Exploring the Predators of Honey Bees: A Survival Guide

Honey bees, often seen as nature’s diligent workers, play a pivotal role in maintaining ecological balance.

They are primary pollinators, ensuring the reproduction of many plants that form the foundation of various food chains.

This pollination process is not only crucial for the plants but also for humans and animals that rely on these plants for sustenance.

In fact, it’s estimated that one-third of the food we consume daily relies on pollination, mainly by bees.

Beyond their role in pollination, honey bees also produce honey and beeswax, commodities that have been valued by humans for millennia.

However, these industrious insects face numerous challenges, ranging from environmental changes to the threat of predators.

Understanding these challenges is crucial for both beekeepers and those interested in preserving our natural environment.

In this article, we will look at some of the main predators of bees.

What Eats Honey Bees
Common Brown Robber Fly eats Honey Bee

What Eats Honey Bees? Natural Predators of Honey Bees

Birds

Birds are among the primary predators of honey bees. Species such as the Bee-Eater birds, predominantly found in regions of Africa and Asia, have evolved to specialize in hunting bees. 

These birds are adept at catching bees mid-flight and have developed techniques to neutralize the bee’s stinger and venom before consumption.

Other birds like flycatchers and shrikes are also known to prey on bees, making them a significant threat to bee populations.

Mammals

When it comes to mammals, the image of a bear raiding a beehive is iconic. Bears, including the Grizzly, Black, and Brown Bears, are attracted to beehives primarily for the honey.

However, they also consume the brood for its protein content. The aftermath of a bear’s visit to a beehive can be devastating, with the potential for complete hive destruction.

Other mammals, like skunks and raccoons, are also known to prey on bees, with skunks being particularly adept at extracting bees from hives.

Reptiles and Amphibians

While not as common as bird or mammal predators, certain reptiles and amphibians do prey on honey bees.

Frogs and lizards, with their quick tongues, can snatch bees that venture too close.

In regions like Africa, certain snakes have also been observed targeting beehives, although they are more interested in the honey and brood rather than the adult bees.

beehive

Insects and Arachnids

The insect world presents a plethora of threats to honey bees. Wasps and hornets, such as the Beewolves, are notorious bee predators.

Bee assassin bugs (Reduviidae) are predators that feed on a variety of insects, and they can prey on bees.

Assassin bugs use their long, sharp proboscis to pierce their prey, inject enzymes that liquefy the insides of the insect, and then suck out the liquid contents.

It’s worth noting that assassin bugs are generalist predators and will feed on various insects, not just bees.

Another common predator of bees are robber flies.

Robber flies (also known as assassin flies) are known to prey on a variety of insects, including bees.

They are adept hunters that catch their prey in mid-air. Once they’ve captured an insect, they use their sharp, piercing mouthparts to inject it with saliva that contains enzymes.

These enzymes paralyze the prey and begin digesting it from the inside. The robber fly then sucks out the liquefied contents of its prey.

Bees, along with other flying insects like wasps, beetles, and other flies, can become victims of these efficient predators.

Probably Bee Killer eats Honey Bee
Robber fly eating honey bee

They not only consume bees but also use them to feed their developing brood. Hive beetles can infiltrate weak hives and pose a significant threat to the colony’s survival.

In the realm of arachnids, spiders, especially crab spiders, are adept at ambushing bees. 

These spiders camouflage themselves among flowers, a primary source of nectar for bees, and prey on unsuspecting bees that come to feed.

Geographical Variations in Bee Predators

The predators of honey bees can vary significantly based on the geographical location and the specific species of bee.

Different regions have distinct ecosystems, and the threats faced by bees in one area might differ from those in another.

Here’s a breakdown of the predators faced by some of the most common honey bee varieties in their respective regions:

Western Honey Bees

Western Honey Bees, also known as Apis mellifera, are native to Europe, Africa, and parts of Asia but have been introduced to many other parts of the world, including North America.

Here are the main predators of bees In these regions:

  • North America: Bears, especially the Black Bear, are notorious for raiding beehives. Skunks, raccoons, and certain bird species like flycatchers also pose threats.
  • Asia: Birds like the Bee-Eater are primary predators. Additionally, certain species of hornets, such as the Asian giant hornet, can decimate entire hives.

Africanized Honey Bees

Often referred to as “killer bees,” Africanized Honey Bees are a more aggressive hybrid of Western Honey Bees.

Originating from crossbreeding in Brazil, they have since spread to North and Central America. Their predators include:

  • Birds: Species like the honey buzzard, which summers in the UK and winters in parts of Africa, are known to prey on these bees.
  • Mammals: Bears and skunks are common threats, with the latter being particularly adept at extracting bees from hives.
  • Reptiles: In Africa, snakes are known to target beehives, especially for the honey and brood.

European Honey Bees

These bees, native to Europe, face a range of predators specific to the European ecosystem:

  • Birds: The European Bee-Eater is a primary predator, known for its expertise in catching bees mid-flight and neutralizing their stingers.
  • Mammals: Badgers in Europe are known to consume bee larvae and honey, posing a threat to hives.
  • Insects: Wasps, especially the European hornet, can be a significant threat, entering beehives and attacking the bees within.

