Dec. 29, 2022

Bears in the Bee Yard (106)

Bears in the Bee Yard (106)

What would you do if you received a call from a neighbor saying that your bee equipment was scattered across multiple yards? What would be YOUR first thought? In today’s episode, Jim invites Beekeeping Today Podcast’s Jeff Ott to the show to talk...

What would you do if you received a call from a neighbor saying that your bee equipment was scattered across multiple yards? What would be YOUR first thought?

In today’s episode, Jim invites Beekeeping Today Podcast’s Jeff Ott to the show to talk about bears in the bee yard and how, no matter what… it is always a surprise - especially when your bees are in an area where there are “no bears”. 

When encountering bears, this saying may come to mind, as you climb out of your vehicle: “If it’s black, fight back. When it’s brown, lay down, when it’s white, say good night’. 

Have you encountered bears in your bee yard? Lost equipment? If so, Jim would like to hear from you!

We hope you enjoyed today's episode. Please follow today and leave a comment. We'd love to hear from you!


Thanks to Betterbee for sponsoring today's episode. Betterbee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, Betterbee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at


Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, All We Know by Midway Music, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Copyright © 2022 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 106 – Bears in the Bee Yard


Jim Tew: Hi, listeners. I'm Jim Tew. With me here at Honey Bee Obscura is Jeff Ott from the Beekeeping Today Podcast. Hi, Jeff.

Jeff Ott: Hey, Jim. Thanks a lot for inviting me by.

Jim Tew: Well, I got to tell you what's going on here. I got a call from a good friend of mine who has property about 40 minutes from here, and I keep bees there. A nice quiet place, a little cabin on a pond there. He called and said, "You got bee equipment scattered all over down here."

Jeff Ott: Oh, no.

Jim Tew: Jeff, I've gotten those calls before. I'm almost sure that that's bears. That's what I want to talk to you about here for a while. Bears in your bee yard.

Jeff Ott: Sounds like a good topic. Let's get going.

Introduction: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura, brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura, host, Kim Flottum, and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honeybees in today's world. Get ready for an engaging discussion to delight and inform all beekeepers. If you're a long-timer or just starting out, sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honeybees.

Jim Tew: Listeners, before you say, "I don't have any bears in my location," let me tell you this. I've been keeping bees now for about 50 years, and three times, I've gotten the call. Before you hang up on me here and decide this is not for you, it may happen more than you realize. I don't know what to say. Be prepared because when you least expect it and you get the call, then you need to have some idea of what you're going to be doing. You don't always know when bear attacks are coming.

Jeff Ott: What's the first thought you have when you received that call, Jim, that you can say on the air? [laughs]

Jim Tew: It's a surprise. The first thing that I can say on the air, that's a good way to curb it there. When he calls up and says, "You got bee equipment scattered all over down here." My mind races because what happened? Was it a windstorm? Was it vandalism? Years ago, I got the call, "You got bee equipment on the private runway of a local airport that needs to be moved." You think, "That can't be mine. I don't have bees out there." "Is your name J.E Tew?" "It is." "Then, you got equipment here on the runway that needs to be moved."

I went out, and it was one of my beehives that I'm sure a bunch of kids had picked up and taken out to the airport and then run over it. It was the oddest thing that I've ever seen. It must have just smashed their car. Those things go through my mind, "It's got to be kids because there hasn't been bears in that area in 100 years." Then, it takes time for you to accept the fact that, "I've got to drop everything. I've got to change my entire schedule, that I've got laid out, and dash down there and see what caused this."

Jeff, while you're having those thoughts, the bear thing begins to pop up. "Is there a bear down there again? Is that what that is?" That's the first thought. It's not really the bad language you might expect or whatever because you don't know exactly what it is at first. It's going to be weather, vandalism, or bears. My friend said, "I guess it could be raccoons." You think, "Can a raccoon turn a hive over?" When I got down there, I'll jump ahead to a spoiler alert here. [chuckles] No. If it was a raccoon, it was a 150-to-200-pound raccoon that did this. Clearly, this was not a raccoon. You got to deal with that.

Jeff Ott: What happened? You went down there and what'd you find? Was it as bad as your friend had said? Was it really that all over the place?

