Sunday, 2 April 2017

Uninvited Guest

You work tirelessly to provide your family with sufficient stores to get through winter, but food is now scarce. Your stores are low when spring arrives. The work to keep the family fed begins all over again. Every day you're out there, bringing home what little you can find. Now is not the time to be entertaining any guests, and especially not an uninvited guest. Worse still, your uninvited guest is a hungry one who eats not only your food, but also the cupboards you store it in and the walls holding up the cupboards. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, the mouse.
A couple of weeks ago, I inserted inspection boards under each of my four beehives. As you know, I treated them in mid-winter to reduce the levels of varroa infestation. The purpose of the inspection board is check the extent to which varroa mites could be building in number again within the colony. Even though I hadn't yet opened the hives, I knew each colony must have brood (bee larvae) as on warmer days the bees were returning with full pollen bags (brood food). The female varroa mite lays her eggs within a brood cell, so her babies hatch out with a pupating larva on which to feed. A growing brood nest brings with it the risk of a growing varroa mite population. Mites that die, or are dislodged from busy bee bodies brushing up against each other or during grooming, fall to the floor of the hive, through the mesh and onto the inspection board. I count the bodies.
Last week I removed the inspection boards to do just that. As I pulled out the first board, varroa was immediately of secondary concern, for there, to the rear of the board were bee body parts and mouse droppings. #@!*&💀↯

I whipped out boards two, three and four. More body parts. More mouse droppings. #@!*&💀↯#@!*&💀↯
To add insult to injury, only a few days earlier I'd washed and patched up my nearly new bee suit after discovering it had been a winter home for a nesting, nibbling, peeing, pooing mouse.

Perhaps, being smarter than the average mouse, that same mouse made the connection between bee suit and beehives, and swiftly abandoned its cocoon in my suit to sniff out my apiary. Such a shame he didn't meet Steve, Nessa or Charlie on route and become the dinner not the diner.
Colonies 1 and 2, my strongest colonies going in to winter, put up a fight. Their uninvited guest appeared to have pooped and left, for there was no sign of comb chomping. Colony 3 was less successful, with one frame eaten through and a pile of dead bees amongst the comb crumbs. Colony 4 fared the worst, with three frames tunnelled through and a greater number of bee body parts (mainly heads and legs, the crunchier and less nutritious bits). No sign of the twitchy nosed intruder himself.

Inspection complete, I closed up the hives and pinned a mouse guard to each entrance, the sound of tens of thousands of tiny voices shouting "too little, too late" buzzing in my ears. Never having suffered a mouse intruder before, the guards have sat for years unused at the bottom of my kit box. Lesson learned. Just because it hasn't happened, doesn't mean you shouldn't protect against it happening.
There is a happy ending to this tale of whiskered woe, for the bees, though perhaps fewer in number, seemed none the worse for hosting a mouse. All queens are present and laying, the new season's brood nests are starting to expand across the frames. The only sting in the tale was the sting in my finger.

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