If you live in an area with the invasive Argentine ants, chances are you have issues with them getting into your hives. These non-native pests have colonized most of California and the southern parts of the U.S. Their massive super-colonies make them difficult to control, especially in the bee yard. These ants can easily overwhelm a beehive, causing them to abscond. Over the years, I’ve tried just about everything to protect my bees from Argentine ants. Read on for my review of the best and worst solutions to keep Argentine ants out of your beehive.
Choosing the proper beehive stand
The first thing you need to do to protect your hives from ants is to get a proper stand. Many new beekeepers in areas with Argentine ants find photos online of other beekeepers making simple cinder block stands and do the same, only to lose their new nucs to ants a few weeks later. Having a beehive stand with defensible legs is a must. Choose a stand with slim legs (as opposed to thick ones) because they will be easier to create a barrier around. You should also consider height. While a taller stand may sound like a good idea, if you have a Langstroth hive it will make your colony unstable and difficult to manage as you add supers. I like to work with stands with 6- to 8-inch legs.
Most anti-ant measures involve creating some kind of barrier on the legs of your hive stand. Be aware that any rangy weed or overgrown bush can compromise your protection if it touches your stand or hive above that barrier. For that reason, it’s best to set your hives on a surface where weeds cannot grow. This could be a concrete pad, a wooden platform, or an area prepared with weed cloth and gravel (although this only lasts a year at best). If you don’t have an area like this, just know you will need to be vigilant in your weeding.
Although cinnamon may work fine against other ant species, nothing is more useless when it comes to Argentine ants. If cinnamon is working for you, consider yourself lucky to have such a mild ant problem!
Diatomaceous earth was a solution I hung onto for a long time. I liked that it was nontoxic and it works, but only kind of. It must be reapplied often and checked frequently. I felt like I was constantly reapplying it. In windy locations, it didn’t work at all. The diatomaceous earth just blew away. As soon as it gets wet, it stops working. This means having to reapply after every rain. Plus, I hated finding clumsy foragers coated in white because although it is non-toxic, the substance is harmful to bees if they fall in it. I gave this tactic up a few years ago.
Tanglefoot & sticky barriers
Sticky barriers like Tanglefoot will work for a short period of time in some conditions, but eventually, they dry up or become coated with a layer of dead insects. In some locations, it did not work at all because the afternoon wind would quickly coat it in a layer of dust that allowed the ants to cross no problem. I also had a lot of problems with bees getting stuck in it. Care needs to be taken in the way that this stuff is applied to your stand. It works best when there is some kind of shield that keeps bees from crashing into it.
Used motor oil or grease
Dirty motor oil or grease-painted on the legs of a stand, although not environmentally friendly, seems to be one of the most effective solutions to Argentine ants. The grease can have some of the same problems as the sticky barrier in that it may become dry or coated in dirt and will need to be “woken up.” The motor oil, too, eventually degrades and has to be reapplied, but it keeps the ants away. Its drawbacks are mostly the potential for environmental harm and the dirtiness of having to handle the stuff.
In my experience, moats are the most surefire way to protect against Argentine Ants, but they too have downfalls. Most people use oil instead of water in their moats because water evaporates too quickly, but oil becomes rancid after a while — especially when bees drown in it. Dead bees can pile up and create bridges for ants to cross, so you need to take some care when creating moats. You don’t want them to be too wide because that just increases the number of drowning bees. Ideally, moats should have some kind of shield over them to keep bees from falling in. I’ve seen many homemade solutions, but my favorite moat system comes from DefyAnt Stands. These stands have built-in moats on each leg, with an adjustable shield that screws up and down. The design makes it easy to clean and replace oil, but still protects fallen foragers from drowning. Click here to read more and use code “gndh” to save 10%.
AntCant dry barrier
I’m always a little skeptical when I discover a new ant-fighting method, but I have been testing AntCant for about a year and there are a lot of things to like. First, it’s nontoxic. It’s not meant to harm ants, it only created a slick barrier that ants cannot climb over. Second, it’s clean, dry, and won’t endanger bees. It’s a liquid that you can spray onto any smooth, vertical surface to keep ants from crossing. I use it on the legs of my stands and I have found it to be pretty effective and long-lasting. I have had it last over 6 months. It’s not compromised by rain or sun. The product only stops working when the surface has been compromised by grit or dirt because that alters the surface and allows the ants to grip it again. I’m so enthusiastic about its effectiveness that I started selling it in my online shop. Click here to read more about it and see my video tutorial below.