Cover Story archive
April 2013 Cover Story
Simple Early Treatment of Nucs Against Varroa
by Randy Oliver
When I try to understand something about beekeeping, I seek out examples from the extreme ends of the spectrum. For that reason, I often look to the experience of our Canadian brethren, due to their long, cold winters and bounteous honey crops. We can take advantage of those huge honey yields to allow us to discern even small effects upon honey production from the impact of the varroa mite, eh? Dr. Rob Currie found that surprisingly low mite levels can affect yield, recommending that the late spring varroa infestation rate not exceed 1 mite per 100 bees. At this year’s ABF convention, Dr. Medhat Nasr described how beekeepers in Alberta, Canada find that they get best results with very early season mite control.
I’ve previously described how one can reduce mite levels by using queen cells to make up spring nucs; but we can go a step further if we hit the nucs with a miticide at the same time! The question then, is which miticides are gentle enough so as not to adversely affect the newly-mated queen or the buildup of the nuc?
Several studies have found that the synthetic miticides may have adverse effects upon queens, so I hesitate to use them. That leaves the essential oils and organic acids. I know from experience that the most effective essential oil—thymol—is disruptive to broodrearing, so I’d rather not apply it to small nucleus colonies (there are also temperature issues with thymol).
As far as formic acid is concerned, the manufacturer of Mite-Away Quick Strips™ recommends that they be applied only to colonies exceeding 6 frames in strength, and anecdotal reports from a number of beekeepers suggest that formic acid, under some circumstances, may be risky to queens--an observation supported by research by Dr. Pierre Giovenazzo.
So that leaves us with only two proven miticides--the recently-registered product HopGuard® (hops beta acids) and the unregistered oxalic acid. The manufacturer of Hopguard states that the product is safe for queens, so it sounded promising. The oxalic acid dribble was a likely candidate as well, since it also does not appear to negatively affect queens[6,7]. Giovenazzo had also tested oxalic acid with good results.
However, both Hopguard and oxalic have one drawback—since they only kill phoretic (hitchhiking) mites, and since either product is only active for a few days in the hive, they don’t hit the reservoir of mites in the brood. Both of these miticides are most effective in broodless colonies, such as in fall, or during a period of induced broodlessness, as demonstrated by Wagnitz and Ellis--who caged the queen in late summer, replaced her in a few days with a queen cell, and then later applied oxalic acid after all the brood had emerged.
I normally start nucs with queen cells. It occurred to me that in such nucs, a window of opportunity exists for the effective use of short-term natural treatments against varroa. It’s all about the timing. A nuc is made up with frames of brood from an established colony. That brood will contain mites. Some of the unsealed brood will continue to be invaded by mites for up to 9 days after the nuc is made up (bottom colored bar). But any and all brood from the parent queen will have emerged by Day 21 after the making of the nuc (Fig. 1).
I insert 10-day* queen cells into the nucs on the day after I make them up. That means that the new queen won’t emerge until Day 2 or 3 after make up (middle colored bar), and not begin laying eggs until around Day 11 after make up (sometimes a bit sooner).
But the mites cannot yet enter the new brood, since varroa doesn’t invade a cell until about 8 days after the egg is laid. That means that the first opportunity for the mite to hide in new brood generally occurs around Day 19 post make up of the nuc (upper colored bar). So from Day 19 through Day 21, virtually every mite would be exposed to the treatment!
OK, this sounds good in theory. So I ran two trials to see just how well it actually worked in practice.
Materials and Methods
The unusually warm winter of 2011-2012 was a good opportunity to test the method, since mite levels were unacceptably high by early April. We used a batch of nucs grafted from two queen mothers (the majority from one mother) on April 12. On May 1 (Day 19 after make up) we equalized them to 48 queenright nucs each containing 5 full frames of bees by adding frames from the unmated nucs to the mated ones, and by shaking bees, which helped to randomize the original mite infestation rates. At this point (again apparently due to warm weather), some larvae from the new queens were already being sealed, meaning that some mites may have already infested those cells prior to treatment.
Since the nucs were scatted in a rough line in the order of make up, every 4-5 in the row would have come from the same parent colony, so we marked them sequentially down the line for treatments in order to avoid any effect from the original brood sources. After allowing 2 hours for them to settle down, we took samples of ½ cup of bees (~320 bees) from each nuc, preserved them in alcohol for later washing for mites, and then applied treatments as shown in Table 1.
After a week, we moved the nucs to another yard, placing them in groups of 4 facing out 90 degrees to each other, and rotated to equalize the directions of the entrances for the various treatments. Shortly afterward, we worked each nuc into a single, adding 5 frames of foundation. We fed 1:1 sucrose syrup equally as necessary to augment the natural honey flow.
We took mite samples again at Day 37, Day 51, and Day 87 post treatment.
Results and Discussion
The mite infestation rates of the groups are shown in Figure 2 (Day 0 is now reset from the treatment date).
The differences between the first two bars are the most indicative of the efficacy of the treatments, with the greatest reduction being from the oxalic treatment. Mite infestation rates climbed at a fairly steady rate after treatments. My treatment threshold is 2 mites per 100 bees. This level was exceeded in the control group (which began with the lowest mite level) by the first time point. By contrast, the mite level in the oxalic group (which began at nearly twice the mite infestation rate of the controls) was still well below threshold at three months!
To more easily compare the effects of treatment, I normalized the mite population growth curves for all groups to start at 100% (Fig. 3).
The mite count data need to be taken with a bit of caution, as they were only single samples from each colony at each time point, and thus have a built in degree of potential error, especially in the low ranges, which give disproportionate influence to any single mite in (or not in) the sample. However, I’ve carefully inspected the raw data, and feel that the results are meaningful, despite the variability in counts.
The intermediate performance of Hopguard and Hive Clean (applied at manufacturer’s recommended rates) suggests that their efficacy was less than that of the oxalic dribble. The registrants may need to adjust the suggested treatment rate for nucs.
Note also that each colony had received a new queen, who may have passed on mite resistance to her offspring. Indeed, in 3 of the 10 colonies in the control group which made it to the end of the trial, the mite counts were lower at the end of the trial than they were in the beginning. But compare this to the oxalic group, in which mite counts went down in 9 out of 11!
Colony Survival and Productivity
We removed 9 colonies during the course of the trial due to failure or disease (EFB), roughly spread among groups. The oxalic group had the lowest rate of failure, with only one removal.
Measuring the productivity of the nucs was problematic, since the main honey flow essentially failed. On July 27 (Day 87 post treatment) I opened every hive in the test apiary, excluding (censuring) any that had superseded, or with abnormally small populations. I recorded which colonies fell into one of two extremes from the norm (which had roughly filled a third to a half of the second deep with honey)—as “productive” (having nearly filled the second deep with honey) or as “nonproductive” (having barely touched the foundation). The results were unexpected:
Of the 13 “productive” colonies, only 3 had received an acid treatment (oxalic or Hive Clean).
Of the 7 “nonproductive” colonies, 6 had received some form of acid treatment.
The Hopguard group contained the highest proportion (6 of 10) of productive colonies
Of the 13 “productive” colonies, 4 had high mite counts (4.7-13 mites/100 bees).
I don’t know whether the apparent lack of production of the acid-treated colonies was a fluke, or whether the acid treatment had some sort of long-term effect upon productivity--the lack of normal honey flow may have confounded the results. Giovenazzo also observed a nonsignificant 13% reduction in honey yield after oxalic treatment, but he applied twice the dosage of oxalic acid as I did. This potential effect certainly demands further investigation! On the other hand, compare this result to the grading for colony strength in Trial 2.
Materials and Methods
We ran a second trial with oxalic dribble alone to see whether we would obtain similar results as from Trial 1. Grafting (all from the same queen mother) took place May 3, and we made up 4-frame nucs 9 days later. In this trial, the weather was warm, and the queens started laying unusually early, with mature larvae at Day 15 after nuc make up. We equalized 36 queenright colonies to 5 frames of bees on that date.
We alternately treated the hives the next day (May 28), with either oxalic dribble or sham opening, but did not take initial mite counts. This treatment timing was earlier than optimum, since workers from the parent queen would still be emerging for 5 more days after treatment, possibly compromising the efficacy of the treatment.
After a week, we moved the hives to another yard and worked them into singles, adding 5 frames of foundation. The honeyflow failed to materialize in June (but pollen was abundant), so we fed the colonies equally with 1:1 sucrose syrup. The strongest colonies were just filling the 10th frame at grading on Day 69 after making the nucs (Fig. 4).
Results and Discussion
All colonies in the oxalic group survived to the end of the trial; three failed in the control group. Again, the oxalic dribble substantially suppressed mite infestation rates. I present the results differently here, showing the distribution of mite rates across the treatment groups (Fig. 5). The green bars represent the control group, which had a median value of 4 mites per 100 bees at Day 53 post treatment, compared to a median of 1 mite per 100 bees for the oxalic-dribbled group.
I observed no negative effects due to treatment of the nucs with oxalic dribble. Only two colonies in the entire yard went queenless—both were in the untreated group. Overall, the oxalic-dribbled colonies were substantially stronger at 53 days (2.5 brood cycles) after treatment (Fig. 6). This result reflects those of Giovenazzo, who also observed stronger colonies after oxalic treatment (although not statistically significant). One plausible explanation for this result is that the knockback of mites just prior to the first round of brood being sealed is enough to break the virus infection cycle of the first generation of bees, allowing for greater longevity of those bees.
I was curious as to whether differences in strength of the colonies was related to nosema infection, so I checked a 20 house-bee sample from each of the three weakest, and three strongest colonies, with representatives included from each treatment group. None of the strongest colonies showed nosema spores, but two of the weakest did—one of which showed 30 spores per field of view (1 mL/bee dilution). I squashed an additional 10-bee sample from that colony one bee at a time—only 1 of the 10 was moderately infected.
So, did colony strength reflect the mite infestation rate? I plotted colony strength vs. final mite count (Fig. 7).
Despite the fact that in both trials some brood had already been sealed by the time I applied treatment, the method was not only very effective at reducing mite levels (to 1 per 100 bees in most colonies), but also inexpensive (pennies) and quick.
Based upon the early results, we treated several hundred nucs this spring with oxalic dribble at Day 19, and did not notice any difference in queen failure over our normal low rate.
Practical application: following only two mite treatments in the past 9 months (one oxalic dribble in November, and the oxalic dribble over the nucs in May) our mite counts across the board in late July were still gratifyingly low—averaging a bit less than 2 mites per 100 bees (some of this was also due to breeding for resistant stock).
But how in the world, you say, will I be able to keep track of treatment window dates during the hectic spring season? That was also a major concern to me, since during our spring nuc making frenzy I often wouldn’t be able to tell you the day of the week! I solved the problem by printing up a simple spreadsheet (Table 2) that I could check each morning. For the cells grafted on any day, it shows the two critical dates in red—the last day that we can make nucs for that batch, and the 19th day for queen check and treatment.
The spreadsheet (Table 2) made it really easy to pull off the timing of treatments despite my perpetual disorganization (and actually made me feel somewhat professional)! The method only required one slight change in our regular production of nucs. We normally check for queen rightness two weeks after putting in the cells (good mating weather permitting), but in order to save trips to the nuc yards, we now wait 19 days, so that we can do three things on the same visit:
Check for laying queens. On Day 19, any queens from the grafted cells should normally have a good pattern of open brood, and it is just before the date that any emergency queens or laying workers would have started laying.
We combine the frames of bees from the unmated nucs with the queenright ones to boost them all to 5 frames of bees.
We then dribble them with oxalic acid before putting the lids back on.
By this method, the added oxalic dribble only adds a few seconds per nuc to our normal routine, plus by waiting a few more days to check for laying queens, we weed out the early failures or poor layers.
Possible Improvements on the Method
In warm weather, there may be brood from the new queens being sealed a few days earlier than Day 19, so you should check to see whether you need to treat earlier. If you find this to be the case, it may be of benefit to make the nucs up a few days before the cells are ripe, to allow the original brood (and mites) enough time to emerge.
The efficacy could also be improved by treating the parent colonies of the nucs with formic acid a few days prior to splitting them. If one makes up nucs by the “yard trashing” method (the complete breakdown of the parent colonies into nucs), any queen loss due to the formic treatment would make little difference.
Since mites continue to enter brood in a nuc for 8 days after make up, efficacy could potentially be improved by applying an additional oxalic dribble or Hopguard strip at make up. Let me also make clear that I have not given up on Hopguard or Hive Alive (should it be registered in the U.S.)—both show potential.
This method uses precise timing, combined with making normal colony increase, to gain the most advantage of residue-free “natural” mite treatments. The oxalic dribble costs pennies and takes seconds to apply. We already love it for early winter treatment at cessation of broodrearing, and now can also use it in spring. Our findings also call for more research on the possible effect of oxalic dribble on productivity, and whether treatment with two Hopguard strips would give better results.
Practical consideration: this project was funded by donations from beekeepers, performed by beekeepers, for the benefit of beekeepers. You can support such research with your donations to ScientificBeekeeping.com.
I greatly appreciate the help in running this trial from my sons Eric and Ian, whose labor was covered by your generous donations to ScientificBeekeeping.com. I especially wish to thank volunteer Brion Dunbar for his unstinting assistance throughout the trial. The Hive Clean was generously donated by BeeVital, Seeham, Austria.
1. Currie, RW and P Gatien (2006). Timing acaricide treatments to prevent Varroa destructor (Acari: Varroidae) from causing economic damage to honey bee colonies. Can. Entomol. 138: 238–252.
4. Giovenazzo, P and P Dubreuil (2011). Evaluation of spring organic treatments against Varroa destructor (Acari: Varroidae) in honey bee Apis mellifera (Hymenoptera: Apidae) colonies in eastern Canada. Experimental and Applied Acarology 55(1 ): 65-76.
6. Cornelissen, B, et al (2012). Queen survival and oxalic acid residues in sugar stores after summer application against Varroa destructor in honey bees (Apis mellifera). Journal of Apicultural Research 51(3): 271-276.
7. Wagnitz, JJ and MD Ellis (2010). The effect of oxalic acid on honey bee queens. Science of Bee Culture 2(2) (Supplement to Bee Culture magazine 138(12): 8-11. http://www.beeculture.com/content/ScienceJournalDec2010.pdf
8. Giovenazzo (2011). Op. cit.
9. Wagnitz, JJ and MD Ellis (2010). Combining an artificial break in brood rearing with oxalic acid treatment to reduce varroa mite levels. Science of Bee Culture 2(2) (Supplement to Bee Culture magazine 138(12): 8-11. http://www.beeculture.com/content/ScienceJournalDec2010.pdf
11. Giovenazzo (2011). Op. cit.
12. Giovenazzo (2011). Op. cit.
March 2013 Cover Story
Dying Queen Cells - Pesticide Mystery Solved?
by Randy Oliver
The Case of Pristine Fungicide
If you hang out in the Northern California almond orchards during bloom, you’re going to see fungicides being sprayed over the trees, the bees, and the hives (and sometimes the beekeepers!). Due to our wet winters, growers spray hundreds of tons of fungicides during bloom (Fig. 1).
These fungicides don’t normally kill adult bees to any great extent (although the adjuvants in the tank mix may), but they (or again the adjuvants), may have adverse effects upon the brood, as reported by Dr. Eric Mussen in 2008:
California beekeepers seem to observe more problems with fungicide toxicity to their bees than beekeepers around the rest of the country. Perhaps that is because California beekeepers devote significant time to “lifting lids” in spring (actually, late winter by the calendar). As early as the late 1950’s beekeepers noted brood loss, in some apiaries, following the use of captan. Later, they noted brood loss following the use of Rovral®. Now, they report seeing brood loss following Pristine® applications. These are not immediate losses, such as one might see with Monitor® or other insecticides that are toxic to bee brood. These losses are noted, usually, about seventeen days after exposure. Counting backwards, that means exposure of one-day-old larvae that interfered with immature development. Pupae and newly emerged bees are seen with anatomical malformations, like undeveloped wings.
However, most almond pollinators take such occasional setbacks due to fungicides in stride, since colonies build up vigorously on almonds and generally recover quickly from the loss of a few foragers or a bit of brood. In my experience in almonds, I’d say that colonies that go in looking great generally come out looking fantastic! And I don’t notice any lingering effects due to exposure to the fungicides. But Mussen continues:
Does this mean that beekeepers can dismiss concerns over certain fungicides? No, not all beekeepers. If beekeeper observations are correct, Pristine-contaminated pollen, if consumed by colonies in the process of rearing queens, will decrease the number of queens reared to adults.
Problems in Queen Country
The California queen breeders, generally located in almond country, produce a large proportion of the nation’s queens each spring. They typically rear them in cell builders fed with combs of recently-stored almond pollen. In recent years, some of them have experienced occasional mysterious failures of entire batches of queen cells. Such failures could set a producer’s entire delivery schedule back for weeks during the critical early spring market for queens (this is no reflection on California queens—the vast majority of cell builders are unaffected).
The affected breeders noticed that such failures appeared to be linked to combs of pollen that had come from orchards that had been sprayed with the recently-introduced fungicide Pristine. Beekeepers were already leery of fungicides, after Eric Mussen’s warnings, especially since the Tucson Lab confirmed that some fungicides were toxic to bees.
Subsequent research by Dr. Gloria DeGrandi-Hoffman’s team suggested that Pristine might amplify the negative effects of the organophosphate insecticide chlorpyrifos upon bee nutrition, endosymbionts, and brood survival, including that of queen cells[3,4,5]. It appeared to be a slam-dunk case against Pristine!
So the queen producers put pressure on the growers not to use Pristine, which the growers then reported to their pest control advisers, who told the salesmen for the product. This of course got the attention of the manufacturer, BASF, who commendably sent out representatives to work with the queen breeders.
What appeared to be an airtight case against Pristine actually had some serious holes. For one, BASF showed us data from their research which indicated that Pristine, at field realistic doses, did not kill brood. Furthermore, plenty of healthy cells were being produced from pollen that did contain residues of Pristine. So we had opposing evidence as to whether or not Pristine was actually the problem.
Judging the Case
This is where it is useful to apply Koch’s Postulates. The first question was whether Pristine was always associated with the unusual queen failures. Unfortunately, those failures were sporadic, and samples of beebread had generally not been taken, which made it harder to link residues of the active ingredient to the problem. And it was really hard to tell which hive had been exposed to what, since there are often several almond growers within flight range of any hive, and queen producers bring in combs from the field to stock their cell builders. So much for direct linking evidence.
This is where California Pesticide Use Reports might shed some light. California has the best pesticide use reporting in the nation, with every commercial application recorded by applicator, date, crop, and location. These reports are summarized in an open data base, with more detail available from the local ag commissioners (who, in Northern California are very supportive of the beekeeping industry). I’ve graphed out the monthly application rates of pesticides on almonds below (Fig. 2).