Jim Tew: Can I say that it's 50-50? I only keep two hives there. I was trying to be a good friend, trying to be a good neighbor. We have cookouts down there and our grandkids go get little fish out of the pond. It is just a fun place. He doesn't want 40 hives in that life down there. It's two hives. One of the hives is completely untouched. It's fine. The other hive was scattered over probably a 30-to-35-yard radius. It's the more difficult, demanding, troublesome place is where the bear tried to get to, multiflora rose, crossing drainage ditches. This animal, I guess, Jeff, was trying to get away from the bees.

I think the colony still was alive. I hadn't seen it in about a month and a half, but the last time, they were vibrant colonies. I think that the animal was trying to get the equipment away from the bees, so they scattered it all over.

Jeff Ott: How close were the two hives sitting beside each other?

Jim Tew: They were 15 yards apart. It's just right there. If the bear can see one hive, he can certainly see the other, which Jeff, as an aside, I didn't move that hive. "Why didn't you move that hive, Jim?" Go ahead. I'm going to anticipate your question. I think because I'm lazy, if I could be honest. Either I'm lazy or I'm old. It's a heavy hive. It's in two deeps. The top deep is full of honey. It's on a hive stand. I'm going to have trouble picking it up and getting a strap under it.

I can only move that thing off the hive stand with somebody helping me. Here we go, after all these years of keeping bees, I really don't have anyone who's eager to help me with these things anymore. I have used up everyone. That hive is okay. It should be moved. Where would I move it? Bring it back here, then I've lost an out yard. Do you leave it there and think, "I got a bear attack about once every six years, so maybe it won't matter by the time it rolls around again."

Jeff Ott: I would almost think that if you left it there, the bear already knows there's food available. I'd be concerned about losing that second hive.

Jim Tew: I'm not a bear biologist, and anyone listening who is, is going to be painfully aware that I'm not a bear biologist. Those things, aren't they migratory? Don't they cover hundreds of miles? Wasn't he just probably a male? Listeners, I'm in Ohio, and where this bee yard is, is probably-- I'm having to really guess on the fly now, 50 to 60 miles from the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border. We get these male bears that are looking for new territories, that come out of those areas, back over into Ohio, where bears aren't coming.

In fact, the previous bear attack I had about six years ago, we got a lot of interested people, especially the game people because there had not been a bear attack in this county in 100 years.

Everybody wanted to know more about it. Some people came out and had a look and confirmed, "Yes, that's bear poop." Then there were quotes. Then there were sightings, "I saw him 30 miles down the road." "I saw a bear over here." You can follow this bear by people reporting this unusual bear sighting. What did I see when I got there?

Jeff Ott: Yes, sir.

Jim Tew: One hive was fine. Other hive was scattered all over, over a 25-yard radius, and the briars. This time, this attack was different. The frames were just destroyed. Probably 50% of the frames are absolutely kindling . I'm surmising that this bear was a good hearty, healthy animal. I surmised that because the first bear attack I had there, about six years ago, the bear just scattered the frames. The foundation inserts were knocked out, and the comb was damaged, but the frames in the boxes were all right there, and everything was okay. Not this time.

To add to the mystery, the hive was in two deeps, and I never found the second deep. I found one deep, maybe 20 yards away, empty. I never found the second deep, which begs the question, if listeners know, let me know, how does a bear carry a full deep of honey? What are they doing? Did they walk on their hind legs?

Jeff Ott: [laughs] Like a circus bear?

Jim Tew: There were no tooth marks, no claw marks that I could tell that the animal was carrying it. I don't know how the animal moved those heavy boxes 20 yards away.

Jeff Ott: Did you find the frames from the second deep?

Jim: Yes. All over. There are frames everywhere.

Jeff: You had 20 frames originally in the box. How many did you--

Jim: Yes, the two boxes.

Jeff: How many frames did you recover?

Jim: I got 11 back. Out of that 11, probably 4 to 5 of those were seriously damaged, especially the bottom bars. I was basically just trying to get my foundation inserts back. Kim always says, "What's your time worth?" When you start trying to recover these frames and clean the foundation inserts up, recoat them with wax. It's probably not worth all that, but it's beekeeping. It's something to do. That was the main thing I was picking up. I would say probably 60% of the frames are either destroyed or seriously damaged.

Jeff: You led with the question, or your neighbor, your friend, suggested that it might have been raccoons. How do you know, other than the scattered pieces of equipment, that it was actually a bear? Why not a bunch of teenagers?

Jim: That's interesting. Give me just a minute to get my wording right. We'll take a break, hear from my sponsors, and then I'll tell you my secret way for determining that it was a bear.

