Crazy attack bee

Oh and skunks too. Didn’t I mention that I had some stories to tell?

Spring is a pretty intense time if you’re a gardener, this weekend was no exception. We went non-stop from Saturday 8am until Sunday 7pm and somewhere in there, the following events occurred. Remember, all of my pictures can be clicked to enlarge!

Saturday I just got back from Home Depot walk over to the hives and do my usual visual inspection: I look at the entrance, look under the outer cover to peek through the ventilated inner cover to see how many bees are in the top hive body. As I’m doing my overall survey I noticed these lumps on the ground in front of the hives. I looked down and the second I saw what it was, I knew what it was and what made it.

Know what this is? A ball of bees that have been sucked dry.
This is to show the scale: the ball of bees next to a maple seed.

A skunk did this. It goes up to a hive, scratches at the entrance and as the guard bees come out, it swishes its tail at the entrance and the bees latch on. Then the skunk turns around, wipes the bees off its tail and sucks them like candy until there’s nothing left and then spits them out, like chewing tobacco. The problem is that the guard bees notify the rest of the bees inside that a defense has to be mounted and the bees come out in force, all for the skunk to eat. A skunk can easily devastate a hive in a few visits. Easily. Click the picture to enlarge.

These are the balls of bees I found, in addition to the ball above. So six in total.

When I took the beekeeping class last year, Bill Troup our bee inspector had a box with him. At the end of his lecture he offered to show the contents to any one interested. Boy am I glad I looked. He had a spitball of bees in there and explained what a skunk will do. Some articles I read recently stated a raccoon will do this as well. I’m betting on a skunk.

Within 10 minutes, I was back at HD buying carpet tack strips and garden anchors/staples. I cut the tack strips and tacked them down into the ground in front of the hives, I had to wear my veil and gloves since I was right in front of the hives and it was prime flying time. I then cut 2 more strips and stapled them to the hive landing board, hopefully when the skunk tries to paw the entrance it will get a nasty surprise instead.

Using a garden staple to hold the strip down

I wiped away any more spitballs to keep track of any new ones. I also happened to have a motion-activated sprinkler thanks to marauding bunnies and deer last summer, so I hooked that up too. Used my son as a water target to set it up 🙂

The tack strips are a bit crude but they work for now. I think the motion-activated sprinkler is key. So far, so good. I don't want to jinx myself or my poor hives.

We made Connie’s nuc the day before Easter and once I saw what was going on, I started closing the entrance flap on the nuc every night to keep the skunk from harassing it and depleting the small population. I reopen the flap in the morning.

This is a capped queen cell in the nuc

I checked for queen cells on Friday and found 2 capped cells and at least 3 other open cells with larvae. We actually saw a bee going almost all the way into the cell to feed the larva! So cool. Based on bee math, the soonest this cell could hatch is the 20th, the latest would be the 23rd. I saw flying drones this weekend so mating should be good!

As for the crazy bee. If everything else wasn’t enough, Sunday afternoon I decided to prune my fruit trees, my husband was by the raised beds and he appeared to be dodging something. He was about 20 feet from the hives and I was about 20 feet farther than him. I go over to the trees with my pruning saw and shears and as I start I hear this buzzing by my head. I’m used to the soft buzzing around me when I’m in the garden but this was NOT soft buzzing, it was pissed off buzzing. And she kept trying to go for my face. I started swinging my hands still holding the saw and realized I better drop it before something bad happens. I walked away and she kept following me, giving up after 30 feet or so. Then I saw her go for my husband again and amid various pleas and curses he finally gave up and went inside. I decided to give the guard bee some time to “buzz off” so I started watering instead After about 4 minutes, I’m about 100′ away, she starts again. That’s it! I got my veil and gloves and I was going to “off” this over-vigilant bee.

So here I am, it’s 90 degrees and I’m standing out there in shorts and t-shirt with a veil and bee gloves just waiting for her. Just as I started thinking “She’s got to come back” there she was. I tried to slap my hands together to get her (did you notice what I wrote: together and to-get-her? How funny! I didn’t even realize it) but that wasn’t working. So I got my son’s insect net. I can’t believe it but it actually worked. I caught her and man her buzzing was angry! She was dispatched and since then there have been no more attack bees.

At first I was worried that the hives were going to be defensive but I think the sprinkler is keeping that from happening. I’m trying to get a critter cam to see what’s going on out there. I think the over zealous bee was a “lone ranger.”

I some other ideas about skunk control that I’ll share later. What a weekend.

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