The queen producers started complaining about lost cells around 2008. Note that little Pristine was applied statewide that year—far less than in 2005 and 2006. However, the breeders are not necessarily affected by statewide use, but rather only by applications immediately adjacent to their hives. I have not yet gotten that data for Pristine, but some of the queen producers are also almond growers, so they generally knew what pesticides were being applied (or so they thought).
Last season, BASF stepped up their efforts, and sent scientist Christof Schneider over to California to work with the queen producers and to take samples of pollen and beebread. Sure enough, residues of Pristine could often be found in pollen, but not in the royal jelly, suggesting that there would be little actual exposure to queen larvae.
BASF then went a step further, and attempted to fulfill Koch’s third postulate to see if they could experimentally create queen cell failure by intentionally feeding Pristine to cell builder colonies. They spent a lot of money last summer to run a “semi field” trial in which they grew flowering phacelia in hoop houses, sprayed it during bloom with Pristine, and then set up cell builder colonies inside the tunnels. Again, it was easy to detect residues of the active ingredients in the beebread, but not in the royal jelly. Most notably, the cell builders had no trouble producing healthy queens. This finding forced us to question whether the case against Pristine was as solid as we had assumed. So what else could be causing the queen cell failures?
A New Clue!
At this year’s California Beekeepers convention, I had the chance to review results from pesticide analyses of beebread samples from colonies that the queen producers had deployed in almond orchards during bloom last year. A few items caught my attention:
1. In the first place, the California queen breeders have relatively pesticide-free comb. The breeders go out of their way to minimize pesticide and miticide residues, to the extent that they hold hives back from pollination to get “clean” combs of beebread.
2. Surprisingly though, the beebread often still showed residues of coumaphos and fluvalinate, despite the fact that the producers hadn’t used those miticides in years!
3. There were also residues of various other pesticides.
4. But the real red flag was the unexpected presence of an “insect growth regulator”! This surprising discovery suggested a new suspect. An insect growth regulator (IGR), as its name implies, could well be harmless to adult bees, but might prevent queen pupae from being able to molt into adults!
The IGR was diflubenzuron, generally sold by the trade name “Dimilin.” The queen breeders were surprised to hear that an IGR was being applied during bloom. Upon further checking I found that Dimilin had been approved for use in almonds and stone fruits since the 2004 season (Fig. 3).
Well-meaning pest control advisers were recommending Dimilin to control Peach Twig Borer, and the timing of application in the above graph suggests that growers may have been adding it as a tank mix with fungicides:
Growers have long relied or dormant oil sprays alone or mixed with organophosphate or pyrethroids for early-season Peach Twig Borer control. However, organophosphates are coming under increasing scrutiny of regulators who want them phased out. These sprays also have caused problems by disrupting beneficials and washing into waterways… “As a farmer I am concerned about what I use. I look for products that are not only effective, but safe on beneficials and do not harm bees.”
The grower was correct in that Dimilin is safe for adult bees, but it certainly isn’t for brood! In a 2001 review, Tasei concluded that:
Insect growth regulators, used for pest control management will cause no damage to adult honey bees and probably other adult pollinators, and can be considered as safer for foragers than second generation insecticides.
However, he also noted that:
This safety for pollinators is only apparent, since serious damage to brood has been reported in honey bees and bumble bees…Abnormal mortality in eggs, larvae or pupae and typical malformations have been observed in colonies after some IGR applications. These troubles were due to the properties of these products, which all interfere with embryo development and moulting process and which contaminate food resources collected (nectar and pollen) and stored in the colony by foragers. As a consequence, the effects of intoxication by IGRs are always delayed.
Additional recent research has confirmed that Dimilin can cause brood mortality in honey bees and bumblebees. So here we are—the growers are trying to use a more environmentally-friendly product, but due to circumstance and unfortunate timing, they might be hurting a specialized but important segment of the beekeeping industry.
Gettng Down to Details
So how much Dimilin is actually in the beebread? One queen breeder had several beebread samples analyzed in 2009, so I asked him for copies. There was only one sample with residues of Dimilin, but it was present at nearly 2000 ppb (Fig. 4)—a concentration at which larval mortality might realistically be expected.
COULD DIMILIN BE THE CULPRIT?
The symptoms that the queen producers reported were poor “take” of grafts, or that the queens would develop through the pupal stage, and then die as they were in the process of changing into adults. When the producers uncapped the cells of the dead queens, they would find white or colored pupae, or deformed adults. Pay attention, because this is where it gets really interesting!
Dimilin is a “chitin synthesis inhibitor,” meaning that it arrests the formation of an insect’s exoskeleton, a process that is critical as a pupa metamorphoses into an adult. This is what makes it more environmentally safe—it only kills developing insects, not the adults, or other forms of life (although it is extremely toxic to aquatic invertebrates).
KOCH’S FIRST POSTULATE—WAS DIMILIN ASSOCIATED WITH QUEEN FAILURES?
Breeder Ray Olivarez Jr. was curious as to how much Dimilin had been applied during bloom in the heart of queen country--Glenn County--so he paid for a detailed pesticide use report for Dimilin, from which I created the graph shown in Fig. 5.
So Dimilin was indeed applied during the years of queen failures—especially in 2009! Now jump ahead to 2012--of the 22 beebread samples taken last spring, 8 had residues of Dimilin, at maximum levels of 4000 ppb and average levels of 1600 ppb! These sporadic detections may explain why only a few breeders were seeing problems. The case against Dimilin is firming up!
KOCH’S THIRD POSTULATE—CAN DIMILIN EXPERIMENTALLY CAUSE THE OBSERVED SYMPTOMS?
But to clinch the case we need to see whether exposure to Dimilin will produce the same symptoms in queen cells that the producers observed. Thanks to my buddy Peter Borst, we were able to get our hands on a copy of an obscure article from a German beekeeping journal. In Germany Dimilin was used for a number of years to control gypsy moths in forests, with no reports of bee mortality. But in the early 1990’s a queen producer starting noticing unusual failure of queen cells after a neighboring fruit grower applied Dimilin. The beekeeper then collaborated with university researchers to test the effects of Dimilin upon the development of queen cells.
Three trials were carried out in free-flying cell builders in March and June, testing Dimilin at 4 concentrations, each applied in a droplet of water added to the jelly surrounding 3-day-old larvae. The addition of Dimilin clearly caused queen cell mortality, and followed a dose response curve. The photographs of the dead developing queens were strikingly similar to those reported by the California queen producers!
Unfortunately, due to the mode of application in the experiments, we can’t directly compare the concentrations used with those found in beebread in California. One curious observation, though, was that queen cell survivability was much better in the mid-June trial, suggesting that there may be a seasonal component to Dimilin toxicity to developing queens. The successfully-emerged queens were placed into nucs, and appeared to function normally. Note also that the larvae were only fed a single dose of Dimilin, which then had a greatly delayed affect upon their survival.
Now for an interesting twist. Dr. Reed Johnson decided to perform his first study as a newly-minted PhD on the effect of Pristine (not Dimilin—we’ve gone back to Pristine) on queen cells (to see whether he would independently replicate BASF’s results indicating that it was indeed safe).
He got funding from Project Apis m, and collaborated with Sue Cobey and the Koehnens to set up several “swarm box” cell builder colonies (no free flying bees) so that he could completely control their diet. He spiked pollen with Pristine for the test hives, and fed plain pollen to the negative control group (for details, see). And then as a positive control, he spiked pollen with an insecticide known to be toxic to brood. By stroke of luck, he chose to use an IGR--Dimilin (not yet knowing that Dimilin residues were later to be found in the samples taken from the queen breeders)! (If you’re getting lost, we’ve now got a researcher testing both the fungicide Pristine and the insect growth regulator Dimilin side by side).
Johnson presented his results far from the almond orchards--at the American Bee Research Conference in Hershey, PA. He confirmed the results of BASF’s tunnel trial that the fungicides in Pristine degrade rapidly in beebread, do not make it into the royal jelly, do not cause queen cell mortality, and do not affect the size of the resulting queens. Looks like Pristine is likely off the hook as far as the queen breeders are concerned!
As expected, the beebread spiked with the IGR Dimilin caused major queen larval and pupal mortality. But he had spiked at 100 ppm, which is equivalent to 100,000 ppb—far above the “field realistic” level. So Johnson plans to repeat the experiment this season at more realistic doses to see whether he can duplicate the exact symptoms of the failed queens as experienced by the breeders.
OTHER FACTORS TO CONSIDER
I spoke at length with Ray Olivarez Jr., who pointed out that some beekeepers in Texas also reported problems with rearing queen cells after returning from almonds. Ray notices that if there is a good pollen flow following almond bloom, that colonies may hold stored almond pollen in reserve—not digging into it until much later in the season (at times of dearth, when colonies may be nutritionally stressed). The implication is that pesticide residues in almond pollen could conceivably have greatly delayed effects upon brood or queen production (swarming or supersedure cells) much later in the season!
An even scarier finding came to light when I searched the literature for effects of IGR’s upon emerged queens and drones. Thompson found that these insecticides may cause reduced egg survivability, drone loss, and reduced egglaying by the queens. The authors also suggested that IGR’s had the potential of causing long-term effects:
However, even if only those bees reared within 2 weeks of the IGR being applied are subject to premature ageing, this might significantly reduce the size of over-wintering colonies, and increase the chance of the bee population dwindling and dying in late winter or early spring.
Lest I raise unwarranted alarm, I checked the database of pesticide residue detections in pollen by Mullin—the infrequent detections and low levels of residues of IGR’s suggest that beekeepers in general have better things to worry about. That is not to say that IGR’s couldn’t be a problem in certain areas!
HONEY BEES AREN’T THE ONLY BEES!
Beekeepers and almond growers may forget that there are also other species of bees involved in almond pollination. A recent study out of UC Davis [and worth reading] found that almond nut set was substantially better if other species of bees were present besides honey bees. The other bees apparently cause the hired honey bees to cross rows of trees and thus effect better cross pollination. Due to their life cycles, solitary- and bumblebees are much more likely to be susceptible to IGRs. Should the application of IGR’s prevent the native bees from successfully rearing reproductives, those species could quickly disappear from the orchard lands, to the detriment of the almond growers.
WHERE DOES THE INVESTIGATION STAND NOW?
The results of two recent experiments, one by the registrant, and one independent, both appear to exonerate Pristine as a direct suspect for queen cell mortality. However, we can’t ignore DeGrandi-Hoffman’s findings, especially since the symptoms of the dead queens that she observed were similar to those reported by the queen producers (dark, fully-formed adults dead in the cells). Her research certainly demonstrates the pesticides in the beebread can negatively affect the ability of a colony to rear queens. Of interest is that those effects appeared to be indirect—neither pesticide was detected in the royal jelly; the effects were perhaps due to the exposure of the nurses that fed the larvae their first meals of jelly.
However, due to her experimental design, it is difficult to interpret and directly apply her findings to the question of whether Pristine is directly responsible for queen cell losses:
1. She used two pollen sources composed of entirely different species of pollen (mixed natural desert flora vs. pesticide-contaminated almond).
2. She did not do a straight comparison of queen cell survival in which the presence of Pristine was the only variable.
3. The pollen of both of her treatment groups were contaminated with a high level of the organophosphate chlorpyrifos—at nearly 1000 ppb in the pollen and 310 ppb in the beebread. Such levels were not typical of the many beebread samples that I’ve seen from the queen producers (in which chlorpyrifos was seldom detected, and if so, at very low levels).
4. There is also the question as to whether the “dose” of Pristine that she used was “field realistic.”
And what were the actual field realistic residues of Pristine in Glenn County? In order to see, I looked at the five beebread samples analyzed in 2009—a year of high Pristine application (see Fig. 3). Four of the five contained boscalid (the “marker” active ingredient of Pristine)--at levels of 23, 33, 34, and 86 ppb. Of the 22 samples taken in 2012, the average level of boscalid was a considerably higher 264 ppb. But those levels were all much lower than the concentrations tested by DeGrandi-Hoffman (1835 ppb of boscalid in the pollen; 682 ppb in the beebread)).
So I’m not sure how to interpret her findings, other than concur with her conclusion that residues of Pristine may “amplify” the effects of chlorpyrifos.
In the two trials in which Pristine was tested alone, neither researcher used almond pollen, so any potential contributory effect of the almond phytotoxin amygdalin could not be accounted for (see my other article in this issue). In any case, BASF tested an even higher dose of Pristine than did Degrandi-Hoffman, but did not observe increased queen mortality.
And that level pales in comparison to the 100,000 ppb (in the pollen) used by Reed Johnson, at which he also observed no negative effects upon queens (again, without the presence of the additional organophosphate). These findings certainly suggest that Pristine alone is not to blame, and that the chlorpyrifos in DeGrandi-Hoffman’s pollen was more responsible for the cell mortality than was Pristine.
I’m sorry to be throwing so many numbers and chemical names at you, but this is the only way that we can find out which pesticides are actually causing problems, and which are benign. We beekeepers must continue to vigorously pursue the investigation until we nail the guilty party (or parties)! For that, we owe a debt of gratitude to the Tucson lab, Dr. Reed Johnson, BASF, and all the other parties involved.
So at this point we really can’t yet positively say what was to blame for the mysterious deaths of queen cells, although the case against Dimilin is certainly compelling. Reed Johnson may eventually demonstrate that it is indeed the IGR, or maybe not. The pesticide use reports suggest a few other potential suspects that have been applied in increased amounts in recent years, such as some of the fungicides. Or another IGR, Intrepid, which causes premature molting. Or perhaps the increased use of the organosilicone surfactants is allowing other pesticides to better penetrate the bees’ exoskeletons or guts. Or maybe there is some sort of synergy going on between the various pesticides. But we are on track to get to the root of this problem!
In the meantime, our Extension Apiculturist, Dr. Eric Mussen, wasted no time in getting the word out to the pest control advisers, most of whom seem to be willing to do what they can to keep from killing bees (not a bad idea, since the California almond growers spend some $200 million annually to rent live bees to pollinate their crop).
Although UC Davis pest management guidelines state that Dimilin can be applied as a bloom spray, they also state that it can be effectively applied prior to or after bloom. It would likely be in the best interests of almond growers to avoid spraying Dimilin during bloom for two reasons:
1. Any factor that hurts the honey bee industry will be reflected in the prices that growers are forced to pay for pollination, and
2. It appears that growers receive valuable service from native bees as well as honey bees, and should look to protect them as well!
Any beekeeper who runs bees to almonds and then raises queens afterward should be aware that in combs of stored almond pollen there may be pesticide residues that could affect queen cell development (as a personal note, for thirty years I’ve raised plenty of queen cells on almond pollen and have never noticed a problem).
Perhaps the most important thing to be learned from this story is that beekeepers shouldn’t be too quick to finger an “obvious” suspect. Based upon circumstantial evidence, we may have placed the blame on the wrong chemical! Although Pristine certainly appeared guilty, two studies have now confirmed that healthy queens can be reared on pollen containing Pristine at normal doses.
Practical application: The fact that we may have made a false accusation will not be lost upon the EPA, the pesticide companies, nor the growers--which should give us pause. We should take this as a sobering lesson for our industry to be careful about whom we blame for what!
As agriculture and the EPA move towards more environmentally-friendly pesticides, the Law of Unintended Consequences may come into play. It may be the case that in trying to replace the environmentally harmful oil/organophosphate dormant sprays in almonds, that the “reduced risk” IGR that are taking their place might cause the unintended consequence of affecting California’s queen producers. Note that even “natural and organic” pesticides have the potential to still cause problems for honey bees—for example, Thompson notes that one of the components of Neem oil can apparently cause delayed serious winter mortality. Any change in pesticide applications, even if for the better environmentally, means that there will be a new learning curve involved!
It’s also important to note that the California beekeepers were able to collaborate with the pesticide manufacturer, who voluntarily spent a great deal of money to work cooperatively with us to solve a problem. BASF has expressed their willingness to continue to work with us (I find that other manufacturers are also more than willing to work with beekeepers). Beekeepers, through Project Apis m, funded an exemplary study by Dr. Johnson, showing that we can fund our own research-- which could then be submitted to EPA to help with risk management decision making.
The case of the unexplained queen cell deaths is a real life whodunit. I hope that this article demonstrates the process, and the difficulties involved, in determining the actual cause of what appeared at first glance to be a simple pesticide issue. The story is not yet over. But we are learning a great deal as we try to solve the mystery!
Thanks to Peter Borst, Christof Schneider and Joe Wisk of BASF, Ray Olivarez Jr., Reed Johnson, and Eric Mussen for their help and comments.
a VanEngelsdorp, D, et al (2009). “Entombed Pollen”: A new condition in honey bee colonies associated with increased risk of colony mortality. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology 101: 147–149.
c Ciarlo TJ, et al (2012). Learning impairment in honey bees caused by agricultural spray adjuvants. PLoS ONE 7(7): e40848. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0040848
d Mullin CA, et al. (2010). High levels of miticides and agrochemicals in North American apiaries: implications for honey bee health. PLoS ONE 5(3): e9754. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0009754
1 Mussen, E (2008). Fungicides Toxic to Bees? http://entomology.ucdavis.edu/files/147900.pdf
2 Alarcón, R and G DeGrandi-Hoffman (2009). Fungicides can reduce, hinder pollination potential of honey bees. Western Farm Press March 7, 2009. http://westernfarmpress.com/fungicides-can-reduce-hinder-pollination-potential-honey-bees
5 DeGrandi-Hoffman, G, et al (2013). The effects of pesticides on queen rearing and virus titers in honey bees (Apis mellifera L.). Insects 4: 71-89. http://www.mdpi.com/2075-4450/4/1/71/pdf
7 Cline, H (2003). State recently approved for use in tree crops: Dimilin OK’d for PTB control. http://westernfarmpress.com/state-recently-approved-use-tree-crops-dimilin
8 Jean-Noël Tasei, J-N (2001). Effects of insect growth regulators on honey bees and non-Apis bees. A review. Apidologie 32: 527-545. (free access)
9 Thompson, HM, et al (2005). The effects of four insect growth-regulating (IGR) insecticides on honeybee (Apis mellifera L.) colony development, queen rearing and drone sperm production. Ecotoxicology 14(7):757-69.
Mommaerts, V, et al (2006) Hazards and uptake of chitin synthesis inhibitors in bumblebees Bombus terrestris. Pest Manag Sci.62(8):752-8.
10 Nitsch C, et al (1994). Effect of Dimilin on queen rearing, Dtsch. Bienen. J. 2, 16–19 (in German).
11 Johnson, R. & E. Percel (2013). The effects of the fungicide pristine on queen rearing. 2013 ABRC. Johnson fed pollen treated with four concentrations of Pristine (0.4, 4, 40 and 400 ppm), an organosilicone-containing spray adjuvant (Break-Thru, 200 ppm), the combination of Pristine and Break-Thru (400: 200 ppm), diflubenzuron (100 ppm) as a positive control or water as negative control.
12 Thompson, HM (2005). The effects of four insect growth-regulating (IGR) insecticides on honeybee (Apis mellifera L.) colony development, queen rearing and drone sperm production. Ecotoxicology, 14: 757–769.
