The following points highlight the four major vertebrate pests that cause damage to honeybees. The vertebrate pests are: 1. Amphibians 2. Reptiles 3. Birds 4. Mammals.
Vertebrate Pest # 1. Amphibians:
Bee-keeping in tropical climates frequently suffers from damage caused by amphibians – toads including Bufo melanostictus and Kaloula pulchra and frogs including Rana limnocharis and Rana tigrina. The detection of this problem generally requires close observation.
Bee-keepers are normally unable to observe intense predation by amphibians on honey-bees in the daytime, when they are at work in their apiaries, because the heaviest attacks occur at night.
Often the problem goes unrecognized until a substantial fall in colony populations is perceived. One sign indicating that toads and frogs are preying heavily on the colonies is the presence of the predators’ dark brown droppings, scattered in front of the hive entrance. If the dry faecal deposits are spread apart (e.g., with a twig), the remains of bee parts can be seen.
Continuous predation by toads and frogs, if not prevented, results in a loss of colony strength. While colonies with moderate or larger worker populations can withstand the predation and subsequently recover their full strength.
However, weaker colonies are at considerable risk. Toads and frogs have similar attacking patterns. On arriving at the colony, the amphibians wait in the vicinity of the hive entrance, preying on passing bees. Colonies close to the ground provide easy access to the predators, for which guard bees at the hive entrance are easy prey.
Although in some circumstances predation on honeybee colonies by amphibians cannot be overlooked, most bee-keepers perceive the problem as minor. Placing the hives on stands 40 to 60 cm high is usually a sufficient protective measure.
Where large numbers of the predators tend to congregate near an apiary, it may be necessary to fence it with fine-mesh chicken wire. Other methods such as trapping, baiting or poisoning have not been advocated.
Vertebrate Pest # 2. Reptiles:
Geckos, skinks and other lizards are among the most commonly found reptiles in tropical Asian jungles, woods, grasslands and urban areas.
Among the reptile species that are regularly recorded as present in commercial apiaries, are the tokay (Gecko gecko), which can be as much as 35 cm long, Calotes sp, Acanthosaura sp and the skink Spheno- morphus sp. Arboreal reptiles such as many geckos and skinks, can attack bees either near the hive entrance or on the limbs of flowering trees visited by forager bees.
Smaller lizards, such as the gecko, Hemidactylus frenatus, often hide in the empty space between the outer and inner covers of the hive. In tropical areas, this type of predator causes sudden loss of queen from a weak colony.
The bee-keeper can do little to prevent the loss of foragers to the highly mobile arboreal reptiles, usually well-hidden in the trees. Bee-keepers can destroy as many of them as possible when they are encountered, though this method is not recommended nor is it efficient.
Hives placed on stands that are about 40-60 cm high are reasonably safe from reptiles attacking from the ground; coating the legs of the stands with used engine oil or grease may deter the reptiles from climbing up to the hive entrance.
A well-kept bee yard that is frequently mowed, without dense bushes, shrubs and tall grass, that provide safe hiding places to the predators, has less chance of suffering losses from reptiles than an untended one. No reliable chemical control of reptiles is available for use in apiaries.
Vertebrate Pest # 3. Birds:
Birds prey upon many insect species and honey bees are no exception. Once airborne, the bees are virtually defenseless against birds, several species of which can tolerate their venomous stinging defense. The heavy traffic of bees flying in and out of the hives of commercial apiaries provides an exceptional opportunity for insectivorous birds, large numbers of which may be attracted by this situation.
Birds that have been listed as attacking honey bees in Asia include bee-eaters (Merops apiaster, Merops orientalis), swifts (Cypselus sp., Apus sp.), drongos (Dicurus sp.) shrikes (Lanius sp.), woodpeckers (Picus sp.) and honey guides (Indicatoridae).
The level of damage caused by apivorous birds varies. An attack by a single bird or by a few together rarely constitutes a serious problem, but when a large flock descends upon a few colonies or an apiary, a substantial decline in the worker population, in some or all the hives may be observed.
Whereas the degree of damage to commercial apiaries caused by predatory birds depends largely on the number of the predators and the intensity of the attack, the mere presence of a few predators in apiaries engaged in queen rearing can inflict serious losses.
While bee-keepers regard insectivorous birds as pests, other branches of agriculture generally do not consider them as problematic. In fact, birds that prey on insects are mostly considered to be beneficial to farming, in that they help in the control of insect pests.
For this reason, before any attempt is made to solve the apiary’s bird problems by mass killing of the predators, whether by chemical or physical means or by gunshot, the implications of this action on the environment must be seriously taken into account.
Where heavy predation by birds on apiary bees tends to occur at fixed periods (e.g., during the migration season of swifts), the most practical means of solving the problem is usually to avoid the birds through careful site selection and by temporary relocation of the apiaries, at least until the migration period is over.
Vertebrate Pest # 4. Mammals:
Many groups of mammal may be considered as enemies of the honeybee. In general, they prey on colonies for honey and/or brood; some attacks are purely accidental or the result of animal curiosity. Such cases usually occur when apiaries are placed in or near forests and are not properly protected.
In Asia, as well as in most other parts of the world, beekeepers face the problem of colony destruction by bears. It has been said that once a bear has tasted honey and brood, it is almost impossible to keep it away from apiaries. Protecting colonies from bear attack is usually difficult, particularly when the animals are large and strong.
Electrified barbed-wire fences are often used where bears represent a common problem; shooting and trapping them are other possibilities but very temporary control measures, which may go very much against efforts by others to manage and conserve sufficient numbers of large mammals in mostly declining populations. Moving hives closer to human habitation may be much more effective.
In several tropical countries of Asia, monkeys and other primates have been mentioned as pests of honeybees, opening hives and consuming honey and brood. As a result, frames are destroyed and colonies may abscond. Discouraging such behaviour by wiring lids to boxes and boxes to each other may be a solution.
Other options may include suspension of the colonies, as in Africa, particularly for small-scale bee-keepers. It is important to note that among the primate pests of honeybees, people are probably the most destructive. Honey crops may be stolen, or brood and combs consumed on the spot.
Occasionally, entire hives are made off with. In areas where intensive modern agriculture is practised, the loss of bees through human misuse of pesticides is greater than loss from all other causes taken together.