With the rainy season upon them, a new threat looms over beekeepers in Yucatán in the form of xuuláb ants, which affect between 20 and 30 percent of the apiaries, posing a threat to 20,000 to 30,000 bee colonies in the Eastern region alone.
These insects attack hives located close to the ground, at a height of five to 10 centimeters, especially those settled on stones or wood. The problem is that 20 to 30 percent of the 100,000 bee colonies in the region are in this situation.
The location of the hives does not provide any protection to the bees, leaving them at the mercy of these fierce predators, whose invasion causes them to abandon their hives and consumes honey and brood.
Efraín Cuxim, president of the Local Livestock Association Specialized in Apiculture and Meliponiculture of Tizimín, revealed that the months of July, August, and September see a high presence of these ant species in the region.
He explained that due to adverse weather conditions, the activity of these ants has increased as they invade different sites in search of food, putting beekeepers at risk of losing their colonies.
These insects also affect the 70 percent of the 100,000 bee colonies in the region that are located in elevated places with water pools as bases to prevent ants from entering. However, these ants find ways to infiltrate the hives.
“The Xuuláb phenomenom is very active during this season, so I recommend that beekeepers keep their apiaries clean, well-swept, without trash or logs; fill the water pools and avoid using burnt oil. The ants go where there is a lot of leaf litter and garbage because it is a nesting place for rodents and insects,” he commented.
The director explained that these ants have a negative impact on the beekeeping economy since they are natural enemies of honeybees. They consume bees and even leave their pheromones behind, preventing the hive from being recolonized. Therefore, beekeepers must remain vigilant during the rainy season to avoid losses.
In recent days, according to Efraín Cuxim, the aforementioned ants, as well as Xuuláb ants, also known as army ants, have been very active, affecting not only the beekeeping sector but also agriculture.
The specialist pointed out that predatory ants cause the same percentage of losses in apiaries as varroa mites and Africanization do. He urged producers to take necessary measures to combat them.
Among other threats faced by beekeepers, he mentioned the varroa disease, which needs to be addressed during the breeding season. If not controlled, it can affect 20 to 30 percent of production. For instance, an apiary with 24 colonies can lose 20 to 30 percent of its population.
The beekeeping leader stated that there are three ways to combat these mites: using the natural product “thymol,” either in crystal or powder form; a chemical method, and biological control, which involves cutting the drones. Varroa mainly undergoes its metamorphosis in cells where drones produce their offspring.
The third issue that has been escalating is the high Africanization of apiaries, causing bees to become irritable and defensive in negative situations, such as lack of food or water, leading them to abandon the hive.
One way to prevent Africanization is to change the queen every two years. Most beekeepers do not change the queen, but it should be done. It is advisable to obtain queens that are 50 percent European and 50 percent Africanized to achieve resistance to pests and good production. Proper management helps prevent Africanization.
He reiterated that the most aggressive losses are caused by ants, varroa, and Africanization. “We are now in the season to control varroa, which is done before the start of flowering to have healthy hives and take advantage of the next season. It is important to remember that a weak bee is a bee that does not produce.”
Other factors affecting beekeepers include chalk brood, caused by humidity in the environment. It is a fungus that develops due to humidity because the apiary is not properly exposed to the sun, or their hives are too close to the ground and get splashed with moisture when it rains.
Regarding floods, no losses have been recorded so far. The recommended approach is to prune tilted trees to avoid them posing a threat to apiaries and to place apiaries in high areas to prevent them from being affected by floods like rejolladas.
Regarding cattle theft (abigeato), he admitted that much work remains to be done in this regard. The advisable approach is to be cautious when hiring staff. He noted that among beekeepers, it is known which assistants are involved in theft, “and we must support each other to prevent the theft of hives, especially during the production season.”