13 Mullin CA, et al (2010). High levels of miticides and agrochemicals in North American apiaries: implications for honey bee health. PLoS ONE 5(3): e9754. http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0009754
14 Brittain C, et al (2013). Synergistic effects of non-Apis bees and honey bees for pollination services. Proc R Soc B 280: 20122767. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2012.2767
17 Op. cit.
February 2013 Cover Story
The Buzz Down Under-Aussie Beekeeping
by William Blomstedt
(excerpt)If you take any point in the continental US and dig a hole straight through the planet, you won’t end up, as they say, in China. Instead your tunnel will lead to the middle of the Indian Ocean, and a thousand-mile swim to the east will be Australia. Australia’s reputation probably precedes itself; we know about the kangaroo, the didgeridoo, the boomerang and Crocodile Dundee. Although a terrifying selection of poisonous snakes, centipedes and spiders live on the land, and sharks, stinging jellyfish and crocodiles crowd the waters, the Australian people have found a way to live amongst the danger in a sun-splashed beach culture. Flip flops and (short) shorts are a common sight and every week there seems to be a story about a deadly snake bite or a crocodile attack.
Despite Australia being so far away from the US, our shared mother country and comparable manner of life make the place seem as foreign as New England feels to California. For beekeeping it’s a similar story; both countries imported non-native honey bees and originally adopted a European style of beekeeping, both have large migratory commercial beekeeping outfits and a developed queen-rearing industry and both countries require many thousands of beehives for a pollination industry worth billions of dollars annually.
The geography of the countries is what creates their greatest differences. Though nearly the same size as the continental US, Australia only has 22 million inhabitants, making the population density roughly seven people per square mile (as opposed to 87 in the US). The majority of the Australians live along the southeast and southwest coasts, an area of temperate climate and moderately fertile soil. Surrounding these urban areas is a mix of forest and crops, but further inland the terrain changes into range for sheep and cattle, towns grow infrequent and soon the poor, infertile soils and erratic rainfall make an uninhabitable region known as “the Outback.” Though it is actually a range of complex environments, urban dwellers often refer to any remote area, which in Australia is over 70% of the country, with this term.
Honey bees (with Australians pronouncing bees as “baes,” like ‘a’ and ‘e’ have melded together) arrived to Australia around 1812 and were able to spread quite rapidly through the country due to abundant nectar resources and nesting sites. In the temperate regions, Australian beekeepers take advantage of the imported crops and weeds similar to ours, but also make honey runs into areas where native trees flower. At present there are 9600 registered beekeepers in Australia, with only 340 producing 60% of the honey crop. The east coast of Australia, which is main beekeeping area, has ~500,000 reported hives.
Allow me to generalize for a moment. The typical Australian beekeeper is a male over fifty years of age. He’s a solitary creature, with either a very understanding wife or a frustrated ex-wife, for he spends most of his time working. He is inventive, hardy and knows his own country and bees extraordinarily well. He’s often too busy to attend any club meeting, or think about the bigger industry picture, thus leaving those decisions to others. He has a mistrust for most authority and regulations are considered a burden. He’ll discuss bees and beekeeping until the sun has gone down and the fire has burned low.
It has been a turbulent decade for these Australian beekeepers, much of it colored by the El Nino-Southern Oscillation; a long, hard drought with the occasional yard-wiping flash flood. They have also seen the arrival of chalkbrood (2002) and the small hive beetle (also 2002), the latter of which effectively shut down the beekeepers based in the humid coastal areas. Both European and American Foulbrood are present throughout most of the country and when I asked if Australia experienced anything similar to CCD, I was told: “Yes, every year. It’s called Nosema.” Both Nosema apis and cerana are common, and because Australia restricts the use fumagillin to only queen producers, it is the cause of many sick or dead hives during the winter.
But then Australia does not have the tracheal mite, Tropilaelaps and then, the big one: no varroa. Australia is the only beekeeping nation in the world which has avoided the wrath of the varroa mite, taking a huge burden off both the bees and beekeeper. Most agree that this will not last, and when the mite does arrive, it will be an industry-shaking experience. A recent research project carried out jointly by the University of Sydney and the United States Department of Agricultural Research Service evaluated the responses of seven lines of Australian honey bees exposed to V. destructor as well as US Italians, Russians and Varroa Sensitive Hygienic bees. Four months after infection, 44% of the Australian and US Italian hives perished compared to 4% of Russian and 14% of Varroa Sensitive Hygienic bees.
January 2013 Cover Story
The Remarkable Honey Bee - A New Column
by Larry Connor
(excerpt)It is time to put the Traveling Beekeeper series on the shelf for awhile, and put more focus on the honey bee. We will report on future travel as it occurs, but for now we will launch into a new theme: The Remarkable Honey Bee.
Most beekeepers have a curious obsession with honey bees, and non-beekeepers are nearly always fascinated by the workings of this complicated insect. We will look at the biology and behavior of honey bees, how they came about, and, as best we can, explain how we learn about and from the bee.
Bee death has become an increased area of discussion since the introduction of parasitic mites in the 1980s. Within the past decade experiences with the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) significantly redirected and refocused beekeeper pursuit of knowledge of beekeeping biology. Detailed discussions about how bees die have given humans a better understanding about how bees live. There are three distinct death stories within in the colony—the worker, the drone and the queen—and there is a forth story about how the bee colony itself dies. Workers, drones and queens each have unique stories of their respective demise due to the very different roles these three distinct bees occupy within bee society. The social organism, the colony, has a birth, life and death all with different features and risks.
Brood Trimming Workers and Drones
It is often hard for humans to understand the significance—or insignificance—of one bee in a colony. All bees exist for the needs of the colony. The classic example is in the drone bees. Their production occurs only when the colony is in a growth period or something unusual is at work in the colony. Beekeepers report that they have seen drone brood—eggs and larvae—in their colonies, only to return to discover that they are missing. The most common explanation for this disappearance is that the colony has experienced a shortage of food. In that case, the worker bees have started the behavior of brood trimming. Worker bees start by removing and consuming the drone eggs in the colony. This continues to include small larvae, then large larvae, and may result in the removal of all drone brood from sealed cells. While these immature drones reflect a considerable investment by the bees—produced during a period of colony abundance—food shortage, cold weather, disease, pesticides and other factors may have changed the food budget for the colony so much that the drones are “trimmed”, a euphemism for killed and removed. The brood’s tender parts are eaten.
At the end of the season, or when there is a break in the incoming food supply, adult drones will be barred from reentry to the hive as they return from mating flights. They cower at the entrance of the colony, in a cluster, until they either fly away or die of exposure. Drones in the hive will likewise be expelled, physically pulled out of the colony, by much smaller but enormously determined workers.
Worker brood is subject to the same pressure of brood trimming, but only after the drones are removed. When all is going well with a colony—when there is plenty of food being brought into the hive and when there are plenty of nurse bees—trimming behavior is not expressed, but it is not uncommon to look at an area of drone brood and note a number of cells that have been emptied by the worker bees. I have observed conflicting bee instincts in a single colony of bees that, in May, had plenty of bees and had swarm cells under construction for the bees to create a new colony, yet, at the very same time, worker bees were removing sealed drone brood and carrying the pupae out of the hive. The colony was strong, and on a path toward colony rebirth through swarming, but a period of intense spring rain had reduced the incoming food supply. One force at work was the dilution of the queen’s odor, which stimulated and supported queen cell production: the large bee population combined with the congestion of the large worker bee population contributed to the swarming instinct, a queen pheromone-based behavior. Meanwhile, the hive demonstrated the conflicting second behavior of drone brood trimming. The removal of the drone brood was an immediate reflection of the shortage of food, even though the combs inside the hive were filled with pollen and nectar—it was only the incoming food supply had been severely reduced.
November 2012 Cover Story
Does This Help Save Our Honey Bees?
by Chappie McChesney
National Honey Bee Day has come and gone with a lot of new beekeepers in our ranks. That is a good thing. By holding these events around the country we share information with the public on what they can do to help save our honey bees and other pollinators in their own backyards.
Most have heard or seen the sensationalized headlines of “Killer Bees” attacking a horse or a dog and yes, even humans. Why did that happen? Mostly because the public has no idea of what to do if they encounter a nest of any stinging insect. If you come upon a rattlesnake and you hear the rattle, most would slowly retreat and get out of harm’s way. If you come upon a growling, snarling, barking dog, you get away as quickly as you could. When folks encounter a hive of bees, many times their curiosity gets the best of them and they want to see what the buzz is all about. It’s not a good idea to disturb a bee nest. European honey bees are very docile if left alone and will not attack unless they need to defend their nest from an intruder. Many attacks by bees could have been avoided by using a little common sense and education. If horses and dogs have a way of escape from stinging insects, they can usually flee and will be safe…the same with humans.
Beekeepers know how to work with honey bees and other stinging insects and should be the person you call when you discover bees on your property. Sadly, too many folks call the exterminator or the pest control operator (PCO). Why? Is the honey bee a pest? I guess you can see anything or anyone as a pest if you want to. Does this help save our honey bees?
I guess it depends on how you look at honey bees. If you appreciate the work they do for us with their pollination services; they are a necessity. Today they provide over $15 billion worth of pollination services for United States agriculture. We derive most of our produce from the work they perform for us. Without the honey bees our diets would be very bland as we would have mostly wind-pollinated crops to eat such as wheat, corn, or rice.
When I receive a call about unwanted bees, I check to see what kind of bees they are. If they are honey bees, I want to save them and will remove them for free. Some states frown upon beekeepers charging for removing bees safely. Why would any state get involved with what a beekeeper does? They claim it is a safety issue, but I believe it is mainly because the pest control operators have the money and the lobbying power to get laws passed to shut out anyone other than a pest control operator from removing bees. Some agree with this stance the government takes; I don’t. Does this help save our honey bees? Of course not. But honey bees have no say in who kills them or who can actually save them. They just go about doing what they are designed to do; pollinate crops and take care of their young. And don’t forget the wonderful honey they produce along the way.
Anyone with a grain of common sense can see that we need our pollinators if we want to continue to have the wide variety of grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and flowering plants and trees we all enjoy. But many can only see the dollar signs in their eyes and go after the fast buck no matter how much harm they do to our world. Does this help save our honey bees?
October 2012 Cover Story
The Bee That Punked Me
by Tonia Moxley
I dove into beekeeping like I dove into love – holding my breath and going deep.
I read books, took a beginning beekeeping and a master beekeeper class at the same time, even before hiving my first package. I went to conferences and joined the local bee club. I built my own hives from free plans. I had two beeyards already under construction, and a third already promised.
I had everything – except bees.
“I’m tired of reading about bees,” I whined to anyone who would listen. “I’m tired of talking about bees. I’m tired of dreaming about bees. I want to have bees.”
The packages were set to come April 17. I gritted my teeth, recklessly wishing time away.
But then a text buzzed on my phone — a swarm had landed in my neighbor’s maple tree. I had heard around the neighborhood that our mature trees and thick hedges formed a swarm super highway every spring. Maybe I could get bees now – and for free.
And best of all, these would be survivor bees, the Holy Grail of my fringe beekeeping set.
But I don’t do ladders. I don’t clean gutters. I don’t spider walk across bendy branches with a bucket to catch a ball of bees.
I stayed on the ground, and set up a trap.
I had an old Langstroth deep that after years sitting empty - save for wax moth webs and cocoons - had begun to rot. Years ago someone had nailed scrap wood to it for a bottom, and time had eaten away one corner, making a perfect natural bee entrance.
Nine top bars and two frames of old, dark comb from my mentor’s Lang hives fit perfectly on the rabbets. A top fashioned from scraps of 2x4 and white trim board completed it.
I hung it eight feet off the ground in a sprawing silver maple and angled the entrance to the east. At about 40 litres of space and smelling of honeycomb, the trap seemed the perfect lure for a homeless colony.
I began the vigil.
Day one: A few curious workers showed up — probably from the feral hive a couple of trees away from the trap.
Day two, a dozen or so bees show up, hovering, going in and out.
Day three, the dozen multiplied. In twos and threes they went, disappearing inside for some minutes, then hovering around the outside.
Just like in Thomas Seeley’s “Honeybee Democracy,” they seemed to be taking measure of the trap. And, I hoped, would return to dance its virtues vigorously for their sisters.
Day four, and bees were clouding around the tree and jostling each other to get in the hole. A step too close with a camera, and they strafed me.
My first swarm! The wait was over.
I leaped into action, making sugar syrup and fashioning a feeder for the top bar hive set up at the farm of a friend, who wanted some resident pollinators for his garden.
Word went out to friends that we’d be moving the swarm at dusk. I suited up and lit my smoker for the first time. Well, I tried to light my smoker. Smoke rolled out of it whenever I set it down. It extinguished itself whenever I picked it up.
Pictures were taken of my new outfit – white shirt, new white veil and pants tucked into white, ankle-protecting socks. As dusk fell, we taped window screen over the entrance. Just as the last edge was sealed up, a guard bee threw herself angrily at the screen.
We all smiled.
Into the truck we loaded the trap. Before the tailgate shut, we took turns putting our ear to the side, listening to the buzzing. It sounded muffled, but a small swarm in April has much potential.
My stomach fluttered as we drove to the hive’s new home in a three-car caravan.
This could be it. My first swarm. Maybe my first sting. I can never remember being stung by a bee. Twice hornets have landed good shots, one in the knuckle of my right hand. It swelled and stayed stiff for a week.
My mind raced. What if I was too afraid to hive the swarm? What if the pain sent me scurrying back into the truck for safety? What if my instinct to avoid stinging insects overpowered my desire to work with bees? What if?
We arrived at the place. Nerves jangling, I veiled up again, lit the smoker, put the feeder in the hive. We gingerly placed the swarm trap nearby on a bucket.
Feeling in my back pocket for the shiny, new hive tool, I realized I had left it in the bucket, now under the trap. My friend handed over this pocket knife, and I pryed up the first bar.
Second bar: empty.
Third and fourth bars: empty.
Fifth bar…uh oh.
There she was, sitting on the old comb, smoke stunned and confused. One bee, mugging for my friend’s camera. I stared into the dark trap, not wanting to look up. I was glad the veil and the darkness hid my embarrassment.
Knowing she would soon be dead, alone as she was, I gently closed her back up and set the box in the truck bed.
Friends tried to encourage me.
“Good dry run!”
“This was so cool.”
“You’ll be so ready next time.”
Inside the house, we opened a bottle of mead and talked about bees.
The conversation came around to age, and responsibility, and morality. No, to values, and vision, and what drives us all, even social insects.
Among honey bees, it’s the elders who risk their lives to gather food, and they who guard the family. It’s the elders who drag the old queen out of the luxury of the hive, with its precious comb and food stores, and hurl themselves into homelessness.
It is the elders then, who with their experience and drive, search for a new home. The embodiment of courage, they invest everything in the future.
We, in contrast, throw our children into the void and remain behind in the luxurious nest we’ve built. Among people, the old shrink from risk, and hoard the riches.
But the bees leave all the sustenance to the young. And they joyfully pay the price. Only a quarter of feral swarms survive.
And so, back in the house, we raised our glasses to the selfless crone bee, somehow lost and slowly dying outside in the back of the truck.
May we learn to be more like her.
September 2012 Cover Story
Music in the Key of "Bee"
by William Blomstedt
Oh, what a glorious thing to be,
A healthy grown up busy busy bee;
Whiling away the passing hours
Pinching all the pollen from the cauliflowers.
I’d like to be a busy little bee,
Being just as busy as a bee can be.
Flying around the garden sweetest ever seen,
Taking back the honey to the dear old queen.
These lines are from ‘The Bee Song,’ written and sung in the 1950s by a British comedian named Arthur Askey. It’s an endearing little piano ditty, complete with vocal buzzing and his watery voice punctuating every few lines by jumping up an octave. While listening to this tune it isn’t hard to picture him making up these rhymes while sitting in a garden and watching the bees bounce from flower to flower. Plenty of other people have had this inspiration as well; A search on allmusic.com shows that there are 551 published songs with the words ‘honey bee’ in the title. Further searches show ‘queen bee’ has 347 songs and ‘bumblebee’ has 514 songs. But there are certainly many more, these only the songs that have been published by a major record label.
Yet are these songwriters actually talking about the insects in the Apoidea superfamily or are they just simplifying the idea of a honey bee to use it as a crutch in their imagery? Many songwriters leave biology far behind as they try to spin their point, and though they may pull out their poetic license in self-defense, they should remember that they are spreading information through this medium. Textbooks have been left behind in our school days and many people believe what they hear. Writing something that sounds nice should not be an excuse when one is spouting misinformation. In this article I gathered a handful of bee-related songs, both popular and obscure, and criticized them with a beekeeper’s eye.
Note: I did not include any songs with merely ‘honey’ in the title. Allmusic.com brought up a whopping 15,758 songs for this term and even though some great songs come to mind (Van Morrison - ‘Tupelo Honey,’ Beatles - ‘Honey Pie’) I decided not to dive into this world. In song, ‘honey’ is used more as a term of endearment rather than referring to the substance made out of evaporated nectar.
(Rating out of 4)
Blake Shelton – ‘Honey Bee’ from Red River Blue (2011)
This is a country hit from last year and it is the honey bee song of the moment. While searching for other bee songs I constantly had to wade through links of Blake Shelton lyrics, videos and gossip. Though the song is entitled ‘Honey Bee,’ the only line that is Apis-related comes at the end of the oft-repeated chorus: “You be my glass of wine/ I’ll be your shot of whiskey/ You be my sunny day/ I’ll be your shade tree/ You be my honeysuckle/ I’ll be your honey bee.” It’s a pleasant back and forth use of imagery and the video for the song looks like it was approved by the National Honey Board; Blake stops his truck at a country stand where a beautiful woman is selling honey. He buys a jar amidst loving glances and sheepish smiles, and for the rest of the song he continues to buy honey in order to keep talking with this girl. At times he has to compete with old men and children, but by the end she has sold all of her honey and she climbs in his truck to apparently go on a date.
I have no complaints with his use of honey bee in the lyrics, though it isn’t for the most straightforward reason. It is true that bees like honeysuckle, but they don’t visit it for its nectar. For one of the most common species of honeysuckle, Lonicera tatarica, the nectar tubes are too deep for the proboscis of the honey bee and can only be reached by humming birds or bumblebees. The name honeysuckle is not derived from the honey it makes, but from the little dash of sweetness one can drink from the flower. Apparently, some bumblebees chew through the base of the honeysuckle flower and bees are able to harvest the nectar through this opening, but they mainly come for its pollen. So the image of the honey stand in the video may not fit with the lyrics, but one can argue that the idea of pollination is on the forefront of Blake’s mind.
