The most damaging pests in tropical beekeeping are ants. There are a number of species of ants of economic importance to beekeepers. In some regions an aggressive ant attack can destroy a colony in a single day. It is virtually impossible to find a foolproof way of protecting bees from ants. However, with some care the risk can be reduced. Natural colonies of all Apis species have some defensive guarding behaviour to repel ants especially where they try to make a direct assault on the hive entrance. Propolis is also an important part of the nest defence system. Apis florea, for example, uses a band of propolis on the access routes to its nest. In extreme circumstances, where the colony is unable to prevent invasion, the bees will simply abscond.
A single blade of grass must have allowed the ants to enter this otherwise well kept hive in Zambia hive. The bees have absconded much to the disappointment of the crestfallen beekeeper.
To avoid ant attack on bee colonies a beekeeper needs to take continuous care of the colony and the apiary. Keeping the vegetation clear from around and under the hive will prevent vegetation building up and providing a bridge for the ants to gain access into the hive. It will also help if the beekeeper is able to locate and control ant's nest within the vicinity of the hives. In addition the condition of the beehives is important. Bees will work hard to fill up cracks and gaps in the hive body using propolis but beekeepers can assist the bees by ensuring hives are well maintained and free of holes. Wood ashes scattered around the hives can help reduce the problem during dry periods but ceases to work once it gets wet.
Many beekeepers place hives high up in the branches of trees - high enough to avoid the worst ant invasions. For hives kept in other ways it is essential to provide a barrier that will prevent ants from reaching the colony. Some hives are protected from pests and predators by hanging them up using wires. In this case, spreading thick grease on the wire will prevent the ants from passing down the wires into the hives. Where hive stands are used they should be at least one metre above ground level. The legs of the stand should have a barrier of grease or some suitable sticky stuff applied that will prevent ants from climbing up the legs to the hive. Waste engine oil or grease is very suitable for this purpose. In some places a mixture of rubber latex and waste oil is used. Alternatively, the legs can be placed in a cup of oil or even water to prevent the ants crossing. However, if water is used it dries up very quickly so must be replenished daily. Some people have indigenous knowledge of naturally sticky substances (maybe normally used for traditional hunting or snaring) that can be used to replace the oil or grease so it may be worth asking around or experimenting to see what substances may be available locally. Whatever substance is used constant attention needs to be paid to hives to keep the barrier sticky and to prevent it from being breached.
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