HOW TO PROTECT BEES FROM ANTS

Posted May 31, 2016
by Hilary

How to protect your hive from ants

Ant season is tough! So, what can you do to stop ants from invading your beehive? If ants are a problem in your area, read on to find out the best strategies for keeping them out of your hives.

Vulnerabiles Times for Your Hive

If ants are a problem in your area, all you can do is stay vigilant and approach the problem from as many angles as possible. It’s important to know when your bees are most vulnerable, too. Large, strong colonies have the resources to keep ants out, but weakened colonies can become overwhelmed by them.

If you are nurturing a recently caught swarm or a new package of bees, you have to be on guard. Bees will often abscond because of an ant invasion.

Even when you have a thriving, established colony, it’s best to have always have any protection in place. Sometimes an ant invasion can be a sign that your strong colony has weakened and become susceptible.

Strategies and Methods of Ant Protection
1. Place your hives on stands with legs.

You may see photos of hives on cinderblocks or just plopped on the ground, but if you want to properly protect your bees from ants, you need to put them on stands with actual legs. Most methods for ant protection involve fortifying the legs of your hive stand.

Design elements to keep in mind:

If you are using a Langstroth or a Warre hive, remember that the hive is going to grow vertically over time, so don’t make your stand too tall! Four to five inch legs are sufficient for ant protection and will make lifting those top boxes much easier when your colony expands.

Thickness matters. Aim for thin stand legs that are still sturduy enough to support your hive. Bulky legs make ant control more challenging. You can DIY your stand with a wooden frame and metal pipes for legs. This design from DefyAnt is excellent. It comes with built-in adjustable ant moats for each leg. Use code “gndh” to save 10%.

2. Make observation for ants routine.

Keep this list of observation questions in the back of your mind. Yes answers mean action needs to be taken.

  • Do you see trails of ants going up the hive stand or boxes?
  • Are ants on the inside of your roof, on top of your inner cover, or crawling on the top of frames or inside walls of the hive?
  • If a colony recently absconded — do you see ants inside the abandoned box?
3. Keep the area around your hive free of tall weeds. 

Be on the lookout for plants, branches, or weeds touching the stand or boxes. This includes scanning for seedlings that could grow tall and eventually touch, too. These plants are thoroughfares ants can and will use to get onto your hive. You may want to take preventative steps to suppress plants from growing near your hives by spreading DG or gravel below your stand.

4, Know your ant season and about the ant species living near you.

Do some light research about ants in your local area. Knowing just a little can go a long way. In Southern California, ants peak during certain seasons, like summer. Ant problems can also flare up during heat waves. So, what kind of ants are in your area? Do you have any invasive species, like Argentine ants? What patterns have you noticed? Asking yourself these questions may lead to strategies for protecting your bees from potential ant invasions. You may also find out that ants in your area aren’t a problem at all—lucky you!

5. Can you borrow ideas from like-minded industries?

Who else in your area needs to control ants to protect their projects? Ask other eco-friendly professionals what they do. For example, I learned about an ant bait station from a California Native Plant Society meeting. The mammal-safe, borate-based trap the speaker talked about helps protect vulnerable native plant seedlings in gardens where Argentine ants had previously wreaked havoc. I would recommend this option to a desperate beekeeper over an exterminator any day!

HOW TO PROTECT YOUR BEES FROM ANTS

Try Some DIY Ant Protection

I have tried pretty much everything when it comes to ant control and have found that none of these solutions are perfect. Here’s a list of practical DIY techniques you can try and some of their pros and cons.

Raid, Borax, and Other Poisons

These substances may be effective, but have some strong cons. The obvious one the risk of spraying or applying a pesticide so close to your hives. The second is that these products are fighting a battle that cannot be won. You will never be able to kill all the ants or even dent their populations with these products. It’s better to focus on deterring them, in my opinion.

Powder Barriers

Diatomaceous Earth or cinnamon can be used to create powder barriers around your stand legs and may be a solution that works for you. Their main advantage is that they are natural, but they can still harm your bees, especially DE. Try to limit the area where you apply these and do not put them inside your hives. A simple ring around each stand leg is enough. Aside from overzealous application, the biggest problem with this method seems to be longevity. Wind, rain or even just fallen leaves (which may create ant bridges) can render these powder barriers useless.

Tanglefoot

Tanglefoot is a sticky glue often used on fruit tree trunks to keep ants at bay. It can be effective when used on the legs of your hives. However, it’s terribly messy, must be reapplied monthly and tends to catch bees in it.