Bee Rating: 3 (For promotion of honey sales)
Tom Petty - ‘Honey Bee’ from Wildflowers 2002
This was a rock hit from ten years ago. While it has a catchy riff that gets your head nodding, Tom Petty’s off-kilter voice and lyrics make things quickly go downhill: “She like to call me king bee/ She like to buzz ‘round my tree/ I call her honey bee/ I’m a man in a trance/ I’m a boy in short pants/ When I see my honey bee/ And I’ve got something to say.” The first glaring problem is the idea of a king bee, which is completely wrong, and I am sad to report we will see more of this in later songs. Also Tom only seems to be able to rhyme the word ‘bee’ with itself, except for once when he experiments with ‘tree.’ Earlier in the song he asks his ‘little honey bee’ to ‘give him some sugar,’ which would only happen in hives that were starving and the beekeeper was forced to feed them syrup. Then Tom would probably get a dose of fumagillin, which wouldn’t do him any harm and might even help if he was suffering from a case of microspridiosis or an amoebozoa infection.
Bee Rating: 0 (For terrible rhyming and concept of King Bee)
Zee Avi - ‘Honey Bee’ on Zee Avi 2009
Zee Avi is Malaysian singer-songwriter-guitarist-ukulele player. She starts this song well: “I am a honey bee/ Shunned off from the colony/ And they won’t let me in/ So I left the hive.” This could make sense if she was a bee in a commercial operation and her hive had been transported while she was foraging. When she returned perhaps she tried to join another hive and the guard bees turned her away. But then the song gets silly: “But my other honey bee/ Stuck where he doesn’t wanna be/ Oh my darling honey bee/ I’ll come save you/ Even if it means I’ll have to face the queen.” I had hoped that if she decided to write a song from a honey bee’s perspective that she would be more accurate, but sadly she brings in the concept of love, which does not exist to honey bees as we know it, though one could argue that a worker takes care of her drone brother out of ‘love.’ Further on in the song Zee throws in this confusing couplet: “The bees have control of your mind/ But I choose not to believe that” and continues the downward spiral when she sings about befriending butterflies.
Bee Rating: 1 (For a good start followed by general inaccuracy)
Monty Python - ‘Eric the Half-a-Bee’ on Monty Python’s Previous Record 1971
The British comedy troop Monty Python take a crack at bees with this song/sketch, which John Cleese considered one of his favorites. It’s a philosophical, playful song which begs the question – is half of a bee still a bee? The lyrics are often nonsensical and filled with internal rhymes, but one stanza stands out: “I love this hive employee-ee/ bisected accidentally/ one summer afternoon by me/ I love him carnally.” It brings an image of sloppy work in a Langstroth hive. I’ve carelessly yanked frames out and smashed bees, sometimes actually bisecting them. I remember a sad, sinking feeling while watching a bee on a topbar trying to reach where her abdomen used to be. I would answer yes to Monty Python; a half-a-bee is still a bee, at least for a little while.
Bee Rating: 2 (For silliness)
Slim Harpo - ‘I’m A King Bee’ B-side to his debut single, ‘I Got Love if You Want It’ 1957
Now to the blues. This song was written and originally recorded by Slim Harpo, but it went on to be covered by Muddy Waters, Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones and Led Zepplin. There was even one memorable performance on Saturday Night Live by John Belushi and the All Bee Band. But as you can see from the title the song is fraught with error: “Yes, I’m a King Bee, child/ Buzzing around your hive/ I can make good honey/ Let me come inside/ I’m young and able/ To buzz all night long.” Sigh. There is no King Bee. He can’t make honey. He can’t sting. And he certainly can’t buzz all night long - most agree that it takes a drone only a few seconds to complete his life goal before he is pushed off by the next guy and he falls down to die in the grass.
Bee Rating: 1 (For complete inaccuracy, but good music)
Johnny Lee Hooker – ‘Queen Bee’ 1951
This foot-stomping old tune does a bit better than “King Bee.” It is a good song for the lamenting beekeeper with swarming colonies: “Queen bee queen bee queen bee/ Queen bee please come back to me” and “Got me to the place one time/ Hate to see my queen bee leave home.” But he goes on: “Cause you got the best darn stinger/ Any queen bee I ever seen/ She stung me this mornin/ I’ve been lookin’ for my queen bee all day long.” Having worked for various queen producers, these last lines speak to me. It’s true that a virgin queen can sting, but it is a very rare occurrence. I can only conclude that Johnny Lee Hooker has spent many hours on a catching stool despairing over skittish queens while searching through the corners of a nuc.
Bee Rating: 2 (For singing the beekeeper blues)
Tom Chapin - ‘The Honeybee Waggle Dance’ on Give Peas a Chance 2011
This song aptly describes the waggle dance of a scout bee: “I found some nectar/ I brought it home/ Show everybody in the honey comb/ I got some samples/ So foragers gather around/ Gonna dance you directions/ To the stuff I found.” It is an accurate and intelligent song, at least for those who are believers in the waggle dance. Those who still refuse the work of Turner/von Frisch might find this song infuriating. But Tom Chapin goes on to sing the praises of pollination: “A lindy hop at a fancy ball/ Won’t make any kind of food at all/ A waltz and tengo, bucket and wing/ Ain’t going to pollinate a single thing/ But the honeybee waggle/ Feeds the hive/ Keeping the whole wide world alive/ If you happen to live on plants/ Be grateful for this happenstance/ The reproduction is not by chance.” This is no sappy love song, this is the real deal. Great job Tom Chapin. I’m sad to report there is no YouTube video, but the song and the entire album can be purchased on iTunes or Amazon.
Bee Rating: 4 (For accuracy and enthusiasm)
The Lanman Brothers – “Do the Honey Bee” 2009
This is a mock rap video filled with annoying ‘autotune’ voice modulation and costumed bees dancing in a garden. The “Help the Honey Bees” campaign of Häagen Dazs funded this project during the throes of the Colony Collapse Disorder: “Do you know what would happen if we just up and went/ You’d be floored by the facts if you knew just what it meant, yo/ No more sweets, ice cream and no more honey/ No more veggies and fruit naw—that just aint funny.” This is the only meaningful stanza of the song, the rest is mostly lyrical fluff, with the singer repeating the line “Do the Honey Bee” over and over. The greater concern of this song is the Einstein misquote about the ‘four years’ we would have left to live without bees. Einstein never said this yet it is once again propagated through a popular media source. The video even has an Einstein lookalike dressed as a bee and bouncing around on a pogo stick. With this sort of funding the video had great potential to be informative and entertaining, but I believe it fell short in both categories.
Bee Rating: 1 (For autotune and Einstein on a pogo-stick)
August 2012 Cover Story
Neonicotinoids: Trying to Make Sense of the Science
by Randy Oliver
And this is my intent, to get to the truths of the neonicotinoid issue. In this series of articles, I am essentially “thinking out loud.” I find that the neonic issue is so emotionally charged that folk try to pigeonhole you as holding a black or white position, and then try to paint you as defending that position. Please let me be clear—I hold no position, and am not trying to defend anything! I’m simply asking that we stick to the facts, rather than playing to irrational fears and supposition. To that end I am intentionally taking on the role of “mythbuster,” which is predictably rubbing some folk the wrong way. But if I can get people actually thinking, rather than merely parroting, then I feel that my efforts have been successful!
So how do we reconcile the conflicting reports on the neonics? Last month I reported from Ground Zero of neonicotinoid use, and found the majority of beekeepers to be doing just fine. On the other hand, there was a rash of reports this spring of apiaries suffering serious mortality from planting dust. And to further confuse the issue, several recent scientific studies have been interpreted as having demonstrated that neonics are going to be the death of bees.
Trying to Make Sense of It All
As I reported in my last article, many beekeepers feel strongly that the widespread use of the neonicotinoid insecticides has been a good thing—there are far fewer spray kills nowadays than back in the bad old days (in 1968 an estimated 83,000 colonies were lost to pesticides in California alone). However, there remain several unresolved issues and unanswered questions about these insecticides:
• There are occasional, but intolerable bee kills due to seed planting dust (especially so this year), from which individual beekeepers may suffer serious financial losses. This issue must be resolved!
• Although there is a substantial amount of good field data indicating that neonic residues in pollen and nectar are generally at tolerable levels, in some instances higher concentrations have been found. These situations need to be clearly identified.
• The long-term potential buildup of residues in soil must be carefully monitored.
• The sky-high application rates of neonics for landscape uses (turf, ornamentals, homeowner use) and on flowering trees, and the resulting runoff into surface waters, is of legitimate concern.
• The sublethal effects upon bee behaviors, such as memory, navigation, and age-related task allocation need to be further studied.
• The interactions between these insecticides and the bee immune response to parasites such as mites, nosema, and viruses need to be thoroughly investigated.
• Neonics have been shown to synergize with one particular class of fungicides. Other synergies should be explored, although there is no particular reason to suspect that neonics are unique in this matter.
All the above are things to be suspicious of, but to date there is no overwhelming evidence that any of them, save for the planting dust issue, generally cause serious problems. To date, no independent investigatory body has been able to confirm that the neonics are responsible for large-scale colony mortality.
Practical application: the scientific community and the regulatory bodies are well aware of the potential adverse effects of the neonicotinoids, are actively researching the issues above, and are in the process of reassessing their risks.
There is a growing public demand for more environmentally-friendly pesticides, which must be balanced against the real-world needs of agriculture for effective pest control products in order to feed a hungry world. Unfortunately, there are constraints due to cost and the expiration of patents that limit the actual amount of testing that can be done before regulators must make decisions as to whether a pesticide appears to be safe enough to be registered for use. Accordingly, the EPA often grants “conditional registration,” which allows it to ask for continued testing under actual field conditions. This is a good thing, since approved uses of a conditionally-registered pesticide can be quickly revoked should problems appear.
This is where independent scientists take over from those of the pesticide industry, and follow their hunches to test for any suspected negative effects that the pesticide might cause to “off target” organisms, such as humans and honey bees. The confusing part to the public is that ...
Look and You Shall Find It
As with anything, the more you look, the more you will find potential risks (just Google the words “dangers of” followed by any food, medicine, or household chemical). You can drive yourself crazy with “what ifs.” The trick is to try to put all the findings into perspective.
Looking at Both Sides of the Issue
What I find, is that to be objective one must go out of one’s way to investigate all of the evidence, and to listen carefully to the interpretations by all parties. I already had a thorough grounding in distrust of pesticides, having come of age shortly after the publication of Rachel Carson’s seminal book, Silent Spring (which jumpstarted the environmental movement). I have a background in aquatic biology, and have clearly seen the devastating effects of pesticides and pollutants on downstream organisms. I’m deeply concerned about our overreliance upon pesticides and the resultant environmental consequences, well summarized by Dr. David Pimentel.
What I have also done, however, is to take a look at the issue through the eyes of the other stakeholders—the farmers and the companies that supply them with the plant protection products that they clamor for. I find that it often helps to play “Devil’s Advocate” and argue the “other side’s” position. I must admit that my doing so has gotten me into hot water with a number of beekeepers, but if our side can’t rebut the other side’s arguments, then we don’t really have a good case, do we?
What I found was that there are dedicated people already trying to objectively sort out the evidence. These are the regulatory agencies, such as the EPA, which are assigned the difficult responsibility of deciding how best to balance environmental safety with the demands of agriculture—a difficult task to say the least!
The Regulatory Gauntlet
Manufacturers screen each newly-developed chemical for any potential uses, including that as a pesticide. For a chemical (whether natural or synthetic) to be registered as a pesticide, the registrant must demonstrate both its efficacy against one or more pests, as well as its relative safety to both humans and to the environment as a whole. To do so it must run a gauntlet of tiered levels of “risk assessment.”
In general, a product is evaluated in a stepwise fashion, first (in the case of honey bees) to determine the degree of exposure (e.g., honey bees wouldn’t be expected to get into cockroach bait), and then to quantify the toxicity of the product by both contact (spray or contamination of leaves) and orally (as in nectar, pollen, or water). Risk assessment has been updated to take into account exposure to residues from systemic pesticides (such as the neonicotinoids), which are absorbed by plants and distributed in plant tissues, rather than simply sitting on the surface (Fig. 1).
After determining whether there is a risk of bees being exposed to the product, the next tier of risk assessment is to determine the LD50 (median lethal dose) and the NOEL (no observed effects level) of the pesticide, for both oral and contact routes, and acute and chronic exposure, for adult bees as well as brood. Safety margins are then applied to decide whether the risks to either adult bees or brood indicate that additional testing is necessary to quantify sublethal effects. Testing is done first in the lab, then “semi field” (in enclosed screened tunnels over crop plants), and then under full field conditions (hives next to planted fields) (Fig. 2).
Not all countries use exactly the same testing requirements, most notably that in the EU and Canada, the formulated product, as opposed to solely the active ingredient, must be tested (a position that I strongly support). I’ve sat with some of the principals and discussed the state of the art of testing. All parties (including Bayer) would like to improve the risk assessment protocols, and develop a standardized set which all countries (and manufacturers) alike could use. I suggest that interested readers download two recent (and free) documents on pesticide risk assessment for honey bees:
• The 2008 International Symposium on Hazards of Pesticides To Bees, and
• Pesticide Risk Assessment for Pollinators: Summary of a SETAC Pellston Workshop
You may be surprised by how thoroughly every aspect of pesticide testing with regard to bees is being discussed!
Practical application: the regulatory process for risk assessment of pesticides is constantly improving, and is adjusting specifically for the case of systemic insecticides. The regulators are looking long and hard at the neonics, but objectively rather than emotionally.
A Balancing Act
Roughly 15% of agricultural crop losses are due to insects, 13% to fungus. Growers call for industry to provide plant protection products to keep them from losing their crops (just as beekeepers call for products to protect our bees from varroa). The plant protection product (PPP) industry tests perhaps 200,000 compounds for any one that it actually brings to market, at a typical cost of some $200 million for each new product. The manufacturers need clear sets of rules in order to maintain the incentive to develop more ecologically-friendly pesticides.
The difficult balancing act between providing the PPP industry with rules, and the well-deserved scientific scrutiny of the effects of manmade pesticides in the environment are handled by regulatory agencies such as EPA and EPPO, with guidance from SETAC and The International Commission for Plant–Bee Relationships.
Practical application: I find it surprising that some advocates keep repeating that the regulatory agencies or the PPP industry are being negligent in looking out for the well being of honey bees—it only takes the slightest bit of homework to see that this claim is entirely untrue!
Who Does the Testing?
In general, after initial in-house testing, a manufacturer will generally shop out “core studies” to an independent lab or university researcher. Some will say that when an independent researcher is paid by the manufacturer to run a trial to test a product, that he is then hopelessly biased. I’ve spoken to a number of researchers, who take great offense at that suggestion! Or manufacturer may hire an independent company to run the trial. At the 2012 Eastern Apicultural Society conference, entomologist Jessica Lawrence from such a company (Eurofin) gave an impressive presentation on the nitpicky details that such a lab must follow in order to meet the highest standards of scientific testing.
The EPA even then does not take study conclusions at face value, but has its own reviewers go over them with a fine-toothed comb (for an example see). They then thoroughly analyze all the available data prior to making a registration decision (see the 137-page document for the registration of clothianidin for some crops).
Practical application: The point that I’m trying to get across is that, although the system is not perfect, I tend to trust the EPA’s thorough evaluation of a pesticide more than that of some blogger who has simply read a few abstracts.
Academic versus Field Applicable
Something that confuses the issue is that many of the published studies are academic—of scientific interest, but not necessarily relevant to “real life” situations. The problem with extrapolating from lab tests is that doses which cause adverse effects to individual bees under laboratory conditions may not cause any measurable effect when given to normal free-flying colonies. A number of researchers have told me that there appears to be some sort of colony-level mitigation of the effects of the neonicotinoid insecticides.
EPPO (2012) “adopts the assumption that the most reliable risk assessment is based on data collected under conditions which most resemble normal practice, i.e. by field tests or by monitoring the product in use. Such studies are relatively expensive and difficult to conduct, but the results should be considered as decisive if there is any conflict with results from lower-tier testing (laboratory and semi-field testing)”.
From my point of view, the best perspective is to not get distracted by the hypothetical, but rather to focus upon the two final arbiters of the effects of a pesticide upon colony health—the ability to maintain its population, and the ability to put on surplus honey. These two metrics (cluster size and weight gain) reflect the final calculus of all the potential effects of the pesticide, and are easily measured in the field.
Practical application: This is why I give such weight to the on-the-ground assessment of the effects of seed treatments upon bees by the beekeepers in the Corn Belt and on Canadian canola, who report good colony survival and honey production despite their bees foraging in landscapes with high neonicotinoid use.
The actual measured amounts of neonic residues found in the nectar or pollen of treated plants are typically in the range of 0-3 ppb (rarely above 5 ppb) (EFSA 2012). However, researchers routinely test bees fed at levels of 25 - 400 ppb, in order to find out what kind of negative effects may occur. The problem is that in many cases, the researchers do not make clear that they are testing at residue levels that would not normally occur under “field relevant” conditions.
The thing to keep in mind is that the neonics are, like nicotine, stimulants. Their effect is similar to that of other stimulants such as the toxic alkaloid caffeine, with which 90% of U.S. adults intentionally dose themselves with on a daily basis.
As an analogy, suppose that you wanted to perform an experiment to determine the effects of the stimulant caffeine on the ability of downhill bicycle racers to negotiate a tricky course. A cup or two of coffee would likely enhance their performance; but imagine if you forced them to drink 10 or 40 cups (still “sublethal doses”) before the race! Would you consider the results to be relevant to everyday real life?
Dr. James Cresswell recently performed a meta-analysis of published research on the effects of neonicotinoids upon bees, in both laboratory and field trials. He then fitted dose-response curves to the data (Fig. 3), which suggested that there would be little expected bee mortality at field relevant doses (the paper is a free download, and worth reading).
On the other hand, Cresswell found that “Dietary imidacloprid at measured levels in nectar from two widespread crops is expected to reduce performance [e.g., navigation] in honey bees by between 6 and 11% (oilseed rape) and between 14 and 16% (sunflower). These findings raise renewed concern about the impact of systemic neonicotinoids on honey bees that forage in agriculturally intensive landscapes.”
However, we must again compare those hypothetical performance reductions with reality—colonies in Canada make great honey crops on treated canola, as can bees in areas of treated corn and soy. The problem in reconciling these disparate reports is that several factors come into play in the field:
1. The dose makes the poison—field doses from seed treatments are typically (except in the case of planting dust) very low. They are intentionally designed to be so.
2. Bees metabolize neonicotinoids quickly, similar to the manner in which humans quickly metabolize nicotine, so that they appear to tolerate small doses well.
3. Bees appear to find neonicotinoid residues distasteful, and avoid drinking highly contaminated nectar. However, they may well bring home highly contaminated pollen or dust.
4. Just because an insecticide goes systemic in a plant, that doesn’t mean that bees are constantly exposed to that product. Treated plants only produce contaminated nectar or pollen for a relatively short period of time each season. The rest of the season the bees would ignore those plants.
