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Rats as honey bee predators

Do you think of rats as honey bee predators? I never once considered it until I saw these photos taken by Tracy Klein of Seattle.

I know that rats are considered intelligent and innovative, and Tracy’s photos seem to prove it. Her rats learned how to take out both the entrance reducers from the front of the hives as well as the varroa trays from the back of the hives.

Tracy explained how she discovered her intruders:

Last year I set up a trail camera after finding my sticky boards and entrance reducers askew several nights in a row. I thought it was raccoons. Nope. [It was] two of the biggest, fattest rats I’ve ever seen. No wonder, since they’d been feasting on dead bees. Yuck!

Yuck is right. In the past two years, I’ve seen several rats around here as well. They were left for me by my cats, but I never associated them with my bee hives.

Tracy says that the rats continued to work at the hives until she finally caught them in a rat trap.

We have two vacant lots next door to us covered in blackberries, pretty sure they mostly live in there. We have a few feral cats, and I stopped feeding the birds years ago when I started seeing rats eating the seeds. I set traps out a couple times each year. It’s just about time again.

Rats are common bee predators

A quick Internet search showed that I was wrong about rats. Many beekeepers confirm that rats are an occasional problem, and pest control companies report that rats often move into homes and other buildings where feral colonies have taken up residence.

Common or not, I’m still amazed by the photos. That the rats returned night after night and removed the reducers and trays seems incredible. I suppose cleaning up the dead bees wouldn’t be so bad if the rats would only close up the entrances when they were done. Rat training anyone?

On the plus side, Tracy said it was a fun mystery to solve. I definitely get that!

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Three hives where the varroa drawers were pulled out by rats.
The rats pulled out the varroa trays from the backs of these three hives. © Tracy Klein.
The entrance reducer of a hive has been pulled free so the rats can reach into the hive.
The rats removed the entrance reducer from the front of this hive in order to eat dead bees. © Tracy Klein.

Comments

Granny Roberta in nw Connecticut USA
Reply

Cats gifting you with rats reminds me of my cat Jeremiah, called Jemmy. We had a scary scrabbling noise in our walls for several nights. Then one day a rat scratched through from the pantry ceiling and plopped on the floor. Me and two of my siblings were running around the house with brooms and screaming. Great big fat Jemmy gave us all a disgusted look, heaved himself off the couch, sauntered over to the rat, and chomped. Left the body on the floor, gave us another “You are all pathetic” look, heaved himself back on the couch, and went back to sleep. I miss that cat.

Rusty
Reply

Roberta,

That’s a great story. I learn so much from cats.

harold meinster
Reply

I have not seen a rat bother my hives, but mice have been around. Fortunately my neighbor has cats and they do a good job of keeping mice under control.

When I lost my Russian Queen beehive to Varroa in august, and they were gone, I did find a Camel cricket in the box. They look like big spiders, but can move 6 feet in one jump. Very surprised to see one of those in the hive.

Rusty
Reply

Harold,

I looked them up. I’ve seen them around here, but not in a bee hive. I didn’t know what they were called. Hives are very tempting for lots of creatures because they are warm, dark, moist, and full of food.

Bonnie
Reply

Oh my! I have had my hives for 4 years and this past summer and the year before we had a rat come under the fence. I never thought about the hives! We got rid of them but I did not notice any hive damage, but I did not have entrance reducers or mite boards on. Thanks for this info.

Ray
Reply

Oh, and all this time I assumed the wind was dislodging my entrance reducers and varroa boards (a natural assumption living in the flat lands of eastern England where it gets very windy) but maybe this is the explanation!

debbie in Ohio
Reply

Bees are like chicken, everything loves to eat them ! That is amazing they did that much damage to the bee hive. A good way to get rid of rats/mice is to take a piece of bread, put some peanut butter on it, lots of baking soda, fold up and squish it. Place it under the beehive, etc., and put some water close by. The rats/mice cannot vomit, so when they go for the water, because they consumed the baking soda, it ferments inside them and they die. Safe for other animals, except skunks, they seem to be bothered by the baking soda. Sometimes if we have a problem starting similar to that, we will block off the bottoms of the beehives and put the concoction there and the mice eat under the beehive and you just pick them up and throw them away. When you have chickens and bees and farm animals, you got mice/rats. Lately seems like you’ve been posting a lot about mice n other vermin ! Great field cam photos. The things that happen when we are not around to see them. I always wanted to put up a camera and watch from the house.

MarianA
Reply

Devious. I love it.

We have fruit rats in the yard. We currently use orange slices to bait traps. I wonder how we’d get the baking soda to stick without it fizzing out. They haven’t gone for the hives (yet) but they’ve stripped the stonefruit and figs this year again. I’ll have to work on this.

Nancy Ogg
Reply

Just one more reason to love the 6-foot Black Rat Snake that lives under the old garage foundation!
Nan
Shady Grove Farm
Corinth, Kentucky

Bill Abell
Reply

Again, proving the value of trail cameras. They are a lot of fun and almost indispensable when you are keeping and/or feeding animals.

John Olters
Reply

Rusty, I enjoy your site and consistent posts… they are succinct and informative I am relatively new to beekeeping but have been an avid gardener for years and am a landscape architect by profession. The posts about the rats and mice prompted me to write about our cats Sake and Wasabi two mostly lynx point Siamese that were given to us about 8 years ago to keep the rat and mice population in check. My wife and I live on the Withlacoochee river in central Florida and are surrounded by wildlife. We lost Wasabi about 3 years ago to a coyote but Sake, the smaller of the two and only about 8 lbs., is still doing his job. He is a coyote savvy lap cat that is a natural born killer of anything he can catch, We are regularly amazed at the size of the carnage he leaves on our back deck or garage floor. I realize this is not really relative to bees but thanks for providing me the opportunity to share.

John Olters
Dunnellon, Florida

Jean
Reply

Such good information, I will certainly try the bread, peanut butter with lots of baking soda on, will also put some water near by. I have four hives which overwinter without a board, I reduce entrances and clad the hives with 1/2″ insulation, a piece of roofing felt and a brick on top. My whippet is our great rat catcher, she managed to dig out a nest of 12 baby ones last year and killed them all.

Thank you so much for all your posts.

Jean Wignall
Kent. England

Debbie in Ohio
Reply

Marian, what do you mean by the b/soda ‘fizzing out’ …maybe I can help you more if I understand what you are saying. The baking soda on the peanut butter and bread does not ‘wear out’ for quite a while. I’ve seen it dried up and still be effective. If the rats are climbing the trees, etc. for the fruit, you can always make yourself a trap box and put the bait in the trap box at the bottom of the trees, make sure water is available, and do it that way. I’ve used bait boxes near the hives and chickens, etc., rats love to eat .. so they are easy, you just have to be persistent, because usually there are so many of them. One must trap for three weeks after you think they are all gone, and then keep traps set in case the new varmints move in.

On a different note, I had thought we had a mouse eat thru the vent hole in the moisture box, but yesterday I saw it was a woodpecker. I had recovered the hole to see if anything came out of the box, and here, it was woodpecker wanting in …too funny !

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