Dirty Motor Oil or Grease

Oil and grease, when applied to stand legs, create a barrier that keeps ants from crossing. This is nasty stuff, but at least it is a byproduct. I find this method to be very effective against tough Argentine ants. I paint a ring of the used oil around each leg with an old toothbrush. It soaks into the wood and lasts about a month. When using it, be careful not to spill any on the ground. The advantages are that it’s free and that it doesn’t kill klutzy bees, but it is pretty unpleasant to work with.

Moats

Moats are, in my opinion, the most secure way to protect your hive from ants. However, they can drown a lot of bees and must be refilled often.

To avoid or reduce these pitfalls, make sure your moats are not oversized. The bigger they are, the more bees they will drown.

To avoid having to frequently refill them, try using vegetable oil instead of water. It evaporates much more slowly, though it may attract wildlife.

If you do choose to use water, you may want to put some detergent in it. Some ants can walk across water and soap will break up the surface tension. The DefyAnt stands, mentioned above, have built-in adjustable moat shields. The shields keep bees from drowning and makes it easier to replenish and clean moats.

New Solution!

I am always on the lookout for better ways to protect bees from ants since none of these solutions are perfect. I have recently been happy with a new kind of system. It’s a non-toxic coating that keeps ants out creating by creating a slick, dry surface they cannot grip.

Non-Toxic AntCant

It’s called AntCant and you can now purchase it in our online shop! Sadly, because of shipping regulations, we are only able to ship within the US mainland.

When applied correctly, this coating lasts for months and will withstand rain and wind. It only loses it’s power if the slick surface is compromised with grit, dirt or handling. So, you only need to make sure the surface is slick.

When you purchase from my shop, I include 5-10 feet of a two-inch wide aluminum tape with your shipment—free of charge. The tape can serve as a slick surface if your stands legs are rough. Just tape around each leg and apply the spray to the tape.

Safe for Bees!

The best part about this product is it won’t drown bees or harm them in any way! If you have an extreme ant problem, I like using this product in combination with the DefyAnt stands. Coat the upper ant moat shield with AntCant and use the lower bowl as a moat for double protection. The coating will also last much longer in combination with this stand, because it is better protected from dirt contamination.

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28 Comments

  1. susan rudnicki

    I stopped using moats all together after the motor-oil soaked dead bees proved to be a tasty treat to all the ‘coons and ‘possoms. They would dig out the goo, eat it all and leave the moat dry so ants could cross. Tanglefoot, HIGH UP on the legs of the stand, is the most persistent barrier for me in Manhattan Beach, overrun with Argentine ants.

    Reply
    • Michael

      Fly strips at the very top of your legs

      Reply
  2. Rich Veum

    I appreciate your article on ant control – our hives are in the Big Sur, California at a hermitage, and last year we had at least one hive abscond due to ants. We’ve tried DE and cinnamon with some success. Lately we’ve put our hives on wooden stands and placed the legs in small bowls, pouring vegetable oil in them. We too noticed bees were drowning, which disturbed us. So currently we are keeping the bowls dry and placing a ring of petroleum jelly on the inside lip. So far this is working well – no drowning bees and the jelly keeps the ants from crawling down into the bowl, and it doesn’t evaporate or soak into the wooden stand legs. It’s only been a month, so the test is still ongoing. It will be interesting to see how this stands up in hotter summer weather with a full onslaught of ant season.

    Reply
    • FRANCIS EJOBI

      I will try petroleum jelly. Am in Uganda and ants are a nuisance

      Reply
  3. steve Schmitt

    Hello, I’m glad to see this post. I’ve actually been actively researching the best way to prevent ants in my hive as I saw them within the first two weeks of setting up my hive probably due to the top feeder loaded with sugar water. I built a wooden stand and placed the legs in plastic paint cups with hand made half cut out milk jugs stapled over the top to prevent water from diluting the veggie oil. I found this to deter most ants until it was eventually diluted with water or the live ants were using the dead ones as bridges. Ironically my mom told me she uses used coffee grounds on top of her ant piles in Florida to prevent the fire ants from building in her yard and stinging her. She says it works great and the ants leave. I have done a little research about the use of this to see if it causes any harm to the bees and all I can find is that bees actually clean it up and use it but know one actually knows what for. I was wondering if anyone else has heard of this before and if so does it hurt the bees? Thanks sincerely Scuba Steve

    Reply
    • Adamant

      Coffee grounds, diatomaceous earth and cinnamon do not work to deter ants. I have carpenter ants bothering my colony. I put lots of cinnamon and coffee grounds all around the base of the stand and the ants just strut right through. Same with DE – it only works for sure in stored grains. What a joke, people recommending things they have not tried. I also tried the commercial AntOut by Wilson. USELESS! The “traps” are sitting there under the colony as the ants simply walk past to continue their annoyance. The AntOut even has the carpenter ant on their packaging which is what I’m trying to control! Wilson’s does not even say on the packaging what kind of ants it is supposed to control. JOKE! I’ve written to them for an explanation of such a dichotomy!