5. Several surveys of trapped pollen found that bees in agricultural areas often mainly collect pollen from plant species other than the treated crops. These findings suggest that bees may be avoiding the treated crops, and that nectar and pollen from the untreated plants would tend to dilute the insecticide residues. However, if the treated crop is the only plant in bloom, then the colony would be exposed to a greater degree (note, however, that colonies foraging on virtually undiluted treated canola appear to do fine).
6. The above factors would lead to the dilution of the insecticide within the hive.
7. Then there is the “colony effect.” Even when fed extremely high doses of imidacloprid over a period of weeks or months, colonies may continue to thrive (Pettis 2012; Lu 2012; Galen Dively, pers comm).
8. This is not to say that exposure to high levels of planting dust can’t result in sudden loss of a large portion of a colony’s adult population!
Practical application: Just as drinking a couple of cups of coffee a day won’t hurt you, a little bit of neonics in the diet don’t appear to harm bees. The question then is always, “How great was the dose?” With modern analytical equipment, that is an easy question to answer by sampling the nectar, pollen, dust, or bees themselves. It is not hard to pin the problem on a specific pesticide if there is actual evidence, which is why it is so important for beekeepers to report adverse effects, and to make sure that samples are taken for analysis!
Problems in Methodology and Interpretation
To be frank, I find many studies on the neonics to exhibit obvious bias—those from the registrant tend to play down any adverse effects; to the contrary, some other labs are clearly on a mission to prove that neonics are the scourge of bees. Therefore, I find myself reading papers on this subject with an extremely critical eye. As an example of a well-designed and objectively interpreted study, I’ve included an arbitrarily-chosen free download in the references: (Aliouane 2009).
The first tier of testing for adverse effects involves laboratory trials with caged bees. One must keep in mind that the results of these studies must be qualified, in that it is difficult to duplicate the natural hive environment and social milieu with a handful of queenless, broodless bees in an incubator, so the results may not really apply to bees in real life. Dr. Geoff Williams has compiled a list of suggestions for the standardization of cage trials, soon to be published.
There are also inherent problems with tunnel and field trials, since it then becomes much more difficult to control extraneous variables, such as the impact of confined flight, weather, alternative forage, disease, and the finding of matching control plots. Often, unforeseen problems (Murphy’s Law applies in scientific research) crop up during a study and the study is junked; in other cases, the researcher openly discusses the problems; but sometimes obvious problems are simply ignored in the write up. Here are a few of the typical questionable details that I see in studies:
1. I’ve already mentioned excessive dosing. Exaggerated dosing may help to point us toward avenues for further research, but should not necessarily be interpreted as having any field relevance. I suggest that you take a look at the dosing level in any study. Anything over 5 ppb in feed is likely not relevant to normal field exposure.
2. Decourtye found that there were substantial differences in susceptibility between winter and summer bees. There may well also be race and patriline differences to be accounted for.
3. Lack of a “positive control”—that is, a dose of a known toxicant (typically the insecticide dimethoate) for comparison. Without a positive control, you really don’t know how the effects of the tested product compare to those from a generic chemical stressor (such as a hive miticide or a natural plant toxin). Amusingly, I’ve spoken with researchers who included a 100 ppb dose of imidacloprid expecting it to be a positive control that would kill most of the bees, but found to their surprise that there was actually little effect at the colony level.
4. Additional solvents—some labs routinely use the solvent DMSO to first dissolve the neonicotinoid. When I checked with a toxicologist, he said that DMSO is dangerous to even have in a lab, since it greatly increases absorption of chemicals across membranes. Since the bee gut membrane is an effective barrier to neonicotinoids, I find such use of DMSO, which is not found in commercial neonic formulations, to be potentially problematic.
5. Test bees are often knocked out with CO2 or chilled on ice for easier handling. Both stresses can affect be behavior and survivability[15, 16].
6. Lack of control of stress due to parasites. Bees stressed by nosema or virus infection may be more susceptible to pesticide toxicity, indicating that in any testing of pesticides, the parasite load of the subject bees should be controlled for.
7. Improper incubation temperature of bees or brood. Bee behavior and longevity can be strongly influenced by incubation temperature[18, 19], yet in some studies, the test bees have been severely chilled.
8. Running tests solely on very young adult bees, rather than mixed age workers.
9. Lack of proper nutrition for caged, newly-emerged bees. Many trials start with bees that are emerged into a near-sterile environment. These “teneral adults” are generally deprived of the normal meal of jelly from a nurse bee (and the included inoculum of the critical endosymbiotic gut bacteria), nor are they fed beebread, or any other protein source. DeGrandi-Hoffman demonstrated that young bees deprived of protein get hammered by DWV. DWV can strongly affect bee brain function.
10. In one widely-cited study, it appears that the researcher unknowingly starved the bees for sugar, yet claimed that their mortality was due to the insecticides.
11. Caged bees are generally not exposed to the normal queen and brood pheromones of the broodnest. We have no idea how such deprivation affects their behavior, physiology, or resistance to insecticides.
Imagine that if we wished to determine the effects of a pesticide on humans, but that we used as test subjects young children that had been ripped away from their families, chilled, starved, and held in isolation, then knocked out and revived, dosed with a stimulant and then watched to see how well they performed some arbitrary test. Would we feel that the results of such a test were applicable to the human community in the real world? Again, the question on any scientific study on bees is whether the results are field relevant.
Practical application: when I carefully scrutinize scientific papers, I find that a number suffer from (often inadvertent) flaws in methodology, or from overreaching interpretation of the results. Luckily, the majority of researchers are meticulous and methodical, and I am greatly impressed by their diligent work! Unfortunately, most beekeepers can’t take the time to sort the good from the questionable.
There have been several widely cited studies released in the last couple of years—I’ve indicated in the references those that are free downloads. For those few of you who still trust my judgment and objectivity, I’ll give short summaries. Please note that I’ve often corresponded with the authors to get further details of their studies—in general, the researchers are happy to discuss their methodology and findings.
Nosema: Alaux (2009); Vidau (2011); Pettis (2012)—There is every reason to expect a synergy between insecticide stress and nosema infection; neonic treatment may either increase or decrease spore production, but appears to increase mortality in infected bees. However, such results may not be apparent at the colony level. In the Pettis study, after 10 weeks of feeding colonies pollen patties spiked at 5 or 20 ppb imidacloprid, “there was surprisingly no relationship between Nosema infection and imidacloprid treatment which would have been predicted by the lab study.”
Chronic toxicity: Tennekes (2010a, b)—I discussed the paper and his alarming book at length with Dr. Tennekes. He points out legitimate concerns about high levels of residues in surface waters; however, the applicability of the Druckrey–Küpfmüller equation does not stand up to scrutiny, nor does his bird data.
Guttation fluid: Hoffmann (2012) found the guttation fluid droplets on treated melons could contain high levels of neonics. I corresponded with the author about his three studies in Arizona—alternate water sources were available, and he did not observe bees taking up the guttation droplets.
Imidacloprid and CCD: Lu (2012). I don’t wish to belabor this paper’s shortcomings (see ScientificBeekeeping.com for detailed questions). Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, called the study “fatally flawed,” both in its design and its conclusions. However, there were two clear conclusions that could be drawn from the study—(1) feeding colonies for four straight weeks with a half gallon of HFCS spiked with imidacloprid at field-realistic levels did not have any negative effects, and (2) then feeding the colonies with sky-high levels of the insecticide for another nine weeks straight still did not harm them enough to cause mortality during treatment or for three months afterward.
Planting dust: Krupke (2012) contained little new information—planting dust can cause bee mortality; the test colonies recovered (Greg Hunt, pers comm). Points out potential synergies with fungicides—there are also other pesticides in the dust. There is a large body of research already published on this issue—see Krupke’s or Marzaro’s (2011) references sections.
Bumblebees: Whitehorn (2012) found that bumblebee colonies fed realistic doses of imidacloprid gained less weight and produced fewer queens. This finding is of great interest, since solitary- and bumblebee colonies are more likely to be affected by pesticides than would be honey bees (due to the population reserve in the honey bee colony). This is of special concern, since native pollinators are already suffering greatly from habitat disturbance and introduced pathogens. “However, it is uncertain as to what extent the exposure situation in the study is representative to field conditions since bumblebees would need to forage for two weeks exclusively on imidacloprid-treated crops in order to be exposed to the same extent as in the study” EFSA (2012).
Homing ability: Henry (2012) glued RFID chips to foragers, fed them a substantial dose of thiamethoxam, released them up to a km away from their hives and recorded whether they made their way home. They then calculated that colonies should crash due to loss of foragers—a result not substantiated in, say, canola fields. Schneider (2012), using similar tracking chips, found that field-realistic doses of imidacloprid or clothianidin had no effect the number of foraging trips from the hive to the feeder, the duration of these foraging trips, and the time interval a bee spent inside the hive between foraging trips, but that much higher doses, as expected, did cause negative effects. The EFSA review (2012) states that “it should be noted that there are several uncertainties regarding these results, therefore, they should be considered with caution. In particular, in the studies from Henry et al. and Schneider et al. bees consumed the total amount of active substance within a relatively short period and not administered over a longer period (i.e. a day). Depending on the substance properties and how fast the substance can be metabolised by the bees, this method of exposure could have led to more severe effects than what may occur when bees are foraging.”
Sucrose responsiveness and waggle dancing: Eiri (2012) found that foragers treated with imidacloprid were less responsive to low sugar concentrations in offered droplets of syrup (intoxicated bees “liked” sweeter syrup). They also found that if bees were fed a 24 ppb (about 10x field realistic) dose of imidacloprid, the next day they performed fewer waggle dances (were they “hung over”?). Again, I must question the relevance of such high doses.
Other studies: I could fill the pages of this magazine several times over with my notes on hundreds of studies and my correspondence with various researchers, as I’ve really been trying to make sense of the neonicotinoids. I wish that I could give you cut and dried answers, but the science is not yet there. I’ll continue my analysis in the next issue…
 Swift (1969), cited in McGregor (1976) Insect Pollination Of Cultivated Crop Plants. http://www.ars.usda.gov/SP2UserFiles/Place/53420300/OnlinePollinationHandbook.pdf.
 AFSSA (2009) Mortalités, effondrements et affaiblissements des colonies d’abeilles (Weakening, collapse and mortality of bee colonies). http://www.afssa.fr/Documents/SANT-Ra-MortaliteAbeilles.pdf. This free download, translated into English, is an excellent overall review of colony mortality in Europe by the French Food Safety Agency.
Pimentel, D. (2001) Environmental effects of pesticides on public health, birds and other organisms. Rachel Carson and the Conservation Movement: Past Present and Future. Conference presented 10–12 August 2001, Shepherdstown, W.V. http://rachels-carson-of-today.blogspot.com/2011/02/environmental-effects-of-pesticides-on.html.
Oomen, PA and HM Thompson (Editors) (2009) Hazards of Pesticides to Bees: International Commission for Plant-Bee Relationships, Bee Protection Group, 10th International Symposium. http://www.jki.bund.de/fileadmin/dam_uploads/_veroeff/JKI_Archiv/JKI_Archiv_423.pdf. This document is a “must read” for anyone seriously interested in pesticide risk assessment for honey bees.
Pesticide Risk Assessment for Pollinators: Summary of a SETAC Pellston Workshop http://www.setac.org/sites/default/files/executivesummarypollinators_20sep2011.pdf.
Whitford, F, et al (nd) The Pesticide Marketplace, Discovering and developing new product. http://www.ppp.purdue.edu/Pubs/PPP-71.pdf
EPA (2003) Data evaluation record honey bee - Acute oral LD50 test http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/chem_search/cleared_reviews/csr_PC-044309_20-Mar-03_d.pdf.
EPA (2005) EFED Registration Chapter for Clothianidin for use on Potatoes and Grapes as a spray treatment and as a Seed Treatment for Sorghum and Cotton. http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/chem_search/cleared_reviews/csr_PC-044309_28-Sep-05_a.pdf.
Cresswell, JE (2011) A meta-analysis of experiments testing the effects of a neonicotinoid insecticide (imidacloprid) on honey bees. Ecotoxicology 20(1):149-57. Epub 2010 Nov 16.
Suchail, S, et al (2004) Metabolism of imidacloprid in Apis mellifera. Pest Manag Sci 60:291-296.
DEFRA (2007) Assessment of the Risk Posed to Honeybees by Systemic Pesticides, PS2322. Central Science Laboratory, (GB).http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Default.aspx?Menu=Menu&Module=More&Location=None&Completed=0&ProjectID=13502. This is a long download, but full of good data.
Decourtye, A (2003) Learning performances of honeybees (Apis mellifera L) are differentially affected by imidacloprid according to the season. Pest Manag Sci 59: 269-278.
Suchail, S, et al (2004) In vivo distribution and metabolisation of 14C-imidacloprid in different compartments of Apis mellifera L. Pest Manag Sci 60(11):1056-62.
Ebadi, R, et al (1980) Effects of carbon dioxide and low temperature narcosis on honey bees Apis mellifera. Environmental Entomology 9: 144–147.
 Frost, E (2011) Effects of cold immobilization and recovery period on honeybee learning, memory, and responsiveness to sucrose. Journal of Insect Physiology 57: 1385–1390.
 Vidau C, et al. (2011) Exposure to sublethal doses of fipronil and thiacloprid highly increases mortality of honeybees previously infected by Nosema ceranae. PLoS ONE 6(6): e21550. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0021550
 Tautz, J, et al (2003) Behavioral performance in adult honey bees is influenced by the temperature experienced during their pupal development. Proc Natl Acad Sci 100(12): 7343–7347.
 Medrzycki, P, et al (2010) Influence of brood rearing temperature on honey bee development and susceptibility to poisoning by pesticides. Journal of Apicultural Research 49(1): 52-59
 DeGrandi-Hoffman, G, et al (2010) The effect of diet on protein concentration, hypopharyngeal gland development and virus load in worker honey bees (Apis mellifera L.). Journal of Insect Physiology 56: 1184–1191.
 Schmuck, R (2004) Effects of a chronic dietary exposure of the honeybee Apis mellifera (Hymenoptera: Apidae) to imidacloprid. Arch. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 47: 471–478.
 Nordhaus, H (2012) The honeybees are still dying. http://boingboing.net/2012/
05/07/the-honeybees-are-still-dying.html. Alaux C, et al (2010) Interactions between Nosema microspores and a neonicotinoid weaken honeybees (Apis mellifera). Environ Microbiol 12:774–782. http://www.prodinra.inra.fr/prodinra/pinra/data/2013/03/PROD20116cf9b1b_20110315103742504.pdf. Aliouane, Y, et al (2009) Subchronic exposure of honeybees to sublethal doses of pesticides: effects on behavior. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 28 91): 113–122. This is a free download, and an excellent example of a rigorous and meticulous investigation into the sublethal effects of some insecticides, in which they freely admit to some surprising and unexplained negative results for thiamethoxam. http://
EFSA (2012) Statement on the findings in recent studies investigating sub-lethal effects in bees of some neonicotinoids in consideration of the uses currently authorised in Europe. uthorised in Europe. http://www.efsa.europa.eu/fr/efsajournal/doc/2752.pdf. Eiri, D and JC Nieh (2012) A nicotinic acetylcholine receptor agonist affects honey bee sucrose responsiveness and decreases waggle dancing. The Journal of Experimental Biology 215: 2022-2029.
EPPO (2003) EPPO Standards: Environmental risk assessment scheme for plant protection products, Chapter 10, Honeybees. OEPP/EPPO Bulletin 33: 99–101. http://archives.eppo.int/EPPOStandards/PP3_ERA/pp310(2).pdf?utm_source=archives.eppo.org&utm_medium=int_redirect.
EPPO (2010) Environmental risk assessment scheme for plant protection products. Chapter 10: honeybees. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.365-2338.2010.02419.x/pdf.
Henry, M, et al (2012) A common pesticide decreases foraging success and survival in honey bees. Science 336 (6079): 348-350.
Hoffmann, EJ and SJ Castle (2012) Imidacloprid in melon guttation fluid: a potential mode of exposure for pest and beneficial organisms. J. Econ. Entomol. 105(1): 67-71.
Krupke CH, et al (2012) Multiple routes of pesticide exposure for honey bees living near agricultural fields. http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0029268.
Marzaro, M, et al (2011) Lethal aerial powdering of honey bees with neonicotinoids from fragments of maize seed coat. Bulletin of Insectology 64 (1): 119-126. http://www.bulletinofinsectology.org/pdfarticles/vol64-2011-119-126marzaro.pdf.
Pettis, JS, et al (2012) Pesticide exposure in honey bees results in increased levels of the gut pathogen Nosema. Naturwissenschaften 99(2):153-8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3264871/?tool=pubmed.
Schneider CW, et al (2012) RFID tracking of sublethal effects of two neonicotinoid insecticides on the foraging behavior of Apis mellifera. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0030023.
Tennekes, H (2010a) The significance of the Druckrey–Küpfmüller equation for risk assessment—The toxicity of neonicotinoid insecticides to arthropods is reinforced by exposure time. 276(1):1-4.
Tennekes, HA (2010b) The systemic insecticides: a disaster in the making. Weevers Walburg Communicatie.
Vidau C, et al (2011) Exposure to sublethal doses of fipronil and thiacloprid highly increases mortality of honeybees previously infected by Nosema ceranae. http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0021550.
Whitehorn, P, et al (2012) Neonicotinoid pesticide reduces bumble bee colony growth and queen production. Science 336 (6079): 351-352.
July 2012 Cover Story
Don't Give Up
by Howard Scott
Of course, it’s frustrating not to have your hive(s) over-winter. But these days, it’s par for the course. For the last several years, our club members have incurred a 40% over-wintering rate. That is, for every 10 hives, only four survived into the spring. Six hives died. That is a hard statistic to take. For novices, the percent must be lower, perhaps 30% or 20%. So, if you have one or two hives, and none makes it through the winter, it’s understandably depressing.
But, look at it this way. You can start over in the spring. It’s as easy as buying and installing a package. I know this personally. After 30 years of keeping bees, the first 10 of having very high over-wintering, the last 20 of having low overwintering, my attitude is, “Hey, what the heck, I can start over again in the spring.” The starting up is always exciting, because I can watch and experience the hive’s development for the next several months. Regardless of whether the hive overwinters or whether I obtain honey or not, it’s a worthwhile experience. That’s my positive spin on a bad ending. And it’s worse for me than for you, because I am an experienced beekeeper, and should do better. Ironically, it was the first half-dozen years wherein I did not understand what I was doing that I never lost a hive. Of course, my first half-dozen years came before the introduction of varroa into this country, and that changed everything. So I should feel sorrier than you. But I don’t.
Others complain about the time commitment. In truth, beekeeping with one or two hives doesn’t take much time. The bees do all of the work. True, you must set up the hives, install the packages, and then periodically—once every ten days—check to see what’s going on, and sometimes take action—feeding, adding supers, medicating. Then there’s the harvest in late summer or early fall, which takes some time, but is an effort of pleasure, because you’re obtaining honey. So, maybe a minimalist beekeeper might spend 20 hours in total per hive per spring and summer. That’s not a lot of time commitment.
