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The specialist international beekeeping organisation

Predators

A predator lives by eating another animal - by preying on it. A wide range of animals, both large and small, are predators of bees - these include other insects, spiders, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. For many animals bees are essential food that increases their chances of survival - so bees, forming a food source for these animals, add yet another link in the chain of biodiversity.

Beekeepers are usually keen to keep other predators away so they can maximise their own honey harvest. Predation by lizards, frogs and toads can easily be reduced in managed colonies by eliminating a landing board from the beehive design. It is not necessary to kill these animals as their effect is minor. The most significant tropical predators to be avoided are ants, hornets and wasps, and the honey badger.

Ants can be especially damaging to honey bees in the tropics and can destroy entire colonies very quickly. See the section on ants for more guidance.

The range of the honey badger (or ratel - Mellivora capensis) is Africa, parts of the Middle East, Pakistan and western India. They have an varied diet and are excellent snake hunters with a taste for honey bee colonies. In some places they are reported to have a relationship with the honey guide bird. The bird locates the bee colony and the ratel uses its strength to break it open so both animals benefit from the relationship. The ratel is a very strong and determined creature that is not easily deterred. The best approach to prevent honey badgers is to raise the bees enough high off the ground to avoid the attention of the ratel. In many areas of Africa where this animal is common beekeepers place hives high up in trees. This method, which involves treeclimbing, is often considered unsuitable for women. If hive stands are used they must be strongly constructed and situated at least one metre high off the ground. If wires are used to hang hives using a single wire or otherwise arranging the wires so that the hive easily swings or tips when the honey badger attempts to open it will help to reduce the problem.

Wasps and hornets are very difficult to control and their predations on honey bee colonies can be significant. Where they are not endangered species, nests can be sought and killed. A range of screening and trapping techniques are used. Colonies of these insects are not permanent and the damage to honey bees normally comes at a time when the wasp workers have built up to maximum numbers. At this time of the year beekeepers may put out some sticky, sweet substance dissolved in a deep container of water to act as trapping system. Elimination of landing boards may help. In Asia, the native Apis cerana has its own defence mechanism; the guard bees 'ball' the hornets killing them with their body heat.

For the beekeeper, paying attention to the apiary at key times of year will help to minimise  a number of predator problems and maximise honey production.


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