Bears Raiding Bee Colonies: They're Seeking the Brood

Bug Squad    By Kathy Keatley Garvey     May 18, 2017

A huge financial loss: this is an example of the damage a bear can do in the bee yard.(Photo courtesy of Jackie Park-Burris, Palo Cedro)Yes, bears raid honey bee colonies.

But it's primarily for the bee brood, not the honey.

The brood provides the protein, and the honey, the  carbohydrates. For beekeepers and commercial queen bee breeders, this can wreak havoc. Financial havoc.

The American Beekeeping Federation, headed by Gene Brandi of Los Gatos, recently asked Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology to respond to a question about bees and bears.

Mussen, who retired in 2014 after 38 years of service (but he still remains active from his office in Briggs Hall), is from Minnesota, where the bears are and he isn't. He's managed to photograph a few bears, though, on family outings to Lake Tahoe.

We thought we'd share his response about bees and bears. Jackie Park-Burris of Palo Cedro, who owns Jackie Park-Burris Queens, kindly let us post some of her photos so our readers can see what bear damage looks like.  A past president of the California State Apiary Board and the California State Beekeepers' Association, she's a member of the noted Homer Park beekeeping family and has been involved with bees all of her life. She's been breeding Park Italian queens since 1994.

But back to Eric Mussen, the bee guru who has answered tons of questions during his 38-year academic career and who's now serving his sixth term as president of the Western Apicultural Society. (The society, founded in Davis, will gather \Sept. 5-8 in Davis for its 40th annual meeting, returning to its roots.)

"Bears eat both meat and plants (berries) etc. whenever they can find them," Mussen says. "Most people think that a bear has a sweet tooth, since it is attracted to beehives. While it is true that bears will eat some honey if it gains access to a hive, a closer look shows that it will eat all of what we call 'brood' first, and then eats a little honey."

Eric MussenMussen describes bee brood "as made up of bee eggs, larvae, and pupae."  Since the queen may be laying between 1000 and 2000 eggs a day, "quite a bit of brood can accumulate before the end of the 21-day period that it takes to complete development from egg to adult female worker bee (24 days for the drones)."

"Bears have a pretty good sense of smell, so they can smell a beehive if they get downwind of a nearby colony," Mussen points out. "If the colony is living in a tree, often the bear literally tears the tree apart to get to the bees.  Unfortunately, they will claw and dig into a man-made beehive, as well.  They leave the covers scattered all over; the hive boxes scattered and often broken; the combs pulled out, broken, and strewn about in the apiary; and the combs that had brood in them will have the comb eaten out.  The colony will not survive and there may be very little undamaged equipment to salvage."

"To a small-scale beekeeper," Mussen says, "the financial loss is not too severe.  However, losing the colony, that requires so much effort to keep healthy these days, is quite a blow.  For commercial operators, who may not revisit the apiary for a couple weeks, it can mean a very substantial economic loss."

"The correct type of well-maintained bear fence usually is very effective at keeping bears away from the hives.  However, that holds true only for situations in which the bear has not had previous positive experiences ripping apart man-made beehives.  In that case, the bear expects a substantial reward for barging through the stinging fence and getting into the hives."

What to do? "Most beekeepers have no desire to kill bears, but they do desire to keep their colonies alive," Mussen says. "Often, attempts are made to capture the offending bear, tag it, and move it away far enough that it should not return.  Some of the wildlife specialists marvel in how far away a bear can be taken away and still return. Bears that cannot stay away from apiaries, or away from people's houses, or away from trash containers, etc., sometimes have to be eliminated.  It is best to have this done by agency personnel, but sometimes in remote areas the beekeepers get deprivation permits and kill the bear themselves.  In Northern California, the beekeeper has to notify the wildlife people of the kill, and the carcass has to be inspected to be certain that specific, black market body parts have not been removed from the bear.  The carcass then is buried in a landfill, or once in a while used in institutional food."

Occasionally Bug Squad hears of bears raiding honey bee hives in rural Solano County. We remember a story about a beekeeper/queen breeder in Mix Canyon, Vacaville, who was losing his hives to a "wild animal." The loss? Reportedly about $30,000. He set up a stealth camera and....photographed a 300-pound black bear. 

"Bears have a pretty good sense of smell," as Mussen says, and the result can be "a very substantial economic loss."

This is what bear damage to a hive looks like. This photo was provided by Jackie Park-Burris of Palo Cedro, who owns Jackie Park-Burris Queens. (Photo courtesy of Jackie Park-Burris.)