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Jim: Yep. It'll be obvious. While you're there, you'll begin to see piles of bear scat, bear manure or whatever. You think, "No, this ain't no raccoon." If a raccoon did this, that looks like something as large as the core out of a paper towel roll, this is a serious pile of feces here. I'd like to keep going on this odd subject. There were at least five piles there. For anyone listening, who knows bears, is that common? How often does a bear defecate? I want to know how long the bear was there, and all the people in the community want to know how long the bear was there.

Jeff: Interesting.

Jim: Did he stay there two days? There's deer hunters and turkey hunters on that property, and they're curious to know. If I could easily show, without looking for it, five piles of bear excrement, does that mean that there were more than one bear there or does that mean that the bear just beaver whacked there for two or three days until he would just finally didn't want any more honey and comb ever again? I don't know. I don't know Jeff.

Jeff: Not to go down too far into the weeds, but, being a former horse owner, and other animals, was it like normal bear poop, or was it from fright? I was wondering, and I don't know about bears, but if the bear was being stung repeatedly by a bunch of bees, would that cause them, out of fright, to poop a lot, to defecate? Like a horse gets nervous, it starts pooping all over the place. I wonder if that's the same with the bear. If they're getting stung in the eyes and ears and the nose.

Jim: This is probably a good time for me to admit. I don't know much about horses or about bears or about how either one of those animals defecate.

Jeff: [laughs] How they poop. [laughs]

Jim: I don't know. I don't know. Along this poop line, though, let me tell you this. It's the oddest thing. You and I did that Halloween presentation, a while back, where we talked about how odd it is at night by yourself. I've had three bear attacks, and three times I've gone through this. You go in, you see the mess, you see the colony totally destroyed, you see frames scattered all over, and you're in shock. You begin to make a plan. Pick this up, put this, put the truck over here, get the box back, find the inner cover, just immediate beekeeping responses. Then you notice there's no crickets, there's no birds, there's no squirrel squawking, It is dead quiet. Then you suddenly have the thought that you should have had before you ever got out of the truck, "Is that bear still here?"

I just assume when I pull up, "Oh, that bear's long gone. He's 30 miles away from by. He's two counties over ripping into somebody's feed bed and their horse barn or whatever he is doing. Then you stand there and you look around, like a dork. Then you think of all these jokes. You don't have to run fast when a bear's chasing you, you just got to run faster than the guy behind you. You think of all these jokes that are not funny at all at that moment. You think, "Should I have brought a gun?" I don't know that I've got a gun that'll even kill a bear. Then you think, "Can you kill a bear anyway? Are there game laws?" All of a sudden-- I've done this every time, Jeff, my first response is "Emergency, crisis, my bees are in danger." Only after I get on the scene that I'll begin to have these second thoughts.

I don't know what to tell listeners. If you get a call that your colonies have been attacked by bears, you probably want to have that thought first, in your mind, when you go ripping into your bee yard. Not hopping out, counting survivors and dead outs, but "Is that animal still here, thinking that you're there to take his food away from it?" I don't know how big the risk is.

Jeff: You can say you didn't add to the scat piles in the bee yard at that point.

Jim: Not at that moment. If that bear had come charging out of the bushes, I would've added to the scat piles.


Jim: Then I watched these things on YouTube. "Never try to run." "When a bear's chasing you, turn around, make yourself as big as possible." No, I'm running. I am running. I know bears can run 20 to 25 miles per hour, and I can run 2 miles per hour. The bears going to win, but I don't think I could make my feet stay still if that animal came charging out of the woods right there at me. I don't have vast experience at this. That's why I ask people not to hang up on me. I've read the things everybody else has read through the years. Put up electric fences.

In fact, years ago I read one beekeeper who-- This was in the metal banding days before there were ratchet straps, he would metal band four colonies together and then use migratory covers and nail them on, with the premise being that a bear can certainly manipulate one hive, but he couldn't manipulate four hives banded together. I've never done all that. In the old literature in the south, they had huge platforms. You put your bees up in the air on those platforms to completely get away from the bears. None of that's me, Jeff. 50 years, 3 attacks, I'm not going to be doing any platform building or any banding, whatever.

Jeff: You still see some pictures of those hive platforms where they're grizzly bears or other large bears around. That'd be a hard way to keep bees, I think.

