Don’t forget to check unoccupied hives…

Photos and Text by Robyn Brown 

 

Derick Wanjala opens a beehive to find a Vesper bat hidden in the corner.

 

Sometimes unoccupied beehives contain more than just empty frames ready to be filled with honeycombs.

A crucial part of beehive monitoring is checking if the beehive is clean and ready for the bees to make it their home. Whilst the farmers and STE team patiently wait for the bees to occupy the hives, other creatures seem to take the empty space as the perfect place to lay eggs, nest and explore. The empty hives provide an oasis for insects and small mammals as they are concealed away from predators, the environment providing a dark warm space and are they mostly left undisturbed.

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Geckos

African house geckos (Hemidactylus turcicus) can often be see scurrying away, as we lift the lids of the Langstroth beehives. During our beehive fence monitoring we saw many geckos and gecko eggs.

Gecko eggs being removed at Salim’s farm.

 

For each beehive containing a pest we will inform the farmers so that they can dispose and make sure they have been fully cleaned out. Occasionally we will remove the pests as we go. Although the gecko eggs don’t provide a direct threat – the presence will deter bees from occupying the hives.

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Ants

Another small pest that can be found within the beehives are ants. Usually crawling along the top of the frames and in between. Keeping the beehives clean when unoccupied can be a challenge for the farmers. During the dry season, which we are currently in, there are no crops to be raided by elephants and so no need for the fence to be in its peak condition. However, keeping the hives clean will increase the chance of bees occupying it and could provide honey either to sell and make a profit or to eat. Likewise, as soon as the rain comes, and they can start planting their crops – the beehives will want to be in full use ready to deter any potential elephants.

Ants spotted within the tops of a beehive at William W’s farm.

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Bats

Not all pests are small reptiles or insects. Many bats can be found roosting within the empty beehives and can be quite determined to stay within the box. The first monitoring day we spotted a bat, but I was too slow to capture a photo before it flew off to find another dark shaded area. Determined to get a useable photo of a bat I was ready with my camera before opening every beehive lid in anticipation!

Vesper bat clutching to a beehive frame with some old beeswax attached.

 

On our second day of beehive fence monitoring, we were lucky… unlucky? To find two Vespar bats (Vespertilionidae) together in a beehive. The one pictured above tried to hold off leaving for as long as possible while the second stayed “hidden” in the corner of the beehive.

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Wax Moth

Some pests are found after the hives become unoccupied. Wax moths ( Galleriinae) were found on our very first day of beehive monitoring in between the honeycomb – as there were wax moths present the bees had all left the hive which was thought to still be occupied. If the entrance to the hive is left unguarded, normally during colder months, the wax moths can get inside. Wax moths themselves do not pose a threat, but the larvae they lay can survive purely on the beeswax and makes tunnels through the honeycomb leaving behind a sticky web substance that can be seen in the photo below.

Wax moth larvae found in an unoccupied beehive moving throughout the dead honeycomb.

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Honey Badger

There are several other threats that beehives face once they have become established. Occupied hives have a wire cage placed around them and metal cones surrounding the posts to stop honey badgers from stealing the honey and damaging the beehives.

Despite the protective measures put in place some beehives have still be damaged from hungry honey badgers. I felt like a crime scene photographer a I spotted the claw marks and puncture wounds made to the lid of the beehives; it can be difficult to replace each lid so normally the famers move the damaged lids onto unoccupied beehives.

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Longhorned Beetle

The final pest we saw whilst monitoring was a Cashew Stem Girlder (Paranaleptes reticulata). They are commonly found on the posts of the beehive fences, spotting one of these means either the post is already dead, or it will be shortly as these beetles’ tunnel into branches and roots eating away at them. Weak posts are a problem as it can cause the beehive to fall on one side – disrupting the bees and forcing them to relocate, or it means that if an elephant tries to walk through the fence will break and allow easy access to crops.

Markings left on a beehive fence post indicating longhorn beetles.

 

These are just some of the pests that can be found in and around beehive fences. However, most are kept clean and with regular checks from farmers and our team monitoring at least once a month the pests can quickly be removed and be left in an ideal environment for African honeybees to start occupying the hives!

A Cashew Stem Girlder being removed from a beehive fence post.

 

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The views, opinions and position expressed in this article belong solely to the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the policy and position of Save the Elephants

 

 

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