Tag Archives: Yellow Jacket Predation of Honeybees

STOPPING YELLOW JACKET PREDATION!

This is the time of year when Yellow Jackets are desperate for meat and sweets to store for winter survival!  This is the time of year when they go after beehives in earnest as a primary source for their winter supply!  Two years ago, yellow jackets succeeded in reducing or destroying my strongest hives in as little as 3 weeks!  I had not paid as much attention to my apiary during October as I had earlier in the year, but had been doing battle with yellow jacket predation all year.  I was amazed on November 1st when I went out to evaluate my hives for winter stores, and winterize them, only to find that, not only were they lighter weight than they were just 3 weeks prior, but my second strongest hive which had 3 full deep Langstroth boxes of bees just 3 weeks prior, was acting like it was being robbed!  I necked down the entrance and tried to apply measures against robbing, but it didn’t seem to help!  After a day or so, I went out at night to inspect and found the hive totally empty.  The bees I had seen during the day (along with yellowjackets) were not from that hive, but ALL ROBBING!  HOLY CRAP!  What happened?  The next morning I went out and opened my strongest hive to inspect, and found that the queen and less than a frame of bees were balled up in the upper super!  SERIOUSLY, HOLY CRAP!  This hive was 4 deep boxes FULL OF BEES 3 to 4 weeks prior!

As I sat there scratching my head in total amazement, wondering if I had experienced CCD, or if someone had used pesticides near me, I noticed a steady stream of YELLOW JACKETS going in and out of all of my hives without being checked at the door by guards!  At first glance, it didn’t register that this could be the problem, since I had been doing battle more or less all year with yellow jackets… However this steady stream was pretty significant!  I’m aware of what they call the dripping faucet problem, where someone actually captured the drips from a dripping faucet and found that it added up to thousands of gallons over a month!  I did noticed that due to the colder temperature, the bees were absent from the entrances as guards, and the yellow jackets had carte-blanche access to the hives in the morning, and again the evenings when it was too cold for bees.  As I sat there and observed, I noticed yellow jacket after yellow jacket leaving the hives with either bellies full of honey, or bee parts!  In addition to the two strong hives, I had 2 or 3 smaller hives that I had been nursing all summer, which I had necked down their entrances to aid against robbing.  These smaller colonies were actually now stronger than what remained of my strongest hive!  I had believed that the strong hives were strong enough to fend off the yellow jackets without having to neck them down, (and they did for most of the summer), so they were open to at least half of the bottom board.

Once I realized that the yellow jackets were most likely the cause of this tragedy, I conversed with my brother about it, and began looking for ways to seriously step up my game with killing yellow jackets!  I had already made a zapper grid that I placed over a bucket and learned that if I sprinkled powdered sugar in the bucket and waited until there was 50 or a hundred wasps inside, and then turned on the zapper, I could kill them in large numbers, but while this helped, they just kept coming all summer long!  I wanted now to find a way to go after the yellow jacket nests themselves!  I even tried to catch and tag them with strips of toilet paper or thread to observe where they were going but was not successful in finding their dens!  In talking with my brother who had lived in Tennessee for many years, he informed me of two poisons that they used back there for ants and cockroaches, which worked by feeding them a slow acting poison, which they carry back to their nests and feed to the babies and the queen.  These were very effective at eliminating both cockroaches and ants!