While there are commonalities in the threats faced by honey bees worldwide, regional variations play a significant role in determining the specific predators of each bee variety.

Understanding these geographical nuances is crucial for effective bee conservation and management strategies.

Threats Beyond Predation

While predators pose significant challenges to honey bees, there are other threats that can be equally, if not more, devastating.

These threats often arise from human activities and environmental changes, making them more complex to address.

Pesticides and Poisons

Chemical Threats: Many pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids, have been identified as harmful to honey bees.

These chemicals can disorient bees, making it difficult for them to find their way back to the hive.

Sublethal Effects: Even if pesticides don’t kill bees outright, they can have sublethal effects, weakening the bees, reducing their reproductive capacity, and making them more susceptible to diseases.

Contaminated Water Sources: Bees can also be poisoned by water sources contaminated with pesticides and other chemicals.

Ensuring clean water sources near hives can help mitigate this risk.

Diseases and Parasites

  • Varroa Mite: This parasite is one of the most significant threats to honey bees worldwide. It feeds on the blood of larval and adult honey bees and can transmit harmful viruses.
  • Foulbrood: Both American and European foulbrood are bacterial diseases that can devastate bee colonies. They affect the brood, leading to a significant reduction in the bee population of the hive.
  • Nosema Disease: This is a fungal disease that affects the digestive system of bees, leading to reduced lifespan and, in severe cases, colony collapse.
Leafcutter Bees
Leafcutter bee

Human Impact and Bee Conservation

Humans play a dual role when it comes to bees. On one hand, certain human activities threaten bee populations, while on the other, humans are also at the forefront of bee conservation efforts.

The Role of Humans in Bee Predation

  • Habitat Destruction: Urbanization and deforestation lead to the loss of habitats for bees, reducing the availability of food sources and nesting sites.
  • Industrial Agriculture: Large-scale monoculture farming reduces the diversity of food sources for bees. Additionally, the heavy use of pesticides in such farming practices poses direct threats to bee populations.

Measures to Protect Bees from Predators and Other Threats

  • Integrated Pest Management (IPM): This approach reduces the need for pesticides by using natural predators and other non-chemical methods to manage pests.
  • Beekeeping Practices: Beekeepers can play a crucial role by ensuring that hives are healthy, well-maintained, and protected from both predators and diseases.
  • Public Awareness: Educating the public about the importance of bees and the threats they face can lead to more sustainable practices and policies that benefit bee populations.

Conclusion

Honey bees play an indispensable role in our ecosystem, from pollinating a vast array of plants that form the foundation of our food chain to producing honey, a natural sweetener enjoyed by many.

Their significance transcends their size, and the challenges they face, from natural predators to human-induced threats, underscore the urgency of understanding and safeguarding these industrious insects.

As we’ve delved into the myriad threats bees confront, it becomes evident that the survival of these creatures is intricately linked with our actions and choices.

Whether it’s the pesticides we use, the habitats we alter, or the conservation efforts we support, our impact on bee populations is profound.

However, knowledge is the precursor to action. By understanding the challenges bees face, we are better equipped to make informed decisions that can mitigate these threats.

From supporting organic farming practices and local beekeepers to creating bee-friendly gardens and advocating for bee-friendly policies, there are myriad ways each of us can contribute to the well-being of bees.

We encourage every reader to recognize the importance of bees and to take proactive steps in their local communities to support and bolster bee populations.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Spined Soldier Bug eats Honey Bee

Subject: Spined soldier bug?
Location: Stafford, VA
November 12, 2012 7:11 pm
We spotted this creature on the side of one of our beehives. He appears to be eating a honeybee. Is it what I think it is–a spined soldier bug?
Signature: growgreen, VA south of DC

Spined Soldier Bug eats Honey Bee

Dear growgreen,
This predatory Stink Bug does appear to be a Spined Soldier Bug,
Podisus maculiventris.  Though they are beneficial predators, we would recommend relocating it away from your hives.

Thank you very much for this identification and advice.
Love your site.
Patty

Letter 2 – Bee Killer Eats Honey Bee in Texas

Probably Bee Killer eats Honey BeeSubject:  Bumblebee mimic preying on my honeybee
Geographic location of the bug:  East Texas
Date: 08/08/2022
Time: {current_time} EDT
Your letter to the bugman:
Hello. Could you please identify this bug for me? It looks a lot like a bumblebee, but I could tell by its eyes and wings that it is not. It seemed to have killed one of my honeybees.

Should I be concerned about the rest of my 2 hives if honeybees from these predators?
How you want your letter signed:  Thank you for your help!

Probably Bee Killer eats Honey Bee
Probably Bee Killer eats Honey Bee

This is a large Robber Fly in the family Asilidae, most likely a Bee Killer in the genus Mallophora, however we cannot be certain because your creative post production manipulation to eliminate distractions in the background also eliminated the antennae detail. 

You can see images of species in the genus on BugGuide.  The most likely candidate appears to be Mallophora fautrix, a species that preys upon Yellowjackets and Paper Wasps as well as Honey Bees. 

You will likely experience some losses to your worker bees, however these native predators play an important place in the food chain and they should not be viewed as a threat to your honey production.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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