesome, some beekeepers bait the fence, encouraging the bears to come into contact with the electric fence with their nose or mouth as they sniff and lick at the tasty bait. Popular bait choices are peanut butter or bacon grease. Both can be smeared on foil that is hung on the wire, which provides a reproving shock when the bear comes into contact with it. Other animals, such as cats and dogs, will also be drawn to the bait, however, so you may not be able to use this option if you are concerned about harming them.

A properly installed electric fence will provide an unpleasant jolt to the bear but won’t cause undue harm. The charger must deliver a strong enough charge, however, to get the bear’s attention. Most beekeepers use a charger that delivers 5000 to 7000 volts at a minimum when trying to deter bears. Anything less than this may have very little impact on a bear. For example, a fence set up to deter rabbits does not deliver a strong enough shock to deter bears.

When It's Too Late

If your hives are attacked by bears, be sure to contact your local and/or state conservation agency. They may be able to provide compensation for the loss of your hives. They may also be able to give you financial assistance for the installation of an electric fence used to protect your apiary.

General Questions

How do you maintain an electric fence?

Regularly clear vegetation touching the wires to prevent grounding, inspect for breaks or damage, and test the voltage with a voltmeter. Ensure the grounding system is in optimal condition for effective operation.

What are the legal considerations for using electric fences?

Consult local authorities or wildlife agencies for compliance with wildlife and zoning regulations. Adhere to specific guidelines or permitting requirements to avoid legal issues and protect local wildlife.

How do beekeepers handle non-bear intrusions that the electric fence doesn't stop?

For smaller animals like skunks and raccoons, use finer mesh around hive bases or smaller-scale barriers to address their specific behavior and abilities.

What should be done immediately after a bear attack on hives, before contacting authorities?

Assess the damage to determine which hives can be salvaged or repaired. Secure remaining hives with additional deterrents like noise makers and enhance the electric fence to prevent further attacks.

Are there alternative methods to deter bears for beekeepers who cannot use electric fences?

Use bear-resistant hive enclosures or elevated platforms, employ guard animals like dogs, or use strong odors like ammonia to deter bears, though these methods are less effective than electric fences.


That wraps things up for today. Join us next time to learn how to protect your hives from slightly smaller predators -- skunks, raccoons and mice.

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