apiary creatures

Who visits your bee hive at night?

Do you wonder who visits your bee hive at night? Have you thought about which of your hive’s many callers prefer the cover of darkness? Well, some of the smaller guests were recently caught red-handed by Cal Early, a beekeeper living near Olympia.

Cal was wondering who was eating the dead bees on his landing board, leaving only the heads. I’ve wondered about this, too. Whereas most dead bees are hauled out intact, if you leave them on the landing board, the bodies are often chewed off during the night.

Catching critters in the act

To answer the question, Cal set up a game camera on the leg of a nearby hive stand. He explains, “Its infrared LEDs illuminate the area in front of the camera at night without animals being aware of it. I got a nice photo of a mouse sitting on the landing board, beady little eyes reflecting the glow of the IR LEDs.”

A mouse eating dead bees on a landing board at night. His beady eyes glow.

This glowy-eyed mouse stopped by the landing board at night to eat dead bees. Apparently, he doesn’t care for the heads. © Cal Early.

Whoa! Is that ever cool! Those glowing eyes certainly look like trouble. The mouse is resting on the landing board, peacefully chowing down on the dead bees. Behind him, or maybe her, is a mouse guard. Good thought, Cal!

I asked about the particulars of the camera since I don’t know anything about them. Cal described them like this:

Generically known as “trail cameras,” they’re weatherproof and often used by hunters to scout for animals by putting them up along game trails or other sites where signs of use are evident. But anyone interested in learning what animals might be around could use one.

Images are typically saved on SD cards and the cameras connect to a computer via USB for viewing and downloading. They combine motion detector and digital camera technology, and vary widely in features such as image quality and programmability. They usually record still images as well as short videos.

Daytime recordings are in color and nighttime are in black-and-white. Nighttime images are illuminated using multiple infrared LEDs, which the animals can’t see. Image sizes tend to range 8-14 megapixels, depending on the camera model. There’s a plethora of these things on the market with a broad range of price and features.

Currently, I can find cheap ones on Walmart’s website for about $45 and broad range of prices at Cabela’s, up to several hundred dollars. The one I used cost about $90 and records 2-14 MP stills and 720 or 1280P HD videos with sound. It’s rated to detect motion out to about 100′. They come with a strap to attach the camera to a post or tree.

The cameras use about 8 AA batteries but they last quite a while for just still images. Recording nighttime videos will burn them up faster, due to the LEDs being lit up a lot. I have one up discretely near my hives, which are in a spot where it wouldn’t be difficult to vandalize or steal them, to help provide evidence if such unfortunate things happen.

A bee hive at night is busy

Dual purpose. That’s cool. Just for fun I looked on Amazon and found a raft of trail cameras, also listed as game, scouting, or hunting cameras. As Cal says, they have various options and prices vary along with the feature count. I think it’s amusing that so many come in camouflage designs—as if black may not be sufficient in the dead of night.

In addition to the mouse, Cal was visited by a rabbit. It was just passin’ through, I suspect, as rabbits are not partial to dead bees. But it sure is cute.

Honey Bee Suite

Infrared photo of a rabbit in front of a bee hive at night.

This rabbit was just passing by when he got caught on “film.” © Cal Early.


  • While trail cams are great for checking out who is visiting at night, most small hobby beekeepers would find value in them for security reasons as well. If you are a large scale apiary, it might be worth investing in Wi-FI or bluetooth cameras that feed the images back to a DVR recording device that is secured. This is especially true if you have problems in your area with vandals as unfortunately a small operation in Iowa had this past week.


    Trail cams keep the images on their own memory cards. So if vandals are intent on doing damage it’s best to have a back up of the images at a site that is not on the camera itself just in case it is stolen (as was the case with the Iowa incident).

    We are in the single digits here in Ohio now. I am praying my bees make it after two weeks hovering near and below “0” F.

    Keep warm and think thoughts of early spring.

