Honeybees are critical to the success of the agricultural industry within the United States. The insects are credited for up to 80 percent of all insect pollination, a crucial element of fruit and vegetable production. With the exception of Africanized honeybees, the insects are not aggressive by nature; they sting only when provoked or to protect their hives. The animal world presents many predators including arachnids, insects and mammals.
Since their first appearance in the United States in the mid 1980s, varroa mites have become a major predator of honeybees across the country. Female mites lay eggs on honeybee larva. Emerging mites feed on the developing honeybees, and on reaching maturity, mate and lay new eggs by the time adult bees are emerging from their cells. Tiny red varroa mites are visible to the naked eye and are typically found on the thorax or abdomen of a bee. Pesticide is an acceptable measure of treatment for varroa mite infestations.
Wasps have more than one way of attacking or harming honeybees. Yellow jackets prey upon weak bees at the entrance of their hives and may enter the nest to feast upon a meal of honey. Velvet ants and digger wasps are also known to capture individual bees at the entrance of the hive. European hornets are formidable predators that may attack single bees or entire colonies. Defending honeybee colonies from wasps may be accomplished by use of pesticide on wasp nests or by relocating beehives.
Skunks are nighttime predators and voracious eaters that can consume entire honeybee colonies in a single attack. Skunks draw bees out of their hives by scratching at the entrance. As adult bees fly out, they are captured and eaten. An apiarist can protect his bees by elevating the hive from the animals' reach.
Small Hive Beetles
The small hive beetle is recognized as a pest and predator of honeybees. The insect's larvae typically consume the honeycomb and pollen, defecating in honey stores and damaging hives beyond repair. The predatory larvae eat honeybee larvae as well. Relocating a hive that has not been severely damaged is one option in protecting honeybees from devastating attacks. Chemical treatment may also be applied to the soil underneath and around the hive, where larvae burrow before pupating.