So I purchased both of these poisons, TERRO ANT KILLER, and HOTSHOT ROACH KILLER from my local Lowes, and proceeded to begin experimenting with baiting yellow jackets.  I had tried several of the hanging yellow jacket traps over the years with minimal success.  It is of course counter intuitive to place poisons on or near beehives, but I’d already lost the war so I was out to find a way to win for the future!  To my pleasant surprise, the yellow jackets loved the Terro straight out of the bottle, and dripping it on top of the hives that were under attack, soon proved to be very effective!  I found that the bees were not attracted to the Terro, but the yellow jackets were!  I compared the labels of Terro and Hotshot, and behold, they were both using a borax based formula (at that time)!  Hotshot is a powder so I mixed Hotshot with powdered sugar and sprinkled it on top of hives as well.  The bees pretty much left that alone as well.  I think I only killed 3 bees in all of the hours that I observed, to prevent them from carrying any back into the hives.  Within 2 days, the yellow jackets were pretty much gone and it became hard to find any!  On the 3rd day a major storm came in and dropped temperatures to sub freezing for over a week, getting all the way down to zero!  After it warmed back up, I still could not find any yellow jackets.  Now scientifically, one should not draw any serious conclusions from this experience.  It simply is not enough data to say that the baiting worked, or if the cold snap had anything to do with it.  So I waited patiently for next spring, but began a campaign of talking to every local beekeeper I could find, and trying to learn if they were having similar problems with yellow jackets.  The answer was not only yes, but most all I talked to had lost there hives entirely prior to winter!

Talking with Utah State entomologists, as well as both the Weber County Bee Inspector and the Davis County Bee inspectors, the consensus was that yellow jackets are opportunists and not the primary cause of failure for beehives!  They felt that probably Varoa mites were probably the principle reason for the decline and yellow jackets were just being opportunists.  Yes I had Varoa, and my counts were officially measured by the state entomologist in late August.  So I did not voice any disagreement with these experts, at that time, but my understanding is that much of the devastation to colonies from mites takes place in early winter.  My bees had had mites most of the summer in spite of my attempts with both powdered sugar treatments and Apistan, but had not yet diminished significantly.  However my observations were that yellow jackets may have been opportunistic earlier on, by going after some bees on the ground (due to the mites and some deformed wing syndrome), but at some point they began just charging the gates and plowing through guards to enter hives and then exit with all the bounty!  This extreme aggressive behavior resulted in full on attack with success on my hives!  Eventually the guards were gone, the colder temperatures caused all bees to have to go inside and ball up during morning and evening hours when it was colder, but the yellow jackets kept on flying, applying their carnage nearly down to freezing outside!  This observation made it evident that certainly during the fall months when temperatures drop, our bees are most vulnerable to yellow jacket predation!  I believe that the act of entering hives with such aggression is a learned behavior which was a natural progression after finding bees on the ground, which was because of the Varoa.  I also learned from others who have battled yellow jackets that in the spring, basically every yellow jacket is a queen seeking to start a nest, so everyone that you kill is a potential entire colony of yellow jackets!

So I’ve been studying yellow jackets and observing behaviors now for 2 years.  This year I was particularly vigilant at killing and baiting yellow jackets at first sign in the spring, and quickly succeeded in reducing them to pretty much no observed yellow jackets by end of March.  I learned that if you take a small pump sprayer and fill it with strong soapy water (Dawn Dish Soap seams to work best), it kills pretty much all soft-bodied insects nearly as fast as the poison insect sprays!  Did everybody read that?  READ IT AGAIN!  Heavy soapy Dawn Dish water kills soft insects FAST!  Hey I give these sprayers to my grand kids and have zero concern for toxic sprays!

Using my sprayer, I simply spend about 15 to 30 minutes a day when possible, during attack periods, shooting yellow jackets when they slow down while looking for bees, and it kills them in seconds!  When they find my apiary and begin going after bees on the ground, this is my entertainment.  Who needs a video game?  This is real life carnage and revenge that is challenging!  I’m about as accurate as one can get with a pump sprayer!  And when they get really out of hand, I go for the baiting.

FINALLY SUCCESS!  This year my bees were strong as ever!  I actually extracted 5 gallons each from two strong hives, and literally had zero yellow jackets most of the summer.  They have been ramping up since September, and I’m now baiting again prior to winter.  What about the mites?  OAV!  I made an Oxalid Acid vaporizer and used it last December and as near as I could tell, it got 100%  I did not see a single mite this year until end of August (well after extracting honey).  They may have been there a bit sooner, but not until after I had already extracted, and my hives have pretty much replaced what I took prior to this coming winter!  The mites have come on strong through September and I chose to treat my hives with a light treatment of OAV to minimize damage until they go broodless in December.  Then I will treat them again.