  • Trail cams also pick up daytime visitors. I’ve got some great shots of deer, squirrels, chipmunks, an owl (possibly drawn by the chipmunks!) and of course my dog indulging her curiosity to a dangerous degree. Night time shots have revealed visits by porcupines and mink. I’ve never seen anybody on the landing board but bees, though.

    • Terry,

      I don’t have a trail cam but I’ve pulled porcupine quills out of a hive stand. I know they were there!

  • Nighttime, during the full moon, is when I like to feed my top bar hives. Each hive has an attached feed box that holds 3 quart jars of sugar water. The bees travel through a 1 1/4″ PVC tube to get to the box. This design discourages robbing, and allows me to change out the feed without opening the hive. I love doing this at night with a clear sky & full moon because there is no need to use a flashlight and I don’t disturb the bees at all!

  • That’s great! Thought I would mention that here in dry San Diego County, I have one location on a blueberry farm that has a lot of toads, and multiple times I have seen one or two big toads sitting in the dark facing the entrance of a hive. Maybe waiting for a bee on a night walk. As soon as they see me they crawl away, so I never caught them in the act.

  • The ‘bunnies’ aren’t so cute if they cut down your wife’s 300- 400 bulbs as they emerge: ranunculus, anemone, tulips. They don’t like the onion taste of alliums, so those are left alone. And they will keep emerging hostas trimmed to the soil level! Our local bunnies are likely Easter presents liberated (Free Willy) by the families after it became apparent the kids wouldn’t keep up with the promised care. And, they breed like rabbits. It would be great if we could combine the trail camera with a laser death ray!

  • The camo patterns or subdued colors for trail camera housings are not to avoid spooking animals. It’s to make them less apparent to humans and reduce the chance they get messed with or stolen. Additional creative use of local vegetation to break up the shape of the camera is a good idea – just avoid blocking the motion sensor or camera lens. I’ve passed within a few feet of a well-placed trail camera and never saw it, until the owner pointed it out to me.

  • Wow, my brother sure could have used one of those about 35 years ago.

    He was having his couple of hives in the lower paddock knocked over every night. He figured a raccoon was the culprit, as a family of them had been spotted recently in the area.

    So taking the only gun he had in the house, a 303 rifle with scope, he taped a flashlight along the side. Going on dusk, he packed out with his rifle, a flask of coffee and a cushion to await his nightly visitor. He found a convenient stump just under 20 feet away from the hives and settled in nice and comfy with his arse on the cushion and his back to the stump.

    About an hour after dark he hears a russle at the hives. Quietly setting his gun to his shoulder, elbow on knee, he reaches over with his trigger finger and flicks on the light.

    There standing on his hind legs, less than 20 feet away, looking down on my now scared to death brother, is a black bear …

    Yes, he pulled the trigger, dropped the gun in his scramble to get to his feet, bolted for home and called us.

    Well brother has to find a neighbour with another gun and some spare flashlights and finish the job, especially if he has only wounded the bear. After that’s done he should notify the authorities and report the gun shots and hopeful killing of a bear without a licence.

    Brother was a lucky shot, bear was dead and the hives were still standing. (My apologies to my brother for any journalist exaggeration – it’s been awhile.)

  • That’s pretty cool. Trail cams have so many wonderful uses, but never thought of it for this! Good idea. I’m like MB, holding my breath to see if any bees make it through this hard winter we are having here in Ohio, and the next few days will be even worse. The deer are already eating the Spruce trees. The bees have their moisture boxes and candy boards, but can they even get to them? We wrapped ours pretty good this year and threw a tarp over them, but I don’t know if it w/be enough. This weather is just brutal on all the living things out there. I am going to set my trail cams on the beehives and see if anything is out in this awful weather. If they will even work in this cold, the light bulbs have been popping when we turn them on. Way cold.

  • The camouflage on trail cameras makes them less noticeable during the day by humans with sticky fingers and/or human trespassers.

