Bear Attack!

By: Jim Grupp

One early morning in late October, a Black Bear attacked one of my hives here in Highland Mills, NY. Woke up that morning, grabbed my cup of coffee, then did my usual look out the kitchen window to see how the bees where doing. Looked and looked and looked again, then it registered in my foggy brain that one of the hives was down and looked splintered.

My hives sit up about 10 feet in an old foundation; protection I thought from bears and other predators – well the smell of “Goldenrod” honey is a pretty powerful force when combined with the hunger of the upcoming Winter. So for the bear climbing 10 feet up the old foundation wall to enjoy some honey and bee brood was just what the “Call of Hibernation” ordered.

Stunned, I tried to come up with a “plan of action” to save the bees and put the hive back together. First, I remembered a story from a BOS (Beekeepers of Shawangunk) club member – ”Saw my hive down and ran out to put it back together and got stung over 60 times.” So, my first actions were grabbing my bee jacket and hood, then the smoker, bee tools and I-pad (to record the mess). Climbed up the ladder to the hives in 40 degree plus temperatures and was “blown away” by the destruction.

There were bees (dead and alive), hive parts (smashed and knocked down), frames (torn apart and devoured) and honey and sugar water everywhere. Honestly, the sight of this first year hive’s destruction, a hive I had nurtured “with loving care” from early Spring to late Fall, almost brought tears to my eyes. In fact, it was really a punch to the gut – took the wind right out of me.

That did not last long because the next thing I discovered was many very unhappy bees. Even with my bee gear on, they were attacking and they seemed to get in everywhere to sting. So I lit the smoker and smoked the “heck out of the place.” That did settle them down then got to work putting the mess back together.

The Bear totally knocked down the hive and in the process smashed the hive bottom. The lower brood chamber basically empty – only one torn up frame left, hanging off the edge of the foundation. The second brood chamber had all the frames in it, full of bees teetering on its side. The medium super which was once full of honey (left it on the hive for the bees for the Winter since this hive was thriving – Italian bees) was upside down with a couple frames and some stunned bees inside.

Righted the Brood box full of bees with bees swarming all over, then set the medium super on top followed by the hive top plus added some smoke just to settle them, which this did. Scooped up as many loose bees as I could (it was cold so I did not want them out in the open) then put these bees in the medium super. Literally ran to the garage made a new hive bottom brought it up the foundation and attached it to the hive stand. Finally, put the reconstructed hive back on the new hive bottom and took a deep breath. All that took about four hours; it was cold and not a whole lot of fun!

Now I started looking for the missing frames from the bottom brood box. Found all but one scattered in the woods – all the wax foundation, honeycomb, brood and honey gone – empty frames with wires hanging from them. Also scattered amongst the leaves and sticks were a lot of “house bees”, clinging together totally “lost”! I literally, grabbed as many as I could, sometimes one at a time with my hand and returned them to the hive. Problem was every time I went to the hive; the bees went into attack mode – so lots more fun trying to get the bees back where they belonged. Also, looked and looked for the queen never saw or found her.

That night I set up two powerful shop lights and bathed the hives and foundation in bright light to scare away any returning bear. Then in the morning, I set up a powerful solar electric fence on top of the foundation. I hoped with all hope that the bear would come back and get the surprise of his life. Unfortunately, that did not happen! However, I did spend the next two days picking up bees and returning them to the hive. Needless to say picking up “lost bees” was perhaps the most “heartbreaking” experience of this bear attack.

The new beekeeper lesson from this hive destruction is quite simple. If you live in a bear area, do not take a chance or hope they will not attack your hives – eventually they will. The “call of the wild” with bears and honey is very powerful. When they are hungry and smell a hive, they will get it unless it is protected. So protect your hives! Electric fence is probably the best way. It may cost some money, but in the end it doesn’t compare to the destruction of a hive you have worked so long and hard nurturing and building. If there is such a thing as “grieving for bees”, I felt it that day as I tried to put my hive and bees back together after the bear ate his share of it!

So far this hive has survived the Winter. I added all the pulled comb I had to the super and fed them as much 2:1 sugar water as I could. When I winterized the hive, I put in a bunch of sugar fondant in to help them through the Winter. The last warm day, the bees were out and about enjoying the sun and day.

Still don’t know if there is a queen, but will wait till Spring to find out. An experiment of sorts, if they make it without a queen, maybe a nuc or new queen will save this colony. Right now my goal is to get them through Winter (hopefully with a queen), then tackle what comes up next Spring! All I can say is, “Thanks Mother Nature for giving me a good hard lesson in “New-bee” beekeeping called – Bear Hive Protection”! Just Do it for your bees!

Jim Grupp is a new beekeeper from upstate New York.