Bears have a healthy appetite for honey and larval bees. An acute sense of smell draws them towards hives as they travel. Once a bear discovers a beehive, it may rip it apart, causing massive damage.
Beekeepers should make every effort to keep their hives safe from bears. Of all the threats, this animal is the quickest to wipe out an entire colony. This guide explains how to keep bears out of hives so that bees can go about their business without stress.
You may also like to check out some of the biggest threats to honey bees here.
How do I keep bears away from my hives?
Protect beehives from bears by positioning hives away from easy-to-strike spots, setting up motion detectors, and building electric fences for added security. Removing tempting odors like scraps of propolis or comb and camouflaging hives also helps. As a final measure, harvest honey early to reduce bear temptations.
1. Position hives correctly
Don’t make it easy for bears to make an attack. Beekeepers in bear-prone locations should locate hives away from terrain that offers bears cover.
Setting up near brush, forest, and areas that provide bears with safe haven is not a good idea. Make it hard for them by moving all hives clear of these zones.
Place hives away from bird feeders, compost, and livestock feed, as they’ll draw bears in with the scents they give off. Fruit trees will also get the attention of a wandering bear.
Although not often practical, placing hives on the roof will usually keep them out of harm’s way. Make sure there are no trees, polls, ladders, or other ways to climb up to the roof. Bears are cunning and persistent.
2. Install an electric fence
Installing electric fences is generally considered the best way to keep bears out. They have an almost 100% deterrence rate when set up correctly.
Bears have thick skin, so ensure the fence passes at least 5000 volts through each wire. While this won’t harm the bear, it should stave off any hive visits.
Bears can easily tear apart an electrified fence with long claws and powerful arms. A few zaps to the intruder’s muzzle will usually send the bear running.
Attach aluminum foil bait traps to the wires in several locations around the perimeter to stop this. Fill them with peanut butter, honey, or bacon to encourage bears to try a taste test.
Avoid baiting fences if bears aren’t a problem for your apiary. The bait will encourage them to come and investigate.
It is much easier to protect compact apiaries than those spread out over a large area.
3. Use a bear-proof hive
Whether you keep bees with a Langstroth, Top Bar, or some other hive, they’re not made to fend off large attackers. Bears can easily pry the boxes with their claws or smash them open.
Strapping up the hive will provide protection, but a persistent bear will smash its way in. However, innovative hives are now on the market, which attempt to solve this problem.
One example is Bee Fortress USA although there are other brands on the market. We haven’t tested out this product, but beekeepers who don’t like the idea of electric fences may prefer giving this option a try.
4. Harvest early
Honey produces a fragrance that foraging bears find irresistible. The longer it stays in the hive, the greater the chance of a bear attack. Try to harvest honey without delay after nectar flows in spring, summer, and fall. If a bear gets into your hives, the losses will be less.
5. Invite bear hunters
While bear culling won’t appeal to everyone, it may be necessary. Areas with high populations of black bears aren’t just a threat to bees but humans as well. Beekeepers with children may prefer to shoot intruding bears or invite local hunters to use their property.
Important: Check state laws and only hunt in season.
6. Remove tempting aromas
Make it difficult for bears to find an apiary by removing appetizing fragrances. Thoroughly clean up burr comb, propolis, wax, dead bees, and other hive debris.
Even if your hives aren’t in a bear’s territory, nothing is stopping small animals like raccoons from dragging the hive waste closer to bears. They’ll get the scent and start looking for the source.
7. Install motion detectors
Set up motion detectors that flashlights, blare sirens, and give off other noises that bears don’t enjoy. Of course, you’ll only want to use these in more remote locations where neighbors and your own family won’t get driven crazy by them.
Motion detectors and electric fences are a failsafe way to prevent bears from damaging hives.
8. Use dogs
While dogs shouldn’t be given the entire responsibility of keeping bears away, they can help defend against them. Dogs provide useful forewarning, thanks to their sensitive smell. They’ll also create a lot of noise barking as the bear approaches, hopefully causing the bear to head in another direction.
9. Camouflage beehives
Make hives less obvious by camouflaging them. Paint each one using colors that blend in with the surrounding environment, making sure to use bee-safe paint. It won’t stop bears, but your hive’s survival odds will improve if used with some of the other ideas on this list.
10. Place nails and wood
A cheap way to deter bears is to knock some nails through pieces of wood. Fasten the pieces to the ground to give predators an unpleasant surprise. This strategy isn’t advisable if you have other animals or inquisitive kids that might injure themselves.
11. Use solid structures
A bear-proof building, like a solid outbuilding, will keep bears out. Most beekeepers won’t build one from scratch, but if there’s an existing unused structure on the property, then put it to good use.
Commonly asked questions
When are hives most vulnerable to bears?
Although bears may attack a hive any time of year, they are most likely in spring after hibernation and fall as they build fat reserves in preparation for winter.
What damage do bears do to beehives?
Sometimes, a bear will delicately open a hive and cause no damage to equipment. Bears are likelier to create carnage by smashing and ripping apart boxes and frames.
Do bees sting bears?
Bees will sting bears to defend their hive from getting pillaged. However, their stingers have difficulty penetrating the bear’s thick fur. The furry thief will often consider the reward of honey and brood worth the stings that do get through.
Bears can be a massive nuisance to beekeepers and their colonies. Once this predator discovers a new source of honey, it will usually return again and again. This can be frustrating and stressful for beekeepers and, more so, for the bees.
Preventative measures like keeping the grounds tidy and placing the hives in less vulnerable places are a good start. If you get paid a visit, your best defense is an electric fence with bait on the wires.