Jim: That would be a hard way to keep bees. We had a colorful story when I was a much, much younger man. Another friend had property in Canada, and we got all the regulations at the time. It was pre-varroa, pre-everything. You could take packaged bees into Canada. We set up a bee operation at his remote cottage in Quebec. I think we had 15 to 20 hives there. We wanted to really corner of the market in Quebec honey. We got a call, I don't know, about three and a half, four months later that we had beekeeping equipment over about a third of that province. That was the biggest mess people have ever seen. It's a 15-hour drive one way.

When we got there, every single hive was destroyed. I asked when setting those up, "Do you have bears here?" "Oh no, there's no bears. You got moose. They may knock them over, but no bears." For those listeners who didn't hang up, you may not know that you've got these animals sniffing around. The people who lived in my bear attack, who literally lived a thousand yards away, had no idea that that animal had been back there, and they got dogs. They got outside dogs. Finally, punching this story out, on the second attack that I experienced, that colony was sent to that remote location because it couldn't learn to play nicely with my neighbors here. It kept stinging my neighbor. He's the guy I talked about in other episodes who said he thought it might be yellow jackets. No, that's my bees. I know what's stinging that.

I'd moved that colony down there. It was an aggressive, no-nonsense survivor. That's the one the bear ripped into.

He must have paid a price for tearing into that colony. As I was cleaning and picking up, I picked up the outer cover and put it back on the colony that I'd reassembled. I didn't know there was five pounds of bees under there on that cold, cool day. When I picked that top up, it was immediate. I was in multi-flora rows. I was in junk and garbage. I had bees everywhere. Then what do you do, beekeepers, because I got all these bees flying on this marginal grey day? I had to let the whole thing settle down. I didn't have any gear on. I had no smoker lighted. I put them back together, and those bees survived that bear attack. The equipment didn't, but not all of it. The bees survived the bear attack.

Jeff: This last week, you've had no bees left?

Jim: No. I think what happened this last week is that it was too cold. It was in the 20s. Once they broke that cluster or scattered the bees everywhere, there were no clumps of bees. There was no swarm hanging anywhere. Those bees died of cold exposure.

Jeff: So this was pretty easy postmortem account of this?

Jim: Pretty easy postmortem. There's no raccoon that could carry a deep that far away. Most of the frames were out of it, and the frames were scattered. Could have taken one frame at the time. There's all these details I don't fully understand. My autopsy procedures are not perfect when it comes to analyzing bear scat and broken frames. There it is, listeners. Right when you least expect it, you get a call that your beehive is over about a 30-yard radius down there, and parts and pieces are broken, and they can just only be one animal, and all the neighborhood, you're the talk of the neighborhood there for a while, that yes there's bears back there. Just one more reason not to have bees on your property. They attract bears.

Jeff: You need to get a new sticker for your truck. It's a BSI, bear scene investigation.

Jim: Have I got a string yellow tape out?

Jeff: Yes. [chuckles] That's right.

Jim: I don't have any advice, Jeff, for you or other listeners. I don't know how you anticipate in these marginal areas, on these rare occurrences. I guess I'll stay on that property. It's a nice wild, location, but, clearly, at times, there's some significant wildlife there, very quietly going about his business.

Jeff: And you left the one colony there?

Jim: You say that very accusatorially.

Jeff: No, no, no, no. This story, we'll find out whether the bear was in transit from zone A to zone B.

Jim: I feel like I'm letting my kids play on the street, the way you asked that.

Jeff: [laughs] Not exactly.

Jim: Yes. Right now, that colony is still there. I know that the neighborhood would want to know if that bear is still roaming the area.

Jeff: So you left it there on-- as a community service?

Jim: I hadn't thought about that but I guess that's one way of looking at it. In my mind, I do plan to move that colony but I've got to have somebody help me load that one beehive, and then what am I going to do? Bring it back home here? I've already got more hives here than I want.

Jeff: I'm busy this weekend, Jim.

Jim: I know. Everybody's busy with surgical procedures and trips to the moon and whatever. That's all I got. I suffered a bear attack. You too can suffer a bear attack when you least expect it.


Jeff: It'd be interesting to hear other people's response to bear attacks and how they recovered from them and what information they can pass along.

Jim: I hope we hear from them. That's all I got. I'm punched out. I got no more bear stories.

Jeff: Hopefully, that's the last on

Jim: For a while. Thanks, buddy. I enjoyed talking to you.

Jeff: Thank you for inviting me.


[00:24:58] [END OF AUDIO]