June 9, 2022

Small Furry Pests (077)

Small Furry Pests (077)

It doesn’t take long after getting into beekeeping and then repeatedly, as long as you have beekeeping equipment laying around or stacked neatly, until you have to deal with small furry pests. Mice, rats and other critters love the shelter, warmth,...

It doesn’t take long after getting into beekeeping and then repeatedly, as long as you have beekeeping equipment laying around or stacked neatly, until you have to deal with small furry pests. Mice, rats and other critters love the shelter, warmth, relative safety and often food, found in beekeeping equipment. In today’s episode, Jim Tew talks with Jeff Ott, from Beekeeping Today Podcast, about Small Furry Pests.

There are ways to deal with mice and rats. What works in a bee yard? The guys talk about the use of poisons and traps and non-lethal approaches minimizing the damage these little critters can quickly do.

The “why’s” of wanting to manage or avoid small furry pests are almost instinctually known. They chew through wood (and plastics) as if it is not even a barrier. They destroy frames and foundation (and car wiring harnesses), they urinate and defecate where they live. They can make a real mess of stored equipment. They love to get into hives late in the fall and winter when the bees are clustered. 

Have you ever picked up a hive box to have mice drop out and scurry off? What if one seeks the relative safety of the nearest dark opening… such as your pant leg? Jim has. Listen to find out your options should you face this quickly evolving situation!

Like all other pests you will deal with as a beekeeper, you will come to your own management approach that suits your personal philosophy on life (and death) when it comes to small furry pests. Like everything else, it is good to learn from the mistakes - and adventures - of others and chose your own way forward.

Listen in as Jim and Jeff discuss Small Furry Pests.

If you like the episode, share it with a fellow beekeepers and/or let us know by leaving a comment in the show notes. 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 www.betterbee.com


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

Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Copyright © 2022 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 77 – Small Furry Pests

Jim Tew: Listeners, I've got mice in my beehives. That's nothing new. I've had mice in my storage building and my beehives for decades. I'm here with Jeff from Beekeeping Today Podcast. Jeff, what do you think?

Jeff Ott: Yes, Jim, this is a tough topic, and I'm happy to talk about it. We all battle small, furry pests, whether they be mice, rats, raccoons, possums.

Jim: Yes, small furry creatures. Visitors, I'm Jim Tew from Honey Bee Obscura.

Jeff: I'm Jeff Ott from Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Jim: Today we're going to talk about small, furry pest and the beehive.

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 in an engaging and informative discussion meant for all beekeepers; long-timers and those just starting their journey with bees. Sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honeybees.

Jim: Jeff, the reason this is on my mind is that these small, furry pests are perpetual. They get a chapter in the bee books on what to do with these animals, but by our definition, they're pest.

Jeff: Yes, they are. As a beekeeper, you have to figure out how you're going to deal with mice and rats, or really small, furry pest in the bee yard, in the bee shop, and in any place where there's bee equipment. You have to have a plan in place and ready to go.

Jim: It's an unfortunate way of life, and I have tried, and tried, and tried. I guess we ought to say that sometimes this doesn't really have a happy ending for the mice or for the small, furry creatures. I'd like to give the listeners a heads up that we're not evil people here. We're just trying to keep our equipment together. I'm stumbling here, Jeff. Help me out.

Jeff: I agree. No matter what your intentions are, I think that there's not a happy solution for the small, furry creatures that everyone is going to approve of. Ultimately, for me, I always come down to say my 40,000 bees to 60,000 bees in the box are more important to me at this point in time than the one mouse who's crawled inside and making a nest on the bottom board during the winter or something like that. I come down to that, and I go all weird about it. I just say, ''Look, you crossed the line, Mr. Mouse. You're out." That's it, that's my approach.

Jim: You have a stronger opinion than I do, but I have reasons, Jeff and listeners, because the mice chew the wiring on my tractor. They're sitting there with my bee equipment all around it. This is, "Stop doing that, mice. You're welcome to live outside. Don't come in here and eat my bee equipment."

