Ants are a pesky irritation in the kitchen, but for honey bees, they can be a much bigger problem. In large numbers, ants decimate honey supplies that are stored to help the colony survive winter. They’re also known to feast on brood and cause stress for the colony.
As a beekeeper, keeping ants out of the hive should be a priority. If you’d like some options for keeping ants at bay, then keep reading. We’ve created the ultimate guide for keeping beehives ant-free.
How do I keep ants out of my beehive?
Beekeepers can deter ants by placing their hives on stands with legs. Adding moats around the legs, greasing them, and laying out diatomaceous earth around the hive are also good options. Beekeepers should also remove foliage that can be used as bridges by insects and eliminate unnecessary food sources close to the beehives.
1. Get to know the species of ants where you live
Understanding what types of ants live in the vicinity will help to develop a plan for keeping them out. Some areas don’t have problems with ants which is one less threat to worry about.
If you live in Hawaii, California, or the southern states then staying alert for invasive Argentine ants is important.
What time of year do ants in your state peak? These pests often flare up in heatwaves so keep this in mind.
2. Place hives on stands with legs
Hives left on the ground or sitting on cinderblocks are easy pickings for an army of ants. Fortifying the hive with stands that have actual legs will provide much better protection.
- Hive legs under 4” may be long enough to properly safeguard the hive.
- Hive legs over 6” will make reaching the top boxes on a Warre or Langstroth hard to reach for shorter people.
Pay attention to the leg width for best results. They need to be thick enough to support the weight of the hive. Bulky legs will make a beekeeper’s job of ant control more demanding.
3. Build moats around the legs of the hive
Place a wide container under each leg of the hive stand then fill each one with liquid. This moat will provide a barrier that acts as an excellent deterrent to ants.
While ants can’t swim through water, they can float across the top. Instead of using water, it’s best to use environmentally friendly vegetable oil. Some keepers use motor oil but it’s not ideal if it ends up soaking into the earth.
The occasional curious bee will end up drowning in your moat, but they’ll be few. The pros of a moat buffer will far outweigh any cons.
4. Grease the hive stand legs
Moats work well, but if you want an alternative then consider greasing the legs of the hive stand. Thick motor grease or an inexpensive motor oil will provide great protection from ants.
You’ll need to reapply frequently to create an effective barrier.
5. Make an earth barrier
Food-grade diatomaceous earth is another popular way to secure beehives. It is made from a type of plankton that dries out ants by absorbing the oil in their skeleton.
Diatomaceous earth is a useful ground barrier that will help keep ants and other bugs at bay. Beekeepers may choose to scatter it all around their hives, but reapplying often is essential, especially in areas that get lots of rain.
You may find it easier to watch for ant trails and follow them to the source. Once you find the ant nest, sprinkle diatomaceous earth on the hive to shut them down.
6. Apply cooking spray
Flow hives are a popular target for ants as their design offers many nesting places. Beekeepers don’t have to allow them entry though! Instead, spray a liberal dose of cooking spray to the areas where ants hide in.
7. Use bee-friendly ant killer
Take extreme care with this option as ant killer will often harm your bees as well. Avoid using powder pesticides or sprays that may drift into the hive or onto plants that act as a food source for your bees.
Although not totally safe, granular ant killer will reduce the chance of harming bees. Spread it around ant nests with care to ensure no particles become airborne.
Although some beekeepers are comfortable using ant killers, we think there are enough other deterrents on this list that are more bee-friendly.
8. Employ a herb or spice
A liberal shaking of cinnamon powder will detract ants but won’t bother the colony. Be sure to check the label to make sure it’s 100% cinnamon and not a cheap substitute. Also, stay clear of cinnamon sticks which don’t work as well.
You can also plant herbs like mint nearby as the aroma detracts ants. Don’t plant them too close to the hive or you could provide a makeshift bridge for ants and other small insects to gain hive access.
Herb and spice defense systems are best used in conjunction with other options on this list.