A bear scattered frames all over this bee yard, as it went for the brood and then the honey. (Photo courtesy of Jackie Park-Burris, Palo Cedro.)

A bear wreaked havoc in this bee yard. (Photo courtesy of Jackie Park-Burris, Palo Cedro.)

 This image of a bear snagging fish was taken at Lake Tahoe by Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. He's been answering questions about bears and bees for more than three decades.

http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=24145

Wolves, Bears, Elk, berries and Bees...Unintended Consequences

(The following is brought to us by CATCH THE BUZZ (Kim Flottum) Bee Culture, The Magazine of American Beekeeping, published by A.I. Root Company.) 

The Wolves ate the Elk that ate the plants that grew the flowers that fed the bees that made the berries that fed the bears that eat the Elk. But will the bears eat the bees?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study suggests that the return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park is beginning to bring back a key part of the diet of grizzly bears that has been missing for much of the past century – berries that help bears put on fat before going into hibernation.

It's one of the first reports to identify the interactions between these large, important predators, based on complex ecological processes. It was published today by scientists from Oregon State University and Washington State University in the Journal of Animal Ecology.

The researchers found that the level of berries consumed by Yellowstone grizzlies is significantly higher now that shrubs are starting to recover following the re-introduction of wolves, which have reduced over-browsing by elk herds. The berry bushes also produce flowers of value to pollinators like butterflies, insects and hummingbirds; food for other small and large mammals; and special benefits to birds.

The report said that berries may be sufficiently important to grizzly bear diet and health that they could be considered in legal disputes – as is white pine nut availability now - about whether or not to change the "threatened" status of grizzly bears under the Endangered Species Act.

"Wild fruit is typically an important part of grizzly bear diet, especially in late summer when they are trying to gain weight as rapidly as possible before winter hibernation," said William Ripple, a professor in the OSU Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, and lead author on the article. "Berries are one part of a diverse food source that aids bear survival and reproduction, and at certain times of the year can be more than half their diet in many places in North America."

When wolves were removed from Yellowstone early in the 1900s, increased browsing by elk herds caused the demise of young aspen and willow trees – a favorite food – along with many berry-producing shrubs and tall, herbaceous plants. The recovery of those trees and other food sources since the re-introduction of wolves in the 1990s has had a profound impact on the Yellowstone ecosystem, researchers say, even though it's still in the very early stages.

"Studies like this also point to the need for an ecologically effective number of wolves," said co-author Robert Beschta, an OSU professor emeritus. "As we learn more about the cascading effects they have on ecosystems, the issue may be more than having just enough individual wolves so they can survive as a species. In some situations, we may wish to consider the numbers necessary to help control overbrowsing, allow tree and shrub recovery, and restore ecosystem health."

As wolves help reduce elk numbers in Yellowstone and allow tree and shrub recovery, researchers said, this improves the diet and health of grizzly bears. In turn, a healthy grizzly bear population provides a second avenue of control on wild ungulates, especially on newborns in the spring time.

Yellowstone has a wide variety of nutritious berries – serviceberry, chokecherry, buffaloberry, twinberry, huckleberry and others – that are highly palatable to bears. These shrubs are also eaten by elk and thus likely declined as elk populations grew over time. With the return of wolves, the new study found the percentage of fruit in grizzly bear scat in recent years almost doubled during August.

Because the abundant elk have been an important food for Yellowstone grizzly bears for the past half-century, the increased supply of berries may help offset the reduced availability of elk in the bears' diet in recent years. More research is needed regarding the effects of wolves on plants and animals consumed by grizzly bears.

There is precedent for high levels of ungulate herbivory causing problems for grizzly bears, who are omnivores that eat both plants and animals. Before going extinct in the American Southwest by the early 1900s, grizzly bear diets shifted toward livestock depredation, the report noted, because of lack of plant-based food caused by livestock overgrazing. And, in the absence of wolves, black bears went extinct on Anticosti Island in Canada after over-browsing of berry shrubs by introduced while-tailed deer.

Increases in berry production in Yellowstone may also provide a buffer against other ecosystem shifts, the researchers noted – whitebark pine nut production, a favored bear food, may be facing pressure from climate change. Grizzly bear survival declined during years of low nut production.

Livestock grazing in grizzly bear habitat adjacent to the national park, and bison herbivory in the park, likely also contribute to high foraging pressure on shrubs and forbs, the report said. In addition to eliminating wolf-livestock conflicts, retiring livestock allotments in the grizzly bear recovery zone adjacent to Yellowstone could benefit bears through increases in plant foods.

This ezine is also available online at http://home.ezezine.com/1636/1636-2013.08.01.10.25.archive.html