I find new beekeepers get caught up in the details, and ....
June 2012 Cover Story
Kathy Keatley Garvey, Bee Photographer:
How She Captures the Moment
by M.E.A. McNeil
When the old UC Davis entomology truck exploded in a ball of fire, it was at the hand of photographer Kathy Keatley Garvey – just playing with an iPhone special effects app. The joke was to call attention to the need for a new vehicle in a grant request to the Farm Bureau. And yes, it did get their attention with a laugh.
Garvey’s journalistic career has been about getting people’s attention to her subjects, although she ducks the spotlight herself. Her tools are images, both written and photographic: she considers the two as a continuum: “Photography,” she said, “is writing with light.” Although she has photographed all manner of things, she is known for her photographs of insects, which she has taken in addition to her role as press person for the entomology department at Davis. If any are the most remarkable, they are her photographs of bees.
She honed her skills on film cameras, but 10 years ago she began shooting digitally and has never returned to the darkroom. Although she owns some 20 cameras she says that equipment is no more than a small percentage of the formula. “When a person sees a photograph and asks the photographer ‘What kind of camera do you have?’ it’s like tasting a meal and asking the chef what kind of pan he uses.” Garvey developed her “it” over long years; she has some tips to share on acquiring an eye for bee photography.
She started as a child taking pictures on her family dairy farm on the Cowlitz River in southwest Washington State. She loved photographing family members and the animals there. Her father and grandfather kept bees, and she remembers her grandfather telling her “how amazing the bees are”. The tradition could go back to an ancestor who arrived in 1740 from Ireland – another story in itself. A farmer, he built a round barn that is still standing near Castle Rock, Washington: “I suspect he kept bees because most farmers did then,” and her Virginia relatives have been beekeepers for generations.
Garvey was editor of her high school newspaper and went on to major in communications and journalism in college. “I’m a ‘true’ photographer, in that I paid my dues,” she said. “I learned to develop film while at Washington State University and served as a news editor and photo editor of the newspaper back when we processed film and made prints. It was laborious.” It was there that she learned skills for composing a picture.
As editor of The Vacaville Reporter in Northern California, she worked 60 to 80 hours a week and was in charge of the staff of 13. The personal tragedy of her best friend’s rape and murder became a deeply felt article that won the National Newspaper Association award for best feature story in the nation. Under her watch, the newspaper won numerous state and national awards, among them a dozen personal awards. Photography was a vocation and a passion; she had a darkroom in her home. She was chosen as Woman of the Year in Vacaville in 1974.
When her son was born in 1982, she gave up the frenetic pace of the newsroom for his early years “we had the best baby pictures ever – pre-digital.” At age four she gave her son a Nikon camera. “People thought I was crazy.” But she taught him to care for it and adjust the aperture and shutter speeds. As he went through Solano County 4H, she taught the children photography for a decade – showing them, she said, “how to see the world through a viewfinder” and print their own photos. Her son, as well as other members of the group, won national, state fair best-of-show and other photography awards. As he matured, she volunteered as a parent publicist for his school and youth symphony.
It was on a walk through the UC Davis arboretum in 1986 that she saw a posting for a campus position as a science writer. Among 200 applicants, she did not expect to get the job, but she was hired to work at the medical school magazine, The UC Davis Physician. She has since become the Davis Entomology Department Communications Specialist, doing writing, editing, photography, website content and news media relations. She works with researchers who study everything from mosquitoes, IPM and ants to, most fascinating to her, bees.
Garvey is a breast cancer survivor. She had been taking photos of creatures large and small for decades, but, recovering from surgery, she said “I sat in the yard and watched the insects – mostly honey bees.” It must have been then that her fascination with the bees became a passion. Her subsequent catalog of bee photos is a respected, widely used resource.
Although she insists that her extraordinary results are “90% about looking through the viewfinder to capture the moment”, she has chosen equipment with care. She uses two Nikon D 700 motor drive digital cameras. Why two? She designates one for photographing insects so that it does not have to be cleaned when changing lenses. She says that a macro lens is necessary for photographing bees. Her bee camera has a 105 macro lens (explaining that Nikon calls macro “micro”) as well as extension tubes. With the other Nikon D 700, which she uses for all other kinds of photography, she uses a 60 macro lens, as well as an assortment of about a dozen others such as telephoto and fisheye lenses. She keeps her iPhone in a pocket and has fun with its fisheye, macro and telephoto lenses – although she eschews games.
She prefers natural lighting when photographing bees. Sometimes she uses a ring for lighting an entire insect, but tends to use it at home because it is difficult to transport and set up. When she uses a flash, she bounces it — that is, deflects it off a nearby object.
How can any photographer manage to capture the moment the way she can in her extraordinary bee photos? To start, her advice is to dress for success: “No black, no perfume or scented shampoo; wear light-colored clothing. Many photographers think foragers will sting, but they don’t.” Then, she says, “Pull up a chair and observe.” Her counsel is to start as early in the morning as the bees start flying to capture the light, as well as the late afternoon. She removes the lens hood from the camera so that it doesn’t disturb the bee. “The best place to focus when photographing a bee is on the eyes. It is fairly easy to photograph a bee on a flower, but very difficult to catch it in flight. A motor drive can take eight frames a second, which makes it possible to catch a bee in the air.” But there is more to it than craft: “You have got to have a passion for it. It takes patience and a strong interest in nature, insects and photography.”
Her library of images has been amassed on her own time, although she freely offers the use of her photos to researchers at Davis and beyond. She can often be seen on her lunch hour in the campus pollinator garden, the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven. Since 60 species of native bee have been identified in the garden by Emeritus Professor Robbin Thorp, Garvey takes care to identify both the bee and the plant it is on. “People in the department request photos for journals, magazines, newspapers, websites, and power points. They might ask, ‘Do you have a photo of a honey bee on a cherry blossom?’ Yes, and a bee on about every other fruit and vegetable flower, too.”
Her volume of images requires a system of naming and filing. She first loads the photos onto iPhoto on her Mac computer. It has a wide screen so that she can view numerous photos at the same time to make selections. She chooses photos to keep, names them and files them digitally in folders. Many are stored on Flickr, a normally free software sharing program, although she pays a fee because her cache of pictures is so large. She has reserved the rights to her photos and posts them online at low resolution.
Garvey gladly supplies higher resolution copies of her work to those who request appropriate use, which she defines as non-commercial and educational. She does not charge for such use and asks only attribution. Her Flickr site can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/pho-tog/.
Easy going and generous by nature, she finds the abuse of her largess to be frustrating; her photos are “lifted and used all over the internet,” she said. “One was used for a commercial logo. One was even copyrighted by someone in Iraq.” She said that photographers typically bill for such infractions, but she has not. “I don’t mind people using the photos for education. I don’t make money off them, so why can someone else?”
Four years ago, Garvey was asked to write a blog for the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources website. Since then, she has not missed a regular weekday contribution to her Bug Squad Blog, which she composes evenings on her own time. It serves as a tool across a wide range of educational levels. When she posted a photo of legendary Davis entomologist Dr. Richard Bohart, “I got posts asking ‘What is entomology?’ so I used it to show what entomology is,” she said. “Many people don’t know.” The blog is also a goldmine of sophisticated research material. Each entry usually has several paragraphs and deals with all manner of related subjects from fear of the Carpenter bee’s loud buzz to informative displays at California Agriculture Day.
What makes Garvey’s blog unique is the photos. From the Honey Bee Haven garden at Davis, her posted images that identify species of both bee and plant are a rare resource. The regular combination of skilled photo and informed text makes the Bug Squad Blog one of the top insect blogs in the country. It has gotten over 2.6 million hits from “scientists and just curious people around the world,” she said of its followers. It is carried not only by UCANR but by several Master Gardener sites in California. Find it at http://ucanr.org/blogs/bugsquad/. Her website at KathyGarvey.com links to the blog and will eventually be developed with photos.
Garvey’s current goal is to use her photos to profit bee research. She and her family were major contributors to the pollinator garden at Davis, and they still donate plants. She would like to publish a book of bee photos, a calendar and note cards with the proceeds to benefit the science that is the subject of her fascination and celebration.
In any case, she next needs to get more external hard drives to take care of her internal drive to “keep taking pictures of bees.”
A recent blog posting, accompanied by a stunning photograph, conveys a sense of Garvey’s spirit:
“Okay, I’ll admit it.
“I have a soft spot for honey bees.
“Today I fished out some thoroughly drenched honey bees from our swimming pool.
“Indeed, the pool looked like an Olympic meet for Apis mellifera.
“It appears that while the bees were foraging on the nearby cherry laurel blossoms, they tumbled into the pool. That’s when I saw them – struggling — and netted them…
“I took a plastic spoon, dipped it into a jar of star thistle honey and offered it to them. They sipped it, gathered a quick burst of energy, and off they buzzed…
“Saving a few bees, one bee at a time, is a little like saving starfish on the beach.” Here she quotes a story of a man who, when told he could make no difference throwing a few stranded starfishes back into the ocean, replied, “It makes a difference to this one.” Garvey concludes with,
“Today the honey bees were starfish.”
As for our struggling bees, Garvey is making a difference, one blog, one photo at a time.
This article is based on an interview on March 29, 2012, subsequent emails and the Bug Squad blog of April 6, 2012.
May 2012 Cover Story
A New Trend Is Blooming
by Howard Scott
Follow the Honey” is the first retail honey and bee products store in Boston. In a small basement space (700 square feet) in Harvard Square, the establishment is like a trip back in time to a magical world of antique cupboards filled with all manner of world-wide honey, candles, and related paraphernalia. It is a place only Mary Canning and her cohorts, particularly daughter Caneen Canning, could create.
Canning started out in her work life as a documentary filmmaker. Many of her productions were shown on Nova. When her physician husband died, she underwent a period of grieving. That is how she came to bees, working her hives on her 18-acre getaway home in Warwick, Mass. During those years, she met many interesting beekeepers.
Seven years later, with the support of her new husband, Ingo Winzer, she decided to open a retail shop that focuses on worldwide honey offerings. She found an ideal spot two blocks away from her Cambridge home. Canning says, “As a documentary filmmaker, I sought out untold stories. With my new life as a beekeeper, I see many untold stories—the story of bees and honey, the story of practitioners trying to be as organic as possible, the story of bee survival, the story of individual honeys from around the world. I view my shop as getting out the stories. Follow the honey and you will learn…the wisdom of the bees.”
The retail-ization of honey products in the US is a relatively new phenomenon. There have been long-time bee supply stores which carried some gifts, such as Sacramento Beekeeping Supplies in California. But seven years ago Savannah Bee Company opened up its first retail shop on Broughton Street in Savannah. Now, that business has four shops. Other countries are ahead of the curve. New Zealand, for instance, has a supermarket-size facility, which is a big tourist attraction.These retail shops are good for the beekeeping world because they popularize the worth of honey and its caretakers. They show what an amazing product honey is. Carrying honey from around the world conveys the activity’s vast reaches. If every major city in the United States had a honey store, perhaps the percentage of the population wanting local honey would increase from 10 to 20%. That’s a significant development for us practitioners.
“Follow the Honey” is located in one of the funkiest retail areas in Boston. Cambridge is home of Harvard University and MIT, and Harvard Square is its physical and spiritual center. On the front window is the shop logo—a large bee drawing below the words, “apis mellifera” Down the steps, inside the store, one encounters product in all manner of cabinets, cupboards, shelves, and display tables. There is a kind of logic to product placement, but there is whimsy, too. There are displays of various honeys: Atchafalaya Honey (from the Louisiana bayous), cinnamon honey, Vermont granulated honey, White Gold honey from Canada, Manuka Honey from New Zealand, Scottish Heather honey, Zambezi Honey from Africa.
There are shelves of locally-produced honey, often produced in Boston proper, including Peter Duran Neighborhood Beehives Honey and the honey that Mary harvests on her own property in Warwick. Other shelves include honey offerings in graceful wine-like bottles.
A round turntable includes books such as Beeconomy, The Sharmanic Way of Honey, Travels in Blood and Honey, The Honey Trail, as well as The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping. Let Me Tell You about my Bees and Bee Lessons are by local authors. Store manager Caneen Canning says, “We’re eclectic. Many of our offerings try to have a spiritual or intellectual component.
Arranged on a bed of grass is bee equipment such as yellow hive tools and straw pith helmets. Pauline Mallea, another staffer, comments, “Many people who come in our store become interested in beekeeping. So we stock some basic supplies. Plus these items help us talk about the activity. Sometimes, they buy a hive tool to prompt them into taking action.”
Beeswax cosmetics are offered on several shelves. These handpicked products include lip balm, body salve, hand cream, honey salt scrub, rejuvenating masks, honey shampoo, hand soap, and liquid honey soap. Each item is individually selected for its uniqueness.
Around several tables are selections of beeswax candles. The contrast between ornately crafted candles and thick yellow column candles is striking. On nearby shelves are odds and ends—honey crystal, Manuka honey lozenges, and bee pollen bags. Another table is devoted to bee-theme note cards and postcards. Ancillary products include chocolate (some with honey), teas (that go especially well with honey), Mayan baskets, and one-of-a-kind bee jewelry. One piece is a large circle pendant on which sits a larger-than-life size bee.
In the back of the store is a honey tap, where you bring your own bottles and pour as much as you want. This offering goes for $14 to $16 a pound, depending on the source. Also in the back is an observation hive, which is small now, but in the spring, hopefully will prosper. Staffers talk about bee behavior and practice using the observation hive. Of course, tasting is a regular daily event at the store honey bar.
Idiosyncratic touches are everywhere—a seamstresses’ body form, a footlocker covered with bee motif art, ornate gold-framed mirrors on the wall, old bee posters, as well as large format photos of beekeepers in action. One table is covered by an old doily tablecloth dipped in beeswax. The décor creates the particular flavor of an old curio shop. The store design is the combined vision of mother and daughter. It reflects Caneen’s education (she’s a RISD graduate--Rhode Island School of Art & Design) and her first career, that of a designer.
Caneen talks about helping customers, “We try not to be overwhelming, but if a customer has a question, we’re eager to share our knowledge. In fact, often individuals become fascinated and want to talk and talk. Most people walk in here and they’re dazed. They’ve never seen a store like this. I preach to my co-workers that our job is to educate. At the same time, many customers are gift buyers, and we try to respond to their needs. We’re always gift-wrapping this or that. During holiday time, gift baskets are a popular offering. ”
As a general rule, costs are doubled to arrive at price. Because of shipping, prices can be high, but management feels it is important to include a diverse, worldwide collection. Mary says about pricing, “Our honey ranges from $7 to $80 a pound, so we’re catering to all levels of taste.”
In the seven months of being opened (the shop opened on August 20, National Honey Day, the crew of five staffers and management (Mary Canning, husband Ingo Winzer, and Caneen Canning), have been changing, evolving, maturing. Mary says, “We’re learning all the time. We’re finding new sources for products. We’re building relationships with more area beekeepers. We’re discovering what our customers want. We’re learning how to be better recourses.”
In that vein, the shop has recently begun a bee school, which meets every Tuesday afternoon and evening in the shop and is run by two local practitioners, Dean Stieglitz and Ramona Lovi. Secondly, the shop now offers Monday evening talks. Many presentations are given by local practitioners. But the offerings are eclectic. Recently, Cambridge populist poet, Toni Bee, spoke. Future events, such as mead tasting, are being planned. Towards that end, there is a 2,500-person email list that is always expanding.
Mary Canning talks about her business: “It is our goal to bring together the practitioner with the user, and to promote the vast offerings of honey from around the world. We want to be the storyteller who tells stories. I see myself as the steward of those stories. At the same time, we have to pay the bills. We’ve built up to doing $15,000 a month now, more on gifty months. If we could build up to $20,000 month, we’ll be in good shape. We won’t be making a fortune, but we’ll be doing okay.”
Keep telling the tales, Follow the Honey. Keep the stories coming.
Howard Scott is a 30-year beekeeper from Pembroke, MA.
April 2012 Cover Story
Conducting a Children's Educational Seminar
by Don Snoeyink
Talk to some people about honey bees and their eyes glaze over and they look at you as if you are slightly off center for wanting to work with thousands of venomous stinging insects. I have a passion to talk about honey bees. Normally I am a quiet, reserved person who tends to shy away from being the center of attention. When I give a presentation, bees are the center of attention and I become just an avenue for entertainment and information. Even some who know me seem surprised to hear me speak with great animation about a subject I so much enjoy— honey bees.
As a presenter I focus on high audience appeal. Folks take time out from their busy lives to listen to me and I want to leave them smiling, thinking, informed and entertained. Before a presentation officially starts, I like to carry some poster pictures through the audience asking, “Which of these bees do you think is the queen?” Or, “Do you see that frame? That is how honey looks in the hive after the bees cap it (cover it) with wax. That’s four pounds of honey.” I like to pique the interest of those in attendance in order to develop rapport with the audience and to calm the kids.
As my presentation begins, a large screen in front of the room shows a queen on comb surrounded by worker bees and a few drones. That allows me to talk about the three types of bees and their roles. I mention the queen’s long “abdomen”, pointing to it with my laser dot. Then, pointing to myself I say, “The three parts of a bee’s body are head, thorax, and abdomen.” Whenever I use a word I think they may not know, like larva, I explain it. “A larva is like a little white worm or grub in the shape of a ‘c’ at the base of a cell. Now, what’s a cell?” Here I pick up a frame with drawn comb and point out that each hexagon-shaped opening is a cell. Not only are the kids learning but the adults’ eyes are widening to varying degrees, too. People are not whispering among themselves, they are sitting up straight and making eye contact with me. We are into this now. I love that moment. It’s a thrill when what I’m saying appeals to the audience and they respond with genuine interest.
Whether speaking to adults, children or mixed groups I try to look each person in the eyes. People feel included when the speaker really sees them. If I see someone straining/leaning to see me, I move slightly. I want eye contact. People learn more when they feel included. Yes, our ears take in sound, but our eyes are also a listening tool. Sometimes people get drowsy. I expect a little drowsiness in some people because I know how it is when we’re relaxed and comfortable. I am not concerned by a person or two nodding off, especially when I am speaking to a group of seniors. But, if eyes look bored or are not looking at me and kids are getting fidgety and adults are whispering among themselves, it’s time for me to vary something. I may change my voice, getting louder or softer; I may move to the far side of the stage area, giving people a different perspective. In some way, I draw their attention back to our subject. I describe and illustrate what happens when a queen lays an egg, using my index finger as a honey bee egg freshly laid on the floor of a cell. “The egg stands at the base of a cell, like this, for three days. When it hatches, it doesn’t go ‘boop’ (I do this with a funny vocalization) like a chicken coming out of an egg. But, it lies down (my index finger is now curling, lying down against the palm of my other hand) at the base of a cell where it will be fed many times per day by the worker bees.”
