Of course bees live in bee hives. When a managed Langstroth hive is abandoned by its bee inhabitants however, it becomes a nice home for a few other animals.
An abandoned bee hive is a wonderful home for mice. This is particularly true in the wintertime (it’s warm). Thus, in the winter, many beekeepers put a mouse guard on the entrance of their hive (toward the bottom of the pictured Langstroth hive). The mouse guard does just what it sounds like it does: it lets the bees fly freely (via bee-sized holes in a metal grate) but keeps the mice out. If a mouse smells the sweet honey inside an active hive, it will sometimes try to make the active hive its home. This is risky for the mouse. If the hive is weak, the mouse will prevail. If the hive is strong however, the mouse will not be so lucky.
Another animal that often takes advantage of a weak honey bee hive is the wax moth. Female moths lay their eggs in the hive; the caterpillars that hatch feast on both the wax and the honey in the hive. Thus, if you have a weak hive, the caterpillars eat all of your bees’ hard-earned, much-needed food! A strong hive can manage the caterpillars on their own (if they can take on a mouse, they can certainly take on some caterpillars). For the beekeeper, things really get messy if the caterpillars reach pupation (i.e. they spin their cocoons); the sticky silken cocoons make the hive look like a haunted house covered in spider webs. It’s not fun to clean up after wax moths.
Today, while disassembling some of our older (abandoned) hives out at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in Grafton, MA, we saw: a nest of mice (expected and adorable), wax worm cocoons (expected and annoying), and an ant nest (unexpected and awesome!).
The ants we saw were carpenter ants; their bee-hive-home was complete with tunnels and brood (i.e. baby ants)! As soon as we (unexpectedly) exposed the ant nest by opening the bee hive (that could get confusing), the workers frantically moved the brood (the white grubs) from the top of the nest down into its twisting tunnels. In a matter of seconds (but not before I got photos), the worker ants moved the brood into the tunnels where they were safe from the heat (blaring sun), and predators (in this case, humans).
We also found a couple paper wasp nests inside an abandoned hive. We’re going back to Grafton again tomorrow and Thursday. Who know what we’ll find next?