Trick or Treat – Part 2 – The Terrible Story of Fall Creatures Creeping up on your Bees – Continued.
by Ulrike Marsky
It’s that time of the year again: the dark season has arrived, and a particularly gloomy day is just around the corner. Just the thought of the last night in October and all the creatures that appear then makes many hold their breath and freeze the blood in their veins. Even among beekeepers, this season is notorious and feared – the time before wintering when fate slowly reveals the destiny of their beloved hives.
Last year we already shared some terrible stories about monsters and evil creatures in honey bee colonies with you. Well, let me teach you the creeps, if you haven’t yet laid eyes on the following creepy fellows in your own apiary…
At the top of our list, we find a deceptively cute, furry animal that has found its place in children’s books and cartoons. However, we all know another side of this creature and its most effective weapon: a hideously foul secretion that it sprays readily on attackers. Of course, we are talking about, perhaps, an icon of the American animal kingdom: the skunk.
As if the rotten stench wasn’t scary enough, this creature has another surprise in store for new beekeepers: it devours bees. Knocking at the beehive at night like a zombie who asks for entry, scratching and sniffing, the skunk lures worker bees out of the hive entrance – to consume them with relish.
To stop these beasts from abusing their beehive as a snack bar when the days are getting shorter, beekeepers can take a few effective precautions. From elevating hives (on pallets) to inserting screened entrances, electrifying the intruders, or discouraging them with chicken wire or a nailed carpet tack strip in front of the entrance, beekeepers can pick their weapon of choice against this bee-eating monster.
The next member of our horror cabinet comes in a double pack: As the Greater and the Lesser Wax Moth, this monster makes us shudder when it transforms beehives into musty dwellings. The preferred haunting hour of these creatures is the warm season – when the conditions for reproduction of these monsters are ideal. Nevertheless, bee colonies are often particularly endangered in late summer after honey harvest and in autumn, as these predators particularly like to pounce on weakened colonies.
The Greater wax moth comes by with its own metabolic radiator and bewitches the environment: It can raise the temperatures and create better conditions to plunder the hive in a gruesome way. Pollen, honey, wax? The larvae of these “Mothzilla” monsters eat their way through everything they can find in the hive. Worse than that, the moths leave behind a trail of destruction in the form of a mixture of feces and the interwoven web of spider-like brood cocoons in the hive.
Before beekeepers run away in fear of these creatures, they should consider that they have a few powerful weapons against these destructive scavengers: keeping their colonies healthy, maintaining enough bees in relation to the comb they are defending, and practicing comb hygiene!
And now, let’s move on to the next terrible predator, who – fast as lightning – attacks the bees when they can least defend themselves. Beekeepers should not be fooled by the small body size of this furry monster. The pygmy shrew may be tiny, but the way it literally picks apart a winter cluster piece by piece to satisfy its bestial appetite will send cold shivers down every beekeeper’s spine. In a flash, it enters the hive through holes that may only be half an inch wide. As the cruel executioner in the circle of our monsters, it picks a bee from the outer edge of the cluster and tears off her head to sip her guts out of the abdomen.
This is the stuff real horror stories are made of! So, to fight off these bloodthirsty little furballs, don’t forget the mouse guards, everyone! But make it ¼ inch, please.
Finally, let’s talk about an eerie, ever-lurking potential danger to honey bee colonies that some here might not expect…. Let’s look right at the face of the real “Jason Voorhees” of beekeeping, the beekeeper. This gruesome creature can truly bring the worst curses upon a bee colony, albeit due to lack of experience or even excessive concern.
From hives that are opened too often or too long during the cold months, to starving colonies that have not received enough feed, to unprotected colonies that have nothing to oppose the cruel attackers of the dark season – the beekeeper can bring misfortune and destruction to their colonies in many ways. High varroa infestation, going into the wintering period, is surely one of the ghastly ways to turn your colonies into a real ghost town within just a few months.
As a wise English philosopher with the tasty name Francis Bacon once remarked: Knowledge is power! Power over the bees, but also power to avert misfortune from the bees. And so, it is a blessing for honey bees all over the world, should they – especially in fall – be allowed to call a wise beekeeper their owner, and not a bloodthirsty “Jason Voorhees”.
With this in mind, I wish everyone a Happy Halloween: beekeepers, bees, and all those who like to light a beeswax candle or snack on honey in the dark season. And don’t forget to keep an eye out for all the wild monsters and deadly dangers and protect your bees!