      Reply
  4. Barry

    I am assuming I have Argentine ants on my property. A lot of ants, and when I put out new hives in the Spring I know it will be a problem. Recently I started another ant farm in a large plastic tote, sitting on a few blocks of 6 x 6. Within a day the ants were into it. I got about 15 lbs of coffee grounds from a local stand and spread that thickly around the base of the set up. The ants could have cared less–hey, free coffee on the way to work!
    My next approach was to wrap a band of good duct tape around the base of the tote–first sticky side down, so it won’t fall off, then a half-twist and another loop, stretched tightly, sticky side up. I thought the ants might build bridges over it, but so far nothing! And there is a highway of ants a few feet away, so I guess they either don’t like the smell of the sticky, or are too lazy.
    Obviously you can’t wrap a band around the base of your hive, but you could do this with the legs if you build a stand. I would suggest doing it close to the ground so avoid getting bees stuck.

    Reply
    • Cam

      Chuckles Barry. I’ve done the same reversed tape sticky up but the tape looses its stick job within a day/two. Howz it working after 3 yrs? Cam.
      ps. See Tanglefoot insect barrier works well , but cant get in SA. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dLyJJxbEV8.

      Reply
  5. John

    I have found that using stands with legs is a must to control ants. I have been using a product sold for the protection of Hummingbird feeders from ants. It is called Nectar Fortress from Sapphire Labs. This has been 100% effective in repelling both Harvester and Argentine ants, as well as other small insects. It is long lasting and weather resistant. It does not have a very complex formula and can created making a Agar Agar paste with cinnanom bark oil (Cinnamomum verum, not cassia oil).

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Thanks for the tip!

      Reply
  6. Dave Anderson

    Although here in the UK we don’t have the predatory ants found in hotter climes, I have afforded some protection to my hives by coating the legs in a generous coating of petroleum jelly.

    Reply
  7. santiago

    Hi there!! Im from Argentina and let me tell you something about these argentine demon ants. We have a little farm where we plant lot of trees. 600 hundred trees. The vry first enemy were the ants. more than rain, warm days,or whatsoever. We have tried all methods you´ve listed above, including the famous pieces of rice taht ants will fetch them home. The only effective method if you dont want to use chemicals is the pine resin. I dont know what tanglefoot stand for, but is seems similar efect to the resin pine. It resist rain, hot days, etc, have to be filed every 2 months depending the ammount of product used. First time at middle spring and last time starting autumm.Was the ONLY way to keep argentines away!!!!!
    good luck, and an excellent article.
    Santiago

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Thank you for this info!

      Reply
    • Barry Wayne

      Tanglefoot, which is OMRI certified, is a mixture of plant resins (25%), carnauba wax and castor oil (75%…combined percentage, I guess). Works well. If you don’t want to apply it directly to the bark, make a collar and apply it to that. Wake sure it is at least two inches wide, and not within a foot of the ground if possible. If it is wide enough the ants will give up trying to bridge it. Cheers

      Reply
  8. Zardeenah

    I have found tea tree oil super effective against Argentine ants. I have small moats and put a few drops of the essential oil in the water. They also can’t cross a tea tree oil barrier painted on the legs but that needs very frequent replacement. Works great on your house too, if you can find the place they’re coming in.

    Reply
  9. William J Hornby

    Easy Peezie Japaneasy: Use large can from fruit (buy peaches from Sam’s club) fill with used motor oil to a depth of 3 inches. Insert thin legged metal Hive Stand into the can of oil! The oil minimizes the rusting of the can (it will overflow with oil onto the ground if you get a heavy rain (greater than 6 inches). The ants won’t climb up into the hives.