In Summary:  After observing yellow jackets critically for two years, after deciding that they can become primary predators through learned behavior, and not just opportunistic predators on honeybees, I’ve observed a pattern of opportunistic behavior in yellow jackets in the beginning, with just milling around looking for bees on the ground, followed by a more aggressive attack behavior directly entering hives.  After taking on sick bees from the ground and learning of their abundant source (undoubtedly due to Varoa), yellow jackets soon began going after the bees and honey in the hives themselves!  Once they began this more aggressive behavior, they eventually take out any guards that existed, and then pretty much have carte-blanche access to both honey and bees!  I observed this spring that the older, bigger yellow jackets that did show up in the spring, went right for the more aggressive attack directly on the hives even after Varoa had been eliminated and there were no bees on the ground, because they already learned this behavior the year before.  I perceived this as a huge issue since they would teach any offspring this behavior from the beginning!  I vigilantly killed every single yellow jacket found in those early weeks this year, before they could create there own colonies, and pretty much did not see any before mid August!  Once they began to show up again, they did not go directly to the advanced behavior of directly attacking the hives themselves but have taken more than a month to get to this behavior (while I was killing roughly 15 to 20 a day with my Binford 1.5P10 soapy water blaster)!  I’m now baiting again…  Its time to go out and check now the 3rd day after starting to bait.

I hope that anyone reading this can find similar success!  Sincerely, Ren Holmes (admin@warmbees.com)

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BAD BLOGGER, BAD BAD BLOGGER

Obviously I’m a lousy blogger.  No updates all summer, or fall for that matter!

I recently received an email from a friend in Indiana that is distressing.  He has had much less time to keep bees due to his job, but has had several set-backs in beekeeping and is getting discouraged.  This causes me to reflect on my own struggles this year, and the much research that I have done with regard to beekeeping, and its many challenges, and my desire to continue improving Warmbees In-Hive Warmers, and providing them as a product.

First, I will update with the outcomes of last winters tiny colonies.  The smallest colony did not make it past the 2nd week in April.  In spite of the queen laying eggs, and hanging in there, the workers never nursed them, and so there were no new bees to continue.  This actually seemed to be the similar challenge for my second slightly bigger colony, however I received my 2 new packages in about the 3rd week in April, which allowed me to take a few hundred bees and combine them with the small remaining colony.  This was the shot in the arm needed, and they began nursing the eggs and the little colony took off and thrived.  This second colony is now nearly a deep and 1/2 now this winter!  I’m not sure what to fully take away from last year.  Scientifically, the sample is simply too small to really be of any real significance, but it was a success in the fact that I was able to get two tiny colonies through the winter into the second week of April with Warmbees In-Hive WArmers!  I count both colonies as a success to that end, with the second colony still alive and thriving.

My thoughts go to observing that there is a critical mass element here that suggests that a baseball size colony (approximately 1/2 frame), is simply too small and does not contain enough bees to survive the winter, even if temperature is removed as the reason.  But at the same time, the softball size colony did make it all the way through, but required an injection of bees in April to begin to thrive again.  Without many more samples, I can’t draw any strong conclusions except that it is possible to get critically small colonies through winter, given the right conditions!  I am tempted to say that once bees are older, they really don’t want to revert to nurse bee duties.  If this is the case, then without some occasional brood through the winter, ramping up in the spring, is very difficult.

This year brought more observations and challenges.  With my two new packages, one absolutely thrived and exceeded my expectations and even gave me about a gallon of honey.  The second failed to thrive, probably due to EFB, and in spite of my best efforts never really realized its potential.  I created several queens and NUCs, and successfully mated 5 early on, but later they all seemed to disappear in about a weeks time.  I created additional queens and even succeeded in getting two mated in October, which I was then able to use to get two other colonies queen right before winter.

