I came into the house a few days ago after running errands in the afternoon. The kitchen smelled as if a skunk had just been over for a cup of tea. Thank goodness the windows were closed and locked in my absence. I could only imagine what it would have smelled like if they had been open. In broad daylight, it looked as though a skunk had wandered through our yard. It must have been visiting the bees.
Then the wheels started turning in my head and I made the connection. The skunk must have been stung by the bees and let out a defensive spray. Within a few hours the smell dissipated. I was going to have to do some research. I knew that skunks could kill chickens but what did they do to bees?
Skunks have a diet filled with insects. They especially love to dine on bees. How irresistible they must find insects filled with a bit of honey. In the evenings, they go to the entrances of the hives. Their face, noses and paws are sting resistant as well as their heavily furred bodies. They scratch at the hive entrance until guard bees come out to investigate, little do they know that they are about to be eaten. This activity goes on for hours as new bees arrive ready to protect their home. This decimates a hive rapidly. Eventually the skunks will bring their young and teach them to feed on the bees as well. Immediately, with new knowledge I went out to take a quick peek around the hives.
I did not find the hallmarks of a skunk visit, no scratches on the ground, no scratches on the landing board or hive boxes and no evidence of digging. I soon realized why. It has been hot outside. To cool themselves, the bees have been bearding outside the hive. All along they have been easy pickings! Could the skunk also be responsible for my bees being so defensive last time I had opened the hive over a week ago? It seemed as though both colonies were on edge.
Later that afternoon, my neighbor next door called and asked if I could smell the skunk. He was surprised that they were eating the bees. I had to brainstorm a solution and I had to do it quickly. There was no way that I could get honey this season with this craziness going on outside my kitchen window. I just wondered how long this had been occurring.
Three ways exist to help deter skunks. You elevate the hive to three feet above the skunk’s reach. You can fence around the hives or you can create a bed of nails at the entrance. The latter seemed the easiest. I called my neighbor back. He is frequently my partner in crime for home/yard improvements. He was going to make two beds of nails. As the skunks stand to reach over the bed of nails, their vulnerable bellies receive stings. This is eventually enough to let them know that the bees are no longer available for a midnight buffet.
With visitors in town, my neighbor decided to make the two foot long bed of nails for the hives while we and our company went out for ice cream. We returned after dark and decided to place the bed of nails in front of the hives that evening. We went over to the hives. It was pitch black. I could smell a skunk. I was so nervous! I shined the flashlight near the entrances and in the surrounding areas. I saw nothing. I walked past the back of the hives. The bees were keyed up! They landed on my back. My husband freaked out as one buzzed his face and he jumped off a 6 foot high wall into my neighbor’s driveway. It was clear I needed to suit up for this. My friend and I went to the garage and I suited up in the suit, gloves and big boots. He shined the flashlight while I worked to place the boards. The bees were buzzing all around me. They were angry and on high alert. Quickly I slid the boards into place and left. Our work was done, but would the bees be safe?
As of today, the boards have been in place for two evenings. Today the morning sun was brilliant. I decided to open the hives and take a peek at the honey collecting boxes (honey supers). With open hives, the bees were happy, docile and could care less about me being there. I did not even have to use the smoker! Quickly I inspected them and learned that one honey super is about 25% full of honey. The others are still being built out with wax. The bees seemed back to normal. The beds of nails seem to be working. We haven’t smelled any skunks for days!
Blackiston, Howland. Beekeeping for dummies. New York, NY: Hungry Minds, 2002. Print.
Photo Credit: Tilly’s Nest
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