    Since the rainfall will eventually displace the motor oil, you will need to add more. Add some garden fertilizer onto the overflowed oil to help promote the degradation of the motor oil by soil microbes and fungi. Don’t worry about groundwater pollution and such. If you treat the spilled motor oil the same as spilled vegetable oil, there will be no problem. But do add fertilizer and stir it up a bit. If it is too unsightly for you, cover the spilled oil with some “clean” soil!

    Reply
    • Hilary

      I don’t like the environmental impact of this technique.

      Reply
  10. sandcanyongal

    Vaseline or Ben Gay around the legs using a q-tip to apply them plus open gel Terra sticks, cut approx. 1/2’x1/2″ squares of gel, stick to the bottom of a rock, place over ant hills. It takes some time but works well.

    Reply
  11. nikki jimmo

    Ants are not easy to get rid of and we must remain vigil. I have tried coffee grounds, cinnamon, DE, and a moat and the ants eventually find a way once again. So I am grateful for the new suggestions, I might try the pine resin or the petroleum jelly, or both, which I often do when I encounter a frustrating situation like this.
    I have a new package of bees and the ants are loving the feeder food and pollen cakes. I have been removing them by hand each morning and clearing foliage around the hive.
    Today I will try these new methods and open up the hive (I have to change the feeder anyway, and pick out any ants I can find!
    So, so grateful that the ants are just foraging in hives and not looking to move in.

    Reply
  12. joel muriithi

    Wonderful! An artist turned beek, I too am and building everything from scratch. Your article is very inspiring. Thanks. J Kenya.map

    Reply
  13. Chuck

    Hi Hilary, find your website and forums very interesting. This is a link to my YouTube video on a ant-proof hive stand. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Sn8KKMIgXXw
    It’s been a few weeks now and have not seen a single ant on the framework or on/in the hives, so far it really is “ant proof”. Happy Beekeeping! ????

    Reply
    • Bobby

      Thank you for the article. Last night I discovered my hive was destroyed by carpenter ants. However, the REAL enemy hasn’t been discussed. Toads weakend my hive, then the carpenter ants delivered the death blow. I found toads 2 to 3 of them sitting on the landing pad enjoying a buffet of bees. At firtst I relocated them, but I found out they were cane toads (invasive)so I euthanized them, but it was too late. Baby bees are hatching…not sure they’ll make it? I had the hive on cinder blocks. The article recommends a short stand, well in south Florida it better be at least 16″ tall. I’m so upset. It was my first hive and I lost it. Lessons learned though. Thanks again.

      Reply
      • jack

        we don’t use landing boards., just a three long by 3/8 inch slot. we have insulated our hives also. we found a different acting bees..they fly right in the slot, that is with a screen bottom board.

        Reply
  14. Catgurl

    Bees don’t sting you until you mess with them.

    Reply
  15. Catgurl

    Did you know that when a bee stings it’s stinger falls out but a lucky bee’s stinger say in for another time to sting.

    Reply
  16. Joze Simec

    Hi Hilary Kearney, I’ve tested a very effective antifouling agent … the sea salt spread around every hive.
    Best wishes from Slovenija.
    Joze Simec

    Reply
  17. samson

    Millettia pinnata is native to South and Southeast Asia. Known in various languages as Indian beech, pongam, karanja, honge, kanuga, pongu and naktamala, it is now grown all over the world..It is the cheapest non edible oil available in south India.All Kinds of Ants hate the PUNGAN oil smell.We can apply this oil once in a month on the stems of the stands.After smelling the oil the ants will not enter in to bee hives.Indian honey bees favorite honey is Pungan flowers.

    Reply
  18. Triggerhippy

    I keep ants and we use Polytetrafluoroethylene (known as PTFE with the brand name Fluon) to stop our ants escaping from their formicarium. This is probably the same stuff that is in your antcant It’s basically an anti climb paint that lasts 3-4 months. It works by drying to micro particles and these fall off even from the weight of an ant meaning they can’t climb it.

    Also if you do have ants in your hive they know where to go and will keep coming back because of the pheromone trails. They leave a sent marked trail to follow and normal vinegar removes their pheromones so watch the route they are taking to get in and out and wash that ‘leg’ or whatever of your hive with vinegar. This will stop them but obviously once the vinegar dries they could ‘re-discover’ your hive but they will have no ‘memory’ that is there because you broke the trail.

    Reply

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My name is Hilary Kearney. I’m the author of the book, “Queenspotting” and founder of the urban beekeeping business Girl Next Door Honey in San Diego, California. I’m an artist turned beekeeper on a mission to help new beekeepers succeed and educate the public about the magic of bees!

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