My brother had purchased a VSH breeder queen and she thrived during this year, and we created some second generation queens from her.  However late in the season, apparently someone in his neighborhood must have sprayed some poison, which came back to his apiary and nearly killed everything off (thousands dead on the ground)!  I attempted to rescue his VSH queen and her offspring by bringing them up to my apiary and in fact nursed them in an inside observation hive, but eventually lost them both.  However during the process, (I’m really saving you the very long story here) I learned that my strongest hive was totally saturated with Varoa mites, and was beginning to decline.  I then researched into Varoa and methods of eradication.  I tried many things like powdered sugar, and even vinegar, but finally settled on Oxalic Vapor.  This worked extremely well!  I was able to kill off the mites in my strong hive, and it entered this winter with a deep and 1/2 box of bees!  Through the research I did, and my own experiences this year, I’m finding and echoing the conclusion, that Varoa are probably responsible for more issues than we may have previously thought.  Actually, it is my opinion that there is a bit of a Trifecta going on that results in very high losses!

I may have mentioned some of my fight with Yellow Jackets here.  At the end of last season, I nearly lost all of my colonies, and I truly believed that it was all due to Yellow Jacket predation.  I spoke with two county agents and our Utah State entomologist about this observation, and they said that Yellow Jackets are opportunists and that there were other main causes.  I tried to keep an open mind, but then absolutely studied and paid attention to everything YELLOW JACKET this year!  I fought major battles this year with Varoa mites, and some EFB, and feel strongly that while these may be primary causes, or perhaps better stated as initiating conditions or impetus, once Yellow Jackets identify the opportunity and “Hives as a Food Source”, they develop their skills and have the disposition to attack with extreme aggression, and then become a force that can totally take out an entire small apiary!  I absolutely believe that there comes a turning point where they are no longer just opportunists, but become the primary threat!  Once the Genie is out of the bottle, you can’t stuff it back in!

The Big Picture then becomes:  Disease, mites, wasps, moths, beetles, and etc. reduce the level of thriving for honeybees in North America, and then the lack of adequate preparation for cold Northern winters, takes them out, resulting in high losses.  The Varoa mites may not have seemed like a terribly significant threat and can be managed, but I believe it is the scale-tipping straw that is changing the balance for a species that has here-to-fore largely thrived in North America.  With increasing percentages of losses throughout the Northern climates, many hobbyists and beekeepers alike, are becoming discouraged, and increasingly un-willing to continue losing investments in beekeeping and equipment.

As a professional trouble shooter and consultant by trade, with an engineering degree in electronics, one of the most challenging scenarios to resolve is where multiple causes appear to act like one large smoking gun.  An enormous amount of effort and expense is often spent looking for the “smoking gun” singular cause, when in fact it is the result of many smaller seemingly insignificant issues that add up to the big problem!  Anyone that has ever used a checkbook understands that 100 tiny checks adds up in a hurry to a big problem!

Applying this analogy to beekeeping trends, and my observations of this year,  the Trifecta becomes more obvious!  Apis Meliffera, which is not indigenous to North America, and which has largely been able to adapt to the colder climates and thrive here, may have been dealt the crushing blow with the introduction of the Varoa Mite.  While the Varoa Mite may not be the big smoking gun, in and of itself, if it introduced a factor of just 10% of an irritant or thorn factor to the honeybee population, causing them to struggle just that much more than normal, across the continental US, and then the Yellow Jackets and other pests and detrimental issues to honeybees gain that same 10%, or more, cumulative increase in their success against honeybees, the scale may have been tipped too far in the negative direction for honeybees to continue to thrive overall, and the decline will be exponential!  I don’t believe that the effect of Varoa is just 10%, nor the gains, at least by the Yellow Jackets, is just 10%.  If not for my huge efforts against disease, Varoa, and Yellow Jackets these past two years, I would have no bees, and would have lost absolutely 100% of every new package I’ve purchased!  Beekeepers who want to take a hands-off approach to beekeeping, take note.  Just my Humble Opinion.  But hey its my blog!