  • This may be an opportunity to get a question off my chest which I had for a long time. Almost always I find on my sticky boards wings and legs of bees only, nothing else. Where would the rest of the bees have gone?

    • Dieter,

      They may have been carted off by the workers. The wings and legs fit through the bottom screen, but the rest doesn’t.

  • I think the cameras come in camo to hide them from people because the cameras are frequently stolen if they are noticed.

  • Here in Kentucky, skunks can be a real problem at night. They claw at the landing boards and stick their paws in the entrances. When the guard bees rush out to yell “get off our porch!” that’s it. Repeated attacks create cranky hives, and the casualties can mount pretty quickly, so lots of folks here staple roughly-cut swatches of chicken wire to the bottoms of the landing boards in an effort to deter the smelly bandits. The general rule of thumb here is that if your bees are fussing and you see scratches on your landing board, it’s probably a skunk.

  • I installed one of these trail cameras in front of my hives in October, after some of my hives were attacked by a bear. (I also put up an electric fence…better late than never!)

    A key point for anyone living in the northern U.S. who plans to install a bear cam, as I call it: you need to use LITHIUM batteries rather than regular alkaline batteries. Regular alkaline batteries cannot provide enough power for nighttime operation in cold weather, a point that the Bushnell trail cam instructions do make, but not very clearly or emphatically.

  • Great article and idea concept for determining what is listing the bee yard. Appreciate the information and tips!

  • where I live I have been using them for security cameras. I had some problems with a man. The camera are great. 100 dollars is not bad for peace of mind. Happy new year Rusty

  • I have a small apiary in NW Minnesota and a deer jumped the electric fence and got in. It went to one hive and took a bite out of the corner of a BeeMax feeder. Then it went over to another hive, bit a chunk out of the telescoping cover, moved down and bit a chunk out of the brood box and the feeder. When it tried to take another bite it moved the feeder out of position and exposed the brood chamber and this is when the bees took action. That deer won’t be back.

    MB-Ohio; I ran across that article in the Drudge Report and it is well written with lots of pictures showing the destruction of the apiary. It makes you wonder if someone had it in for these guys to do so much damage. It is heartbreaking none the less to see this happen to anyone for any reason.

  • I wonder if they would be enough to pick up the motion during a swarm to trigger recording. It would be beneficial to know which hive swarmed if you weren’t there to observe it. After 4 swarms last year out of only 2 hives and I only know where only 2 came from it would be interesting to know. I am up to 10 hives now.

  • I have a small Bushell trailcam that I’ve used for the past 3 years to capture images of wildlife around where I live in the hilly suburbs of Los Angeles. I’ve never seen evidence of an animal messing with my bee hives but I have had issues with the water sources I put out so that my bees don’t bother the neighbors. Basically they’re big buckets of water with corks and water plants floating on top for the bees to land on. Some mornings I’d been annoyed to find corks and plants scattered on the ground all around the buckets. I posted a trailcam nearby and the first images revealed a giant raven perched on a bucket rim…unclear whether it was there to drink or to cause mischief. And then came pix of a small pack of 4 coyotes taking turns drinking, which explained the scattered corks with toothmarks. Bees like them, but coyotes apparently find the corks annoying. I’m a big fan of trailcams, both for daytime and nightime (infrared) images.

  • I have one trained on the chicken coop. Because the hives are nearby it catches activity near them as well. I see (what I believe to be) the same possum and fox making the rounds every night. Interesting to see the fairly consistent schedule they keep (fox more so than possum).

  • I love these trail cam tales. I don’t have cams but have seen skunks and raccoons at nite, when nothing is on tv I sit on the patio in the dark and snooze and listen to the night sounds, roaring mufflers, sirens, and the aforementioned critters actually walk past me as I sit still. Very still in the case of the skunk! Surrey, B.C. I have three hives, no biggie but I love bees.

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