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Pygmy shrew – a menace to overwintering colonies in the Martimes, Canada.

Which bee predator has a heartbeat of 800 per minute, consumes more than its own body weight daily and scoops out bees for lunch?

The pigmy shrew, Sorex minutus, is an underestimated, but common threat for over-wintering honeybee colonies in eastern Canada, we are told by Fletcher Colpitts, Chief Apiary Inspector in New Brunswick, Canada.

Weighing just 3 gms and averaging 40mm in length (even with its tail), the shrews feed on insects, arachnids, woodlice, and in cold climates like Canada their diet turns to honey bees during winter.

To feed on bees in winter, they grab a cold sluggish bee from the edge of the cluster and take it to a feeding place either in the back of the hive away from the cluster or in the wrapping material and start munching.

First, they remove the head or enter through the top of the bee by making a large hole in its thorax. They then hollow out the bee leaving what looks like a pile of dirt — actually the wings, legs and a bit of the abdomen.

With such a large appetite for such a small body, the shrews may consume almost 0.5 kg of bees in 120 days of the eastern Canadian winter. As a result lots of colonies are dead by spring through shrew predation.

Fortunately, beekeepers have found that a narrow entrance just 0.25 inches in diameter widening to 0.5 inches in spring, to ensure that any spring pollen is not brushed off, will keep out the menace

 

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