My honey bee educational seminars carry so much information that I sometimes wonder if it is overwhelming for people. My wife and kids are my toughest critics and biggest helpers, and mostly I hear from them that “You’re too technical”. So, I decided to teach beekeeping classes where we could start from the beginner level and become more informational and technical about what we wish to accomplish and how we do this as beekeepers. This also gives me more opportunity to talk bees with people who desire to hear about them. The “glazed eyes” problem is solved. Some people are as crazy as I am about a bug that can hurt us.
I recommend a question and answer time at the end of your presentation. When I do an hour and a half seminar, I often allow for questions part-way through. Some people feel they will burst if they cannot ask their question, and they will listen better if they can open the pressure valve and ask. Young children may not ask questions, but instead tell wandering stories about grandma and her new puppy and how it is her best friend’s birthday the day before Christmas. I might try for one more question but typically question time is over at that point and we move on. Usually, though, I am amazed at the insightful questions that come from young children and it is rewarding to have a good question and answer session. I repeat the question from the front of the room so everyone hears it. This also gives the speaker time to think of the best answer. Often, a good question and answer session gives opportunity to present information not yet given in the body of the presentation. Plus, it is a confidence boost for you, the beekeeper, to survive a few Q and A sessions and look back thinking, “Hey, I could answer all of their questions.” If children are seated on the floor in front and one of them asks a question, I like to move near the questioner and get down on one knee while the child speaks, and I look him in the eye. I may be the only one that day to listen closely to that person, looking him in the eye while I do so, indicating that I see value in him and in what he has to say. If the child freezes while trying to ask a question, I look at the floor and wait a bit. Sometimes they get around to asking and sometimes I kindly say, “It’s okay; just raise your hand again when you think of it.” Whether speaking to kids or adults my language stays “G” rated. It can be done and it may be a refreshing change for some who live in air turned blue by foul language.
What about money? Opinions differ regarding whether you should ask to be paid to talk about honey bees or not. To interest people in nature, and in bees in particular, is a worthy cause and I applaud those who do so voluntarily. While I have been and am a volunteer in this cause, I do charge for my honey and for my bee seminars. I have a fair amount of time and money invested in both. Sometimes I feel guilty getting paid for something I love to do, but the compensation helps fund my beekeeping passion. I now own a small business, having formed Thornapple Woodlands, LLC (Limited Liability Company). I purchase insurance annually (many venues require this for bringing in live honey bees), and I try to provide something of value for the enjoyment of others.
Bringing in live bees can be daunting, but it has been a key to many of my speaking engagements. I use a traveling observation hive that holds two medium-depth frames on display over a five-frame nuc (nucleus colony). I display a marked queen on a frame with brood in all stages of development unless I find a frame with emerging bees. People are fascinated watching a bee chew its way out and emerge from a cell. Freshly emerged bees also provide open cells into which the queen can lay eggs. When I see the queen poke her head into an open cell I enjoy pointing at her and saying, “Watch, the queen is about to lay an egg.” In a few seconds when she is done laying the egg I say, “Twenty-one days from now a new worker bee will chew its way out from that cell.” For the second frame on display I try to find one with both capped and uncapped honey. I converted almost all my hives to medium-depth frames a few years ago and run several five and ten frame medium nucs in my apiary for reserve queens and mating nucs. Any one of these with a laying queen can be used temporarily for a display hive. If I have a Saturday program, I will watch the weather forecasts to see which day, Wednesday or Thursday, will be better for setting up the traveling hive. I like to prepare the hive at least two days prior to a show. That way, if I have trouble finding the queen or accidentally kill her or don’t like the way the frames are sitting for display, I can redo things before show time.
I explain to groups the rules of the observation hive before I remove the covering to show the live bees. An “eyes only please” sign is attached to both sides of the hive. This is a positive way to say, “Don’t you dare touch this thing. It has thousands of venomous stinging insects inside and if you break it open, we’ll both be in trouble.” I do tell the audience I want them to leave with nothing but good memories. That usually gets a nervous laugh, so I know I’m getting my point across. I also bring a large sheet and a spray bottle of water to quickly cover the hive and spray down any escaped bees should the unthinkable happen. I like to inform my host, prior to our show, what we will do if the hive is broken open. “I will do the sheet and the spray and you can turn off the lights allowing the bees to go to the windows. Then, organize an orderly exit of the audience.
Are you scared yet?” I ask only half in jest. I have had kids bang on the glass of the observation hive. “Don’t do that” I say, unamused. People hearing me wonder if banging on the glass bothers the bees. “It bothers the beekeeper. We have thousands of bees in here and that is why we say this,” I say, pointing to the “eyes only” sign. Most, however, are respectful and courteous, thanking me for showing live bees and for explaining which is the queen and what is going on in there with all those bees crawling everywhere.
I tell how bees find nectar and turn it into honey and how we get that honey from the combs. I like watching the eyes of my audience when I hold up, side by side, a frame of capped honey and a bottle of liquid honey and explain that, “The honey in this frame is the same as the honey in this bottle. It is just the way the bees made it. I add nothing.” It surprises me how many don’t realize how truly pure honey is.
I like to explain a little about honey. How it tastes and looks different seasonally, based on its floral source—how and why it crystallizes and why you have to throw it away when it gets that way, right? “No, people, if you want to throw it away throw it my way please. It is still good to eat and a hot water bath makes it look just like this again,” I comment, holding up a bottle of honey that is liquid, turning it upside down so the air bubble can be seen rising. I then mention creamed honey and show a jar of it, explaining that the Europeans traditionally eat more creamed honey than liquid.
The importance of honey bees to our food supply through pollination is a topic I like to focus on because it takes people’s minds off the fact that bees sting and places it onto the importance of the insect and gives folks a new respect for them. When I list a number of food items we enjoy only because of pollination from honey bees, it boggles my own mind.
What do I do with all that wax I removed from the capped honey frames at harvest time? Beeswax alone could be a subject for a one-hour seminar. Our candles made of beeswax burn brightly, are relatively smokeless, and emit negative ions which clean the air. The hand cream we make with beeswax heals the winter time cracked skin on my fingertips almost overnight. I love that stuff.
I close our time with a Q and A and the rules for the observation hive. “If you’d like a taste of honey from our hives, we will be giving that over in the far corner and any unasked questions can be brought to me when you come up front to see the live bees. I will be the one with both hands on the observation hive because only the beekeeper’s hands touch that hive,” I say, smiling.
It is fun to watch the doors of opportunity open for me and my family as we present our honey bee educational seminars and beekeeping classes. We never know what excitement the next phone call or email will bring.
Copyright: Thornapple Woodlands, LLC
March 2012 Cover Story
Queen Rearin - A Few Simple Principles
by Jerry Freeman
Contrary to general opinion, queen rearing is not so difficult that only experts can do it. Understanding a few basic principles is all that’s necessary. This is not a ‘how to’ article, but rather an explanation of queen rearing principles. My objective is to encourage some of the ‘average’ beekeepers to raise their own queens.
How the Bees Raise Queens
Both workers and queens originate as fertilized eggs. The only difference between a worker bee and a queen is the diet they were fed during the larval stage. When a colony of honey bees ‘decides’ to raise a new queen, all they do is select several very young larvae, enlarge the cells and feed them pure royal jelly until the cells are sealed. Worker bee larvae are fed royal jelly for a limited time then gradually ‘weaned’ off royal jelly. Worker bee larvae more than 3 days old will not produce viable queens.
That’s it. No rocket science, no deep, dark mysteries – just royal jelly. To raise queens when you need them, all a beekeeper has to do is:
1 Create the conditions that stimulate the bees to raise a queen.
2 Provide the resources the bees need to raise new queens.
CONDITIONS that stimulate bees to raise queens
• Swarming – The natural urge to reproduce – to create another colony. This usually occurs in the spring when nectar and pollen is available and the hive becomes crowded.
• Supersedure – When the queen gets old and doesn’t produce enough pheromone scent, if she gets sick or otherwise doesn’t produce enough eggs, the bees will replace her.
• Emergency – If the hive suddenly becomes queenless – maybe accidently killed during a hive inspection, the bees will notice the lack of queen pheromone within a few hours and begin building queen cells.
RESOURCES required for the bees to raise high quality queens:
• Eggs or larvae less than 3 days old.
• Nurse bees between 5 and 15 days old that secrete royal jelly and wax.
• Pollen or pollen substitute to provide protein for the nurse bees.
• Honey or sugar syrup to stimulate wax secretion.
If you’ve thought about raising queens, learn to recognize the conditions and resources listed above. Even if you don’t intend to raise queens, it’s good to be able to determine the age of larvae by the size. If you can’t find the queen and there are no eggs present during an inspection, the age of the larvae will tell you how long the queen has been gone. This can be 3 days to 9. If only capped brood is present, the hive has been queenless more than 9 days. If the only brood present is emerging, the hive has been queenless nearly 3 weeks. But that’s another subject. My point is to encourage you to look at brood combs, pollen combs and to watch a few ‘babies’ chew out of their cell. Just watching the bees will make us better beekeepers.
BRIEF PROCEDURE (I guess it’s a bit of ‘how-to, after all.)
- Add 3 or 4 frames of emerging brood to a strong colony with a good queen.
- This will provide nurse bees for the coming queen cells. This will be the cell builder.
- Wait 8 to 10 days for the brood to emerge and for their glands to mature, then remove the queen and all eggs and open larvae. This creates an emergency condition that will stimulate queen rearing.
- Add a syrup feeder and 2 or 3 frames of pollen – or patties. This provides protein for the nurse bees and stimulates wax secretion.
- After 4 hours or more, put 15 to 30
- larvae less than 24 hours old in the cell builder. (I know, this is the hard part. I’ll show you an easy way a little later.)
- Eleven days later take the queen cells and put in mating nucs (3 to 5 frame hives).
- Allow 3 weeks for the virgin queens to emerge, mate and begin laying. Your new queens are ready to be caged and used as needed!
That’s it. You need nurse bees, make the colony queenless, add syrup, pollen and a few larvae. Now, go hide and watch! The bees will make queens for you!
I promised to make step 4 easy, so here it is. First, select larvae from your best queen (queen mother) that are less than 24 hours old. It really takes only about 15 minutes to learn which larvae to select. You want larvae about the size of an egg in a good pool of royal jelly. In my old age, I have to use a light and a magnifying glass. Choose larvae the same size (age), so they will emerge about the same time.
So how do we move the larvae? Somehow the cells have to be transferred to a cell bar.
The cell bar is placed in a cell frame and put into the cell builder hive.
Commercial queen producers ‘graft’ the larvae because it is quick. It is also difficult and requires practice to move the larva from the cell to an artificial queen cell cup without hurting the larva. Some people use the Jenter kit which confines the queen on a patch of plastic cells until she lays in them. This eliminates the need to touch or harm the larvae.
I found a cell punch tool that originated in Australia that solves all the problems of moving the larvae or handling many small plastic parts. You just select the larva you want, center the cutting ring over the cell and push it through the wax honey comb. The short cutting ring leaves enough wax sticking out to move the cell without damaging the larva. The bottom of the cell is then stuck to the cell bar with hot wax.
I sell a queen rearing kit complete with everything you need and a book explaining all the details. But you can raise queens with just the information in this article. Call or email if you have questions.
February 2012 Cover Story
Tax Time Again - Are You a Hobby or a Business?
by Howard Scott
If you make your main living out of beekeeping, then there is no question. The activity is a business, and must be filed as a Solo Proprietorship (Schedule C), a Partnership (1065), or a Corporation (1120). If the activity is done purely for your own consumption and there are no sales—no income at all—then you don’t need to file the activity. But if it is a sideline or hobbyist activity with some income, then you have a choice: you can file as a hobby or a small business. It is the middle area—whether to file as a hobby or a small business—probably where 85% of beekeepers are at— that we are concerned with.
What is the difference in treatment between hobby and business? To be a business, you need to file a Schedule C sole proprietorship schedule. Don’t be scared by the big words. It’s a two-page form which determines the profit of your business. It starts with gross sales and subtracts expenses. The difference is the profit, which you pay taxes on. Your sales consists of sales of honey to people who come to your house, sales made at fairs, sales of product sold to stores, rental of hives for pollination, and sales of equipment. For example, if you sell an extractor you purchased ten years ago, that is a sale that must be recorded. Expenses consist of packages, cost of bottles, medication for bee treatments, fair fees, sugar, woodenware purchases, and capital expenditures. If you did anything major, such as build a honey house or purchase an extractor, that purchase must be costed out over the life of the equipment. Say you purchased an extractor for $800, and you expect it to be useful for 10 years, then this year’s expenses are $80 ($800 divided by 10). The calculations are an inexact measurement, but it roughly approximates the money you’ve earned.
A hobby starts with your income—all the above—and expenses may or may not be counted. Generally, the logic is that a hobby is less serious and you should pay taxes on all your income and the small expenses might affect the calculation only if you have quite a bit of other job expenses. Hobby income is put on line 21—other income—of the 1040 form, and the amount is fully counted. Hobby expenses are put on Schedule A, under job expenses, lines 21 to 27. That means expenses count only if you file a Schedule A (if you have a mortgage, you probably will; if you don’t owe anything on your home, you might not), and if your other job expenses are significant so that they come to over 2% of income.
You have a standard deduction of expenses to subtract from income. You file a Schedule A only when your Itemized deductions are greater than the standard deduction. Within the itemized deductions—Schedule A—is the category of job expenses. For your job expenses to count, the total must be over 2% of income. Only the amount over the 2% counts. As a rough guide, people who have a lot of job expenses are executives, salespeople, and certain types of laborers. Executives have home offices, unreimbursed travel, unreimbursed mileage, and laptop/electronic purchases. Salespeople have lots of travel costs. Some laborers have high union dues as well as travel costs and tool purchases. If you’re one of these individuals, you can add your beekeeping expenses to job costs and get full credit for these expenses.
So if you have $3,000 honey sales and your expenses are $1,000, how do you fare as a business? You subtract $1,000 expenses from $3,000 revenue, and have $2,000 profit, which you pay taxes on. If you’re in the 25% overall tax bracket, you pay 25% federal tax, or $500, plus 5% state tax, or $100, plus 15% social security tax $300. Altogether you pay $900 on the $2,000 profit. That’s 45% of profit or 30% of sales.
If you file as a hobby, and you are in the 25% bracket and you don’t itemize (you don’t file a Schedule A), you will pay taxes on the full $3,000. That’s $750 federal tax and $150 state tax and $450 Social Security, for a total of $1,350. This percent is 45% of sales. If you do file a Schedule A, but do not have much job expenses, you will not be able to take off your beekeeping expenses, and will again pay $1,350 taxes. But, if you file Schedule A and you have a great deal of job expenses that go above the 2%, then you will be able to add on the $1,000 beekeeping expenses, which will reduce your overall income by $1,000, and then the taxes you will pay will be taxes only on the $2,000 profit, and you will wind up paying $900. You will be in the same position as if you were a business.
Another possibility—filing a Schedule F—as a farmer is not really suited to beekeeping. Too many entries are not applicable: sales of livestock, cooperative distributions, agricultural program payments, CCC loans forfeited—as income, and conservation expense, fertilizers and lime, seeds and plants—as expenses. Also, the hobby loss rule does not apply to beekeepers.
So how do we make sense of all this? Certainly you would rather pay $900 taxes rather than $1,350, by calling your beekeeping a business, and filing a Schedule C (and perhaps other schedules—2106 for miles traveled, 4797 for sale of property, 4562 for depreciation, 8829 for home office). By doing so, however, you will incur an expensive tax prep bill of perhaps $300 to $400. This high cost of tax preparation might offset the lower tax liability. This creates a danger. It would be my guess that most beekeeper hobbyists/sideliners, being independent individuals, do their own taxes. I would guess the figure might be as high as 90%. Yet I would not recommend that a lay person tackle such levels of sophistication as home office and depreciation computations. These are beyond the scope of the self-taught preparer.
Another consideration is that filing as a hobby minimizes the chance of scrutiny. You could approximate revenue rather than keep accurate books because the auditors aren’t too worried about voluntary hobby income or its expense component.
A third point is that it is easier for many practitioners to think of beekeeping as a hobby. After all, most of us don’t do it for the money. There are much easier ways to make extra money. So why not call it a hobby, and take what tax hit comes our way. Such simplifying takes the worry out of the activity.
My advice is this: Speak to a tax preparer who specializes in small businesses. Let him look at last year’s tax return. He will advise you whether to do the taxes yourself, whether to file your beekeeping income as a hobby or a business, and will provide an estimate range of tax liability in each case.
Whether you hire a tax preparer or choose to do it yourself, be sure to include the following deductions from beekeeping revenue:
• All mileage driven in connection with beekeeping activity.
• All volunteer miles driven, where you volunteer your time free in connection with beekeeping.
• All professional subscriptions and association dues.
• Books purchased that help with your beekeeping.
• Cost of any experiments to improve your activity.
• The total expense of all conventions and workshops attended.
• If you use the internet for beekeeping research, take a portion of the monthly fee.
• The charges of all education programs.
• Any payment made to your young children for helping you with beekeeping work.
• The cost of gifts given to individuals who helped you with your beekeeping.
• If you have a space where you do your beekeeping regularly and exclusively, you can take a home office deduction. That is, you can deduct a portion of your mortgage interest, property taxes, house insurance, maintenance, repairs, and depreciation. The portion is that square foot percentage that you use for beekeeping versus the total square footage of your home. By stating “regular and exclusive” the IRS means you don’t have to do beekeeping in the space all the time, but when you do the activity, you do it there, and you don’t do anything else there. In other words, that space is designated for beekeeping activities. Many beekeepers don’t want to get involved in home offices, but it’s often a significant expense, helping to reduce profit. Twenty years ago setting up a home office was raising a red flag with the IRS. Today, with more individuals working at home, it is a common and accepted part of the work landscape. If you have a legitimate home office, take it as a deduction.
Don’t let taxes overwhelm you. Instead, make the procedure work for you.
Scott, a 30-year beekeeper, is the author of BEE LESSONS (email@example.com). He keeps bees in Pembroke, MA. He is also a long-time tax preparer specializing in small businesses.
January 2012 Cover Story
Strong Hive Strategizing
by Howard Scott
My strategy is this. If you have, say five hives, and two of them are weak, let the two hives go and put all your energies into the three strong hives. These strong hives are the ones that seemed most active all season, that have substantial fall clusters, and have produced excess honey. Such action is anathema to current practice, which says do everything you can to save all hives.
The conventional advice includes combine weak with strong hives, feeding unlimited amounts of sugar syrup, and replacing a queen. In my opinion, these efforts are doomed to result in a greater die-out rate. Don’t combine strong to weak. Rather, let the weak go. In fact, pull out full or near full honey supers and place them on the strong hives. That’s right: insure the death of the weak so that the strong can survive.
It’s not a strategy for the faint of heart. You’ll most assuredly watch the weak hives die a slow death. But you will most likely be rewarded with several deep supers filled with honey from weak hives to give to the strong hives, enhancing their chance of survival. To have one, two or three strong hives come through the winter and begin on a vigorous note is a great way to start a new season. It’s a far better result than finding half the hives dead and the other half in weakened state, so that the survivors are starting out shakily from the get-go.