Jeff: I used to be more compassionate to mice and little furry creatures up until the point we lost a car because some rodent chewed through the soy-based coating on the wiring and the wiring harness. The insurance company said it cost too much money to replace it, so they totaled the car, and we're down to one car. It's just, yes, they crossed a line there.

Jim: Yes. We're both struggling because this thing doesn't have a happy ending for beekeepers or for mice. We've just had this uncomfortable relationship. You had a dead out and you didn't get it to it right away. By the time you get back out there and you open it up, then there's a big mouse nest. They've cut the end bars out of three frames, and they've chewed up the bottom bar. They destroyed the comb and cut through the foundation insert, and they build a nest there. Then you got to decide if you put that back at a colony and the bees are going to build drone brood back there, or you got to replace the whole thing.

At that moment, it's just a stinky, stinky mess to clean up with mouse droppings and baby mice. What should you do with that? Then you want to be a compassionate person, but this is just frustrating.

Jeff: It is. I will say, as part of my IPM approach for mice, I do like the slatted rack because it tends to keep the mouse down below on the bottom board, in the back corner, than them getting up into the brew chamber and chewing up wax and frames, at least to date. I've not had that experience.

Jim: I do have a picture. It doesn't happen often. I like slatted racks, but I do have one old, old picture, 35-millimeter slide of the mice that took the time to chew through the rack, and then built the nest up under and through, and so then I had it slatted. That's just one time, but I agree with the slatted rack thing. The one small thing that I do is I generally leave on a reversible bottom board that has 3/4 inches opening on one side, 3/8 inches on the other. In the classic old beekeeping days, you would flip that bottom board, the deep bottom board, during the free flight months, and the smaller entrance during the cold months.

I just leave the 3/8 inch opening all the time. In theory, a mouse can go any place they can get their head, I've been told. Bee people have always said that mice can't get through a 3/8 inch opening. I bet you somewhere there's a mouse that's going to try and pull it off. I leave the entrance reduced to the smaller 3/8 inch opening year-round.

Jeff: All right, that's a good approach.

Jim: It's an approach. You feel like you're doing something.

Jeff: What do you do? We talked about two different IPM type approach, kind approaches to the mice problem. I suppose you could Havahart traps or CatchAlive traps in your shop or in the bee yard. What's the next step? What do you try?

Jim: If you've done what you can do, what you think you can do, I'm reluctant to go down this rabbit hole more or less, but you go over to the farm supply stores, and there's all kinds of mouse poisons and whatever. Either trapping or poisons. I've got such a relationship with this problem to every level brings up an instance. The thing with the poisons, I put a few of these chunks around to keep the mice under control and my youngest daughter's dog-

Jeff: Oh gosh.

Jim: -followed me out to the bee yard and grabbed the big chunk of mouse poison and then would stay just about 10 feet ahead of me until he finished eating it while I was having a stroke. I'm responsible for the dog. I'm trying to control mice, and here the dog is eating all the mouse poison. Veterinary call, hydrogen peroxide down the dog's throat, making him throw up to get rid of all that. You just think, "Oh, I hate mice. I just hate mice." Just driving me, I'm killing dogs, I'm killing everybody trying to control the mice.

Jeff: Yes. I will say that I am not a real good proponent or advocate of poisons for rodents, at least so far in my life. That we've always had too many cats around, and/or too many hawks and other birds of prey that I would be concerned of poisoning downstream of that mouse. I'm not saying that poisonings is wrong, it's just wrong for us. I've always gone with different types of traps, and the plain old Victor mouse trap and/or even now they have the electronic zap traps.

Jim: I haven't used that one, but I did want to say that the poison thing didn't work out. That was a quick dead-end trip. Probably offending people who are selling mouse poisons, but no, that didn't work out well. That didn't have a happy ending, so I didn't try that. I do have the traps, but you got to keep them set. Then I've known people in my family, even I've known people who said, "I'm not emptying that trap. Throw it away." Then if you read the technical book, the technical articles on mouse control, that trap that's already had a mouse on it is more attractive to subsequent mice.

It's a despicable job, but this is, as listeners, you got to have some of these topics like this so you'll know when you have a good topic because this is just one of those things that just doesn't have a happy ending, what to do with these mice?

Jeff: We were talking before. Yes, they're small, furry creatures. We've focused primarily on mice and rats at this point, but there are others. There are raccoons and possums, but maybe that's a different topic for a different podcast. Alls they need to do, some point, is go pick up a super and have a mouse drop out of it, and they will have a different perspective on dealing with these small, furry pests. You ever experienced that?

Jim: I want to get my thoughts together. Let's take a break to hear from our sponsor, and I'll get in a storytelling mood when we come back.

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Jim: Jeff, I've told this story so many times that I've retired it and said, I'll never tell it again. Everyone has heard it. Then what happened? Beekeeping underwent a huge growth in new people. I had all these audiences that had never heard my old, old stories. It was a fall day, I was cleaning everything up, and there had already been a colony that I knew was going to be really run down, had been queenless, not going to survive probably. I'm going to get rid of this equipment. As I was taking the hive apart, yes, it was dead. There was a mouse nest there.

You know that story. Always a mouse and this dead-out equipment, it seems like, for a nest. As I picked it up, it broke the nest apart. I saw three mice scamper across everything. I'm carrying now 10 frames; it's got some weight to it. As I turned around, I thought, "I saw where two of them were gone. Am I stepping on the third one?" About that point, I realized, no, I'm not stepping on the third one because it's going up my left pant leg. At that moment, you reprioritize everything in life. There's nothing else in life other than what to do with that little furry guy, little creepy, creepy claws going right up the outside of your left leg.

I dropped the super and grabbed the mouse through my Levi jeans.

Jeff: [laughs] Oh God.

Jim: Then you have the strangest thoughts, Jeff. I realized for the first time in my life that you can't take your pants off over your head.

Jeff: Yes. [laughs]

Jim: That your pants only come off one way. You look around then, and say, "Has anybody seen me doing this? Because this is pretty embarrassing,"? but I was out in the middle of nowhere, and no, no one could see me do it. I decided I probably got to kill the mouse. I don't know how you're going to kill a mouse inside your lower pant leg, down below your knee. I guess you'll crush his head. Which end is his head? I don't know. You got a 50-50 shot. You got to make some decisions here.

While I was trying to do all that and trying to send this mouse to heaven, it actually dropped out of my pants and scurried away disoriented, but none the worse alive, except it had left me traumatized for life now. You can't trust those little creatures.

Jeff: No.

Jim: They will really motivate you when those things come after you unintentionally.

Jeff: Oh, I can't imagine carrying a partially filled super, and having that mouse go up your pant leg. That will leave an impression.

Jim: Oh, you make animal sounds. You're guttural. You're speaking in broken sentences, and you're saying things you probably shouldn't be saying. You're just working at a hyper-- It's just a mouse. What's the little guy going to do? I don't know, but I don't want that mouse going up my pant leg.

Jeff: Oh my Lord.

Jim: What does that accomplish? Nothing other than the fact that it does not help the mouse's cause, the mice's cause in my bee yard. I just don't want them there. Because of all the food reserves, all the pollen, the dead bee bodies, even some honey, there is a food reserve there for those critters.

Jeff: Yes. Last, not this current last winter, but two winters ago, I had one mouse that was just a constant problem in one colony. It was trying to get in. I had the entrance reduced to that single little square opening. It was, I could see each day it would chew a little bit more, chew a little bit more, chew a little bit more. I set up a mouse trap on the landing pad of the hive because peanut butter is the trap attractant for mice, of choice for least for me. It knew how to get that peanut butter off that trap without triggering it, every time except once.

Then it was no longer a problem, but it was, they are pests. You have to take care of them, or you're going to lose equipment. Woodenware is not cheap, and it's not getting cheaper, and bees aren't cheap. We have a hard enough time getting bees through the winter these days than having to also deal with the small, furry pests.

Jim: I'd like to tell some of the beekeepers who have not kept bees for a long time yet that if you do use the deeper entrance 3/4 inch, and you do use a standard entrance reducing cleat and preparing for winter, be certain that there are no mice in there when you put that on, or otherwise, you unintentionally trap the mice in the colony with the bees all winter. The bees will probably kill the mice or the mouse. Then that dead thing is going to be inside the colony. I've got some really interesting pictures of where not knowing that that had happened, that the bees would collect propolis and entomb that mouse's carcass in propolis in an effort to control-

Jeff: The stench. [laughs]

Jim: -the stench, the vermin, the filth, whatever you would call it.

Jeff: That is really interesting.

Jim: You mentioned raccoons, I guess we ought to say something.

Jeff: Sure.

Jim: I don't know if we're ever going to talk about this again. Raccoons are the same, but just bigger. You can tell that they've been there because there are smudges on the landing board, and it's just like a mouse, but bigger. What are you going to do with this thing? Havahart traps. You got a raccoon and a trap, then what are you going to do? Because in many states, you can't relocate vermin, so you just get in deeper and deeper. Where do you draw the line here? Anything worse than a raccoon? Oh yes. Yes, let's get a skunk in a Havahart trap.

Jeff: Oh yes, that's not fun.

Jim: Then you don't have any friends anywhere in the known universe. You just don't. All of these issues happen because we set up bee yards, and we bring in large populations of bees and all of the accouterments that go with that, the wax and the honey, and whatever. It just naturally attracts wildlife that need to use this as food. In a sense, we're responsible, and in a sense, it's not our fault.

Jeff: Right. I take a holistic approach and say it's part of beekeeping. I try to find an approach or fix that I can live with, and the bees can live with, and maybe the animals or the pests can live with, learn and live with. I like keeping the colonies high up off the ground so that the vermin have to reach up to get at the beehive, which exposes the skunk or the raccoon, or whatever is there, their bellies to the underside of the bees, which is a little bit more tender. Yes, it's a difficult problem. The mice are the worst. I just can't stand mice in the bee yard and rats in the bee house. I'd have no mercy for them.

Jim: I have to agree with everything you just said. You're never done.

Jeff: No.

Jim: If you relocate a raccoon or skunk, and it has a happy ending, within just a short time, there will be a replacement.

Jeff: Yes.

Jim: It's just a never-ending cycle. It's just a part of beekeeping. You're not the only one who wants some of that bee stuff. A lot of other critters do too.

Jeff: We haven't even started talking about groundhogs, or gophers, or anything else that are under the ground bothering the bees.

Jim: Yes. No, I wish you hadn't brought up the groundhog thing. You just can't negotiate. I sound like a very intemperate person when it comes to wildlife. I'm a very tenderhearted person, but I just want everything to live where you ought to live and stop digging under my storage barn or living in my storage barn. That's not your place. I sense this is a topic that we haven't finished. I sense it's the topic we probably never should have tried, but it really is a timely topic for me. It's just constant. Right now, I'm asking my neighbor for the droppings in her cat box to see if I put cat litter around, will it scare the mice away for a while, or forever, or for a little time, or what?

Something no more than that. Can I get back to you on that? It was an odd request to go ask my neighbor, "Can I have all your cat stuff when your cat is done with it?"

Jeff: Yes. I'm sorry, that's going to be the way we're going to end this episode, but Jim, you going to the neighbors asking for the kitty litter droppings, that's a visual.

Jim: [laughs] Yes, forget that cup of sugar stuff.


Jeff: I have no idea, but that should give you some idea the level of my desperation. If you can't do poison, trapping is not working that well, the mice are winning, let's try something really novel.

Jeff: Yes, and be that beekeeper neighbor and go ask your neighbor for a couple cat droppings.


Jim: Hey, listeners, if you've listened to this point, we are so sorry.

Jeff: Yes. [laughs]

Jim: Thanks for listening, and give us a comment. If you've got some way that we could offer advice to other people on what to do with these furry pests, we would be happy to pass it along. Right now I have to say that the vermin is winning. Thanks, Jeff, as always.

Jeff: Thank you, Jim. I enjoyed the time, you bet.

Jim: All right, goodbye.

[00:21:09] [END OF AUDIO]