Honey bee: It’s what’s for dinner

Too often, the answer to “What’s for dinner?” is honey bee. Generally, when we think of honey bee mortality, we think of pesticides, mites, Nosema, viruses, lack of forage, poor nutrition, and migratory stress. Indeed, these are serious factors, each capable of taking out an individual bee, a whole colony, or an entire apiary.

Hives may be ravaged by bears, raccoons, and skunks. Even lizards, frogs, and snakes have been known to stalk a hive in hopes of a meal.

A long list of perils

For the individual bee, the list of perils is endless. A bee on a foraging trip can be hit by a car, eaten by a bird, ground up by a lawn mower, macerated with a pressure washer, or swallowed by a dog. If the bee is lucky enough to make it to a flower, she has to contend with predators such as yellowjackets and beewolves, which will sting a victim and carry it home to feed its young. Praying mantids and dragonflies love bee tenders and will have some for dinner and more for dessert.

Also out there are ambush bugs and assassin bugs many of which inject their prey with digestive juices before they suck out the innards. And don’t forget the robber flies that attack, subdue, and eat their prey in a similar way.

Spiders also cause their share of damage. The orb weavers build large and intricate webs to entangle the hapless bees, and the so-called ambush spiders wait motionless and camouflaged for the next meal to wander by. Ambush spiders like the “flower spiders” or “crab spiders” often take a bite of the soft tissue between head and thorax to subdue their victims.

Most predators are not picky

Of course, just like lawn mowers, cars, and pressure washers, most of these predators are not too picky. They will often eat anything they can catch, so bees make up only a small part of their diet. Still, if you are the bee that gets snatched up, it’s a big deal to you.

I’ve sorted through some of my photos and made a little gallery of crab spiders. If you are interested in taking a peek, the page is called “Bee fwellington.”


Crab spider with honey bee on salvia.

What’s for dinner? Honey bee on a bed of salvia. © Rusty Burlew.

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  • I can watch a marathon of The Walking Dead TV series, and I won’t get as remotely grossed out as I get from looking at spiders of any type. There was a huge fury black spider, with fuzzy pipe cleaner legs, living in one of my top bar hives for a few months this summer. I didn’t know if s/he was beneficial or not. But finally, I opened the lid one day and the darn thing turned around and CONFRONTED me. I mean, actually stood its ground and STARED at me. Ok, that spider had crossed the line! I squashed and squished it. It kept running even with spider innards oozing out everywhere. When I told a friend she commented, “Can you imagine the bee gossip that day: ‘Did you hear what happened to Ned the Spider? He’s Dead Ned now…'”

  • Rusty, I have been finding black widow spiders in my hive. A couple of times on the underside of the telescoping cover and once in between empty frames. The one between empty frames actually dropped down into the lower box and I really wasn’t in a position to take it all apart and squash the nasty thing. Should I hunt the thing down and destroy it or will the bees take care of it themselves?

    • Paul,

      Wow, I hate those things. They won’t do much damage in your hive, though. Even if one manages to kill a bee or two, your bees will soon finish it off. I think you will do less damage to your colony by just leaving it alone.