Why not feed a weak hive extensive doses of sugar syrup? It is my experience that even eight or nine gallon-feedings of sugar syrup will not bring a weak hive up to strength. Nothing can help a weak hive, because of its core conditions of fall weakness. The hive isn’t physically prepared to weather the winter. The hive doesn’t have the population density. The queen’s egg laying has been poor, as evidenced by the small honey output. I consulted my journal and my experience is that over the last decade, despite extensive feeding, 90% of my weak hives don’t overwinter. That is tough odds to buck.
I also don’t think combining weak hives with strong ones is prudent. You put a weak hive on top of a strong one, with a few sheets of newspaper between them with some slits in the paper. The bees on both sides will eat through the paper, merge, the two queens will fight it out and the stronger one will take over the hive. For one thing, it simply adds population, and reduces per capita honey stores. Second, it forces the two queens to engage in combat, and who knows how the emerging victor may be reduced in effectiveness. Finally, it adds a strain of weaker population (wth possible disease or heavy mite loads) into the mix, and that may reduce the overall chances for survival of the emerging hive. The strong hive performed well for a reason, and adding weaker elements only dilutes those characteristics. It seems to me that a strong hive has the genes to succeed where a weak hive doesn’t.
When I decided to try this strategy this fall, I carefully looked over my four hives, and determined that two hives were strong, with productive queens laying heavy, full brood patterns, an adequate cluster population, and reasonable honey stores. The other two hives were weak, with poor queens, smaller populations, and in one case, some honey stores, while in the other case minimal honey stores. To be sure, the two weak hives yielded no surplus honey. So it was not a hard decision. It just seemed that two hives would not over-winter no matter how much attention I gave them.
I pulled out four almost-all-filled super frames of honey from the weak hives, shook off the bees, and inserted two frames in each of the surviving hives. This bulked up their honey stores so that they both had a pretty good level of stores to overwinter. Each filled frame weighted 6 pounds, so I gave each strong hive 12 pounds of honey to add to their stores. When I lifted the strong hives, they felt heavy, but not super heavy. So I fed them sugar syrup, making sure it was 2-to-1 sugar-to-water mixture. The color is paste-colored. It is important to maintain this ratio in the fall, because the 1-to-1 ratio might give the bees dysentery. One hive took two gallon jars. Another took five jars. So it seemed, by the end of feeding, both hives had sufficient food stores.
This last fall I put two strong hives to bed. The entrance reducer and mouse guard are on. I have pulled out the mite-control medications that were left in the hives for the required treatment time. The hives are closed tight, except for the moisture exit at the top. I will not insulate the hives this winter because I want to see if they can make it on their own. I feel these are strong hives which should overwinter and so I am putting my full faith in them. In other words, I want to see if my strategizing is sound. If not, I will go back to the drawing board.
A side benefit of such a strategy is that I know I have to order two packages to replace my two weak hives. There’s no guessing, as did occur all the other years. This was especially problematic last season as our club ended up ordering packages from multiple sources and you didn’t know which source would come through (See Sept ABJ, p. 851, ‘How my club fell apart’).
A word about cruelty: Am I playing God by deciding which colonies will continue and which won’t? Am I being cruel, which goes against the grain of all beekeepers? Yes, I am. But, in my defense, I submit that I am reducing the overall amount of pain. Would a colony rather die in the fall than endure a slow freezing death in the winter? The former, I would suggest. Cruelty is a way of life these days, it seems, for never in my beekeeping career has winter kill-off been such a fact of life. For my first decade as a beekeeper, my first hive lasted ten years (and I had little idea what I was doing). Those days are over. We must strengthen our bee stock by weeding out the weak and strengthening the strong.
It seems to me that over-wintering is our biggest stumbling block. Sure, we have many other problems—hive beetles, varroa mites, bears and other predators, colony collapse disorder—but over-wintering is by far the number one reason that the honey bee population declines. If I can reduce my overwintering die-off—if I can successfully overwinter two out of two colonies and make it to the spring—then I have found a procedure that works for me.
December 2011 Cover Story
Gregor Mendel's Beehive's
by Gene Kritsky
Gregor Mendel (Fig. 1), the monk credited with discovering the basic laws of genetics, also applied his talents to the study of beekeeping. Johann Mendel was born in 1822 in the town of Heizendorf in the northeastern corner of Moravia (now part of the Czech Republic). His first encounter with beekeeping was at his father's farm, where the bees were important for pollination in the orchard. Mendel's education in apiculture continued in elementary school; beekeeping was taught at as part of the basics of horticulture, an important subject in this part of Moravia (Orel et al. 1965).
At age 21, Mendel took the name Gregor when he entered an Augustinian monastery located in Brno. St. Thomas' Monastery, under the leadership of Abbot Cyrill Franz Napp, was a center of art and science, and Mendel thrived in this intellectual environment (Mawer 2006). Napp had a keen interest in bees and was instrumental in the founding of the apicultural section of the regional agricultural society, which eventually became the Moravian Apicultural Society. Napp kept bees in the monastery's garden, and Mendel may have gained more beekeeping experience as he worked there (Orel et al. 1965).
In 1865, Napp served as the chairman of a congress of Austrian and German beekeepers that was held at Brno, and he offered accommodations at the monastery for the important beekeepers who attended. The most noted guest was Johann Dzierzon, but it is not known whether Mendel and Dzierzon met, as Mendel is not listed as participant of the congress. However, the visit does show the high standing that Dzierzon held in the eyes of Napp, and this certainly would have influenced Mendel. Napp lived only three more years after the congress, and Mendel was elected by his colleagues as Napp's successor, putting him in charge of the monastery and its well-being.
Little is known of the details of Mendel's beekeeping practices and research. He did not publish his apicultural investigations, and after his death, Mendel's notebooks were destroyed by his successor, which was customary at the time. Mendel's documented interest in bees began in 1870, when he joined the Moravian Apicultural Society after he had completed his work on the genetics of the garden pea. Mendel's recorded comments in the Society's minutes provide us with insight into some of Mendel's beekeeping practices. Tangible evidence of his beekeeping includes his beehives and beehouse, which are preserved at the Mendel Museum at the monastery in Brno (Orel 1996).
Mendel attended the 1870 beekeeping congress that was held in the city of Kiel in northern Germany, and his apicultural research expanded shortly thereafter. Upon his return, Abbot Mendel arranged for a state-of-the-art beehouse to be built in the monastery garden (Fig. 2). The 45-foot long, L-shaped beehouse included two workrooms measuring 19.4 x 9.5 ft. at the south end. The "apiary room" was attached to one of the workrooms and was 36 x 8.5 ft. wide, with 15 south-facing openings where the hives would be placed (Mendla and Kabelka 1982).
Mendel kept his bees in "Moravian" hives, which were based on hives promoted by German beekeepers, especially Baron von Berlepsch. These hives, modified from Dzierzon's hives, were modern by the standards of the time, and quite advanced compared to the upright log hives that Mendel's father used in his orchard. The Berlepsch hive (Fig. 3) was a double-walled system with a door that provided access to the bees from the rear. Each hive box had two openings and could accommodate two colonies if a dividing board was used to separate them. The Berlepsch hives used small, square frames that slid into the hives along grooves that accepted the top bar of the frame. Because Berlepsch did not incorporate the bee space into his design, the bees tended to glue the frames to the sides of the hive. Nevertheless, these were ideal hives for use in the beehouse, where the "apiary room" had tall, south-facing openings for the hives, and there was ample room within the beehouse to open the hive doors and work the bees.
Mendel's double-walled hives (Figs. 4 and 5) were approximately 26.7" tall, 15.4" wide, and 23" deep. The side walls of the hive were nearly 3" thick on each side of the rear-facing door. These hives could hold four tiers of frames, with space above and behind the frames for "quilts" of insulation. In 1877, Mendel overwintered 36 colonies in 18 hives. Because these hives could accommodate two colonies housed one above the other, Mendel could join a colony that had lost its queen with an adjacent colony by simply moving the dividing board out of the way.
Mendel experimented with this hive design, simplifying it by reducing the tiers of frames from four to two and thereby enlarging the space inside the hive. This also reduced the number of fittings, so the construction of the hive was streamlined. One of these modified Mendel hives is on display at the Mendel Museum (Fig. 6). It is a single-walled hive measuring approximately 10.5" wide, 22" tall, and 17.5" deep. It has internal fittings to hold two tiers of combs with a larger space above the frames. Like the larger hives, this smaller hive was also worked from the rear, but was intended for use by a single colony.
According to Mendel's first biographer, Hugo Iltis (1966), Mendel's beekeeping research was focused on bee breeding. With the help of F. Zivansky (a cofounder of the Moravian Apicultural Society), Mendel conducted a number of apicultural experiments on the hybridization of different races of honey bees. To accomplish this, Mendel released a virgin queen into a specially designed screen cage filled with drones. Unfortunately, Mendel's attempts to obtain controlled matings met with failure. These experiments are described in more detail in Orel (1996).
Recent work by V. Orel (1996) has found several references to Mendel's other beekeeping investigations. To estimate the amount of honey production, Mendel monitored the rate of honey bee returns during nectar flows. During favorable days in June and July, he counted 59 to 80 foraging bees returning to the hive per minute. The highest rate of return he recorded was 130 bees per minute. He also weighed the hives and determined that those bees were adding 6.5 kg of nectar per day, an observation that permitted him to estimate potential production by counting the number of returning foraging bees.
Mendel was a meticulous beekeeper, numbering every hive and keeping detailed notes (now destroyed) about the hive's queen, swarming activity, flight activity, mating flights, and the physical appearance of the bees. He was also concerned with overwintering bees, and he had a "bee cellar" dug into the hillside behind the beehouse. He concluded that strong hives could be kept outside without insulation, but he did recommend "quilting" weaker colonies, and even keeping them in a dry cellar. To keep the hives from developing mildew, Mendel recommended tilting them by 30º to promote more air circulation within the hive (Orel 1996).
In 1872, Mendel's hives suffered an outbreak of foulbrood disease. At the time, the bacterial cause was unrecognized, but Mendel treated the outbreak by destroying all of his hives and bees. Mendel did not recommend treating the disease, but is quoted as saying, "without mercy destroy the bees with sulfur.... one's heart bleeds, but it is the only way to get rid of the evils" (Orel 1996).
It is unfortunate that Mendel's apicultural notes have been lost, for we will never be able to fully appreciate his beekeeping discoveries, but he did leave us with some advice. In the 1875 journal of the Moravian Apicultural Society, Mendel stated, "It is important for every beekeeper to carry out experiments, since this is the only way to achieve successful results."
November 2011 cover story
Simple Microscopy Nosema for Beekeepers
by Randy Oliver
In my last articles, I addressed the importance of monitoring infestation levels of the honey bee parasite Varroa. Now I’m going to move on to the next common parasite—nosema—of which similar monitoring allows one to make informed management decisions. It is far better to learn to monitor nosema levels yourself than it is to depend on sending the occasional sample off for testing!
Checking for nosema infection level does not require laboratory expertise, and the cost of a good microscope can be quickly recouped by not wasting your money on unnecessary treatments, or from avoiding colony loss. Unfortunately, many beekeepers are intimidated by the thought of learning how to use a microscope, get frustrated due to unfamiliarity with the necessary techniques, or have trouble identifying the spores. I hope in this article to guide you step by step through the entire process of monitoring for nosema.
Fig. 1 shows all the equipment you will need. I highly recommend the Omano OM36L microscope (shown), which has binocular eyepieces, battery power for field use, and a mechanical stage for moving the slide around (Microscope.com offers a “Beekeepers Special” for $349). For some reason, the optics of this particular scope really make nosema spores stand out! My advice is to pay the money for a decent scope, as this is likely the only one that you will ever purchase, and you don’t want to be stuck with one that does not live up to your expectations.
You can save money by getting a monocular (single eyepiece) scope (the OM136C costs $179 for the basic model). Whatever you buy, I do recommend that you get a scope with an adjustable condenser.
TAKING BEE SAMPLES
1. It is easiest to collect bees with a vacuum (search “Suckabee” at ScientificBeekeeping.com), but they can also be swept with a brush into an open jar of alcohol. (Fig. 2)
2. If there are not enough bees, stand in front of the hive for a minute or two, then step aside and allow the rush of returning foragers to land.
3. Or, block the entrance with screen (not a solid block) and return in a few minutes.
4. Blow into the entrance to get guard bees to rush out (wear a veil!).
5. If you can’t take bees from the entrance, then take them from under the lid, but realize that your spore counts will be substantially lower, by about tenfold. However, sampling of bees from inside may give you a better idea as to whether the colony is seriously infected!
6. Samples can be kept in alcohol or frozen indefinitely until you process them.
PROCESSING THE SAMPLES
It is far better to view many samples quickly than to spend a lot of time with fewer samples, due to the inherent variation in samples from hive to hive, and week to week. I’ve switched to the really quick and clean “ziplock method,” which I learned from labs in Canada and Australia. (See Figs. 3-8)
Samples smaller than 50 bees can be badly skewed by one highly-infected bee. A single bee may contain 500 million (500M) spores. That means that it alone will contribute an average spore count of 10M spores per bee to an entire sample of 50 bees, even if not a single other bee is infected! Therefore, the larger the sample size, the more accurate the results. Don’t place too much stock in the count from any single sample!
At this point, you can if you wish, filter the liquid through cheesecloth or a nylon stocking in order to remove most of the trash, but I generally find this to be unnecessary. If there are any bee parts under the cover slip, use a fresh drop, as the parts will hold the cover slip up and skew your spore count higher. If any water puddles around the cover slip, blot it off with a paper towel so that it doesn’t get on the microscope lens (this is really important—don’t ever shove a wet slide onto the platform, as it will crud up the lens).
Now here’s the beauty of the ziplock method—once you’ve gotten your spore count done, you can simply zip the bag shut and toss it into the trash—no mess or washing up! It only takes me 2-3 minutes per sample turnaround, and a minute of that is simply waiting for the spores to settle.
BRINGING THE SPORES INTO FOCUS
The following directions are specifically for the OM36, but will apply to most scopes. (See Fig. 9)
1. (Applies only to the first slide). Rotate the lens turret so that the 4x lens (the shortest one; with a red ring) clicks into place. The degree of magnification is the product of the 10x eyepiece (ocular) lens and the 4x objective lens in the nosepiece (turret)—in this case giving a magnification of 40x. At this magnification you can easily view bee body parts, but nosema spores would only be pinpricks.
2. Place the prepared slide (with a cover slip over the liquid, and any wetness blotted off) onto the stage, clipping it into the spring-loaded holder. Click on the lamp (at back of the scope base), and turn the lamp brightness to about the “4” setting. Adjust the slide location so that the light shines up through the center of the “gunk” on the slide.
3. Use the coarse focus knob to adjust the lens to about 7/8” above the slide.
4. Now look through the eyepieces, and turn the coarse focus knob back and forth slowly until the bee debris comes into focus.
5. Adjust the diaphragm (the size of the hole through which the light passes) lever toward the dark range, so that the debris looks “natural” and has clear texture.
6. Adjust the distance between the eyepieces until you see only a single, round image.
7. Looking through your right eye only, use the fine focus to adjust image until it’s sharp.
8. Now, looking only through your left eye only, turn the knurled ring on the left eyepiece until the image is sharp. You have now customized the scope for your particular eyes and interpupillary distance.
9. Now rotate the turret to snap the 10x lens (the next longer one; with a yellow ring) into place. Increase the light with the diaphragm lever if necessary. Slowly turn the fine focus knob back and forth a bit until the debris pieces come into focus. Now you are viewing at 100x magnification, at which nosema spores are barely visible. Feel free to explore the slide at any time by using the stage adjustment knobs (note the since a microscope inverts the image, that the image moves “backwards” relative to the movement of the actual slide).
10. Now rotate the turret to snap the 40x lens (blue ring) into place, and adjust the fine focus slightly —the lens will barely clear the cover slip! Be careful not to focus down too far and crunch into the cover slip! At this magnification (400x) nosema spores are easily visible, but still small.
11. Use the stage movement knobs to locate a pollen grain or bee hair. Now adjust the diaphragm lever again to the optimal light level so that those objects are clear to see.
12. Now focus down (top of knob going toward the back of the scope) to the lowest level that objects are in focus and look for nosema spores. You must wait at least 60 seconds from when you first prepared the slide in order to allow the spores to settle—you can watch them as they fall to the bottom and suddenly come into focus!
13. Once you find spores (you may not find any in your sample), move the fine focus until they “glow.” Then adjust the condenser (this focuses the light beam) to the point where the glowing spores are bright against a relatively dark background. You can now fiddle slightly with the adjustments to get the best possible image in which the nosema spores stand out.
14. Once you’ve made all the above adjustments, you can leave them set. Subsequent slides can simply be placed on the stage, and the only necessary adjustment will be the fine focus. Whew!
Nosema spores have a few distinctive characteristics that will confirm your identification: (See Figs. 10-12)
1. Nosema spores are still quite small even at 400x!
2. The spores are distinctive elongated ellipses—similar in shape to vitamin or fish oil capsules (but variable).
3.They will all be about the same size (N. ceranae spores are somewhat variable, especially bee to bee).
4. Most of the spores will settle to rest at the bottom of the liquid, and will thus all come into focus at the same level.
5. Note: in fresh bee preps (those not preserved in alcohol) the organisms in the gut are still alive, and the nosema spores will often jiggle and move about slightly.
There are two distinctive characteristics that will confirm the identification of nosema spores—these can be best observed by jiggling the fine focus knob back and forth slightly as you view the spores.
6. The spores will be clearly outlined with a smooth, dark elliptical line,
7. then the outline will fade, and the centers will glow brightly. A spore must have both of these characteristics, as other objects will also have oval outlines or glow, but won’t do both.
With practice, your brain develops a “search image” for the spores, and they begin to jump out at you from the background debris.
8. Nosema ceranae looks somewhat different than N. apis to the experienced eye—apis is a bit larger and broader, and the ends of the spores are “blunter.”
COUNTING THE SPORES
I’m going to assume here that you‘re going to simply do “field of view” counts on a simple glass slide, as I don’t feel that tedious hemacytometer counts are generally justified unless you are compiling data for research. (See Figs. 13-22)
Use the stage adjustment knobs to “take a trip” around the slide. Pick an area to view that has a representative spore density.
If you do decide to get a hemacytometer, I recommend a Reichert Bright Line—order through a lab supply, but make sure that they call the manufacturer directly and ask them to ship one with an extra dark background.
Note that in Fig. 14, I’ve adjusted the scope such that the spore “outlines” are in focus, but the centers of the spores are not glowing much. Compare it to Fig. 15.
For Nosema apis, the treatment threshold was considered to be a mean spore count of 1M per bee. On the other hand, there is considerable debate as to what constitutes a worrisome spore count for Nosema ceranae