9. Non-toxic AntCant
If you live in the United States, AntCant is a bee-safe product that will keep ants away. The bottle allows you to spray a barrier around entry points ants use to get into the hive.
A good strategy is to wrap a section of each hive stand leg with aluminum tape. This smooth surface is best for applying AntCant.
One coating should last around two months and it is safe for honey bees.
10. Clear out the area surrounding the hives
Natural bridges created by foliage make it easy for ants to breach the hive defenses. Always keep the area near hives clear of wild grasses and weeds. They make excellent ladders for ants and small hive beetle.
Beekeepers with multiple hives may find it easier to cover the surrounding ground with weed matting and a layer of gravel or stones. This will prevent undergrowth and make it easier to keep everything tidy.
Another way to keep the weeds back is to mix one cup of white vinegar with a half cup of table salt. This solution can be sprayed around the hive using a watering can. It will control weeds and deter small hive beetle from burrowing into the soil near the beehives.
11. Apply some Tanglefoot
Tanglefoot is a sticky compound that won’t dry out when applied to beehive legs. Any ants that attempt to cross this glue-like substance will become trapped. You’ll need to re-apply Tanglefoot once it becomes covered with ants or other debris.
Tanglefoot is weatherproof and is a great deterrent to ants, weevils, and gypsy moths. It will also catch bees, but applying the paste closer to the ground will reduce the number that get caught.
12. Eliminate all possible temptations
Although you can’t remove all the honeycomb from the hive, any loose comb or unused bur comb should be removed. These food sources are extremely tempting for ants and other pests, so get rid of them.
In some situations, sugar syrup may be essential for your hive’s survival, but spilling it will encourage robbing and lure in ants. If you need to pour sugar syrup into a feeder, do it over a bucket to eliminate spilling it near the hive.
13 Maintain bee boxes meticulously
Allowing bee boxes to fall into a state of disrepair is never a good idea. As cracks and holes start to appear ants will be provided with easy entry points to the hive.
Commonly asked questions
Do ants harm beehives?
Although ants don’t destroy hives, they will eat honeycomb and, in some cases, bee larvae. A weak colony may decide to abscond, and stronger colonies may not survive through winter if their supplies are pilfered. Some varieties like Argentine ants are aggressive and may carry unwanted nasties like Deformed Wing Virus.
Can a beehive keep ants out on their own?
A strong colony is quite effective at keeping ants out of its home. They are much larger than most ant varieties and can kick, flap, and push ants from the hive.
If the ants have sufficient numbers or the colony is weak, they become an easy target for ants.
Why do ants raid beehives?
Ants raid beehives to get honey, one of their favorite food sources. If they are capable of forcing the bees to abscond from the hive, the ants may use the comb as their new home.
Are a few ants still a problem for the hive?
If you notice a 1-2 dozen ants milling around on the hive, then just brush them away. You should definitely take further action if you see an ant nest in the hive or there’s a steady trail of ants coming and going.
What can I do if ants are already in the beehive?
If ants have already invaded the hive, find the source of the ant colony and pour boiling water down into the ant hole. Follow up with a dose of bee-friendly ant killer.
What shouldn’t I use to protect beehives from ants?
Poisons, Raid, Borax, and other harsh ant killers should never be used. They could harm the bees and over time ants begin to tolerate these treatments.
A layer of rock salt around a hive may not hurt honey bees, but there is mounting evidence that it harms the environment.
Beekeepers must stay vigilant in areas where ants are an issue. Implement one (or preferably several) of the above strategies to help keep your beehives ant-free.
If you find ants inside a hive, then it’s a strong sign that the colony is in trouble. A thriving hive should be able to use its strength in numbers to keep pests out. Once you eradicate the ant invasion, spend some time trying to work out if there are other problems in the hive. If winter is approaching fast then you may want to combine the weaker hive with a stronger one.
If you have a honey bee swarm then they’ll abscond if conditions aren’t right. You’ll need to watch closely for ants as it could mean you end up with no bees.
Be sure to check out our guide to inspecting a beehive which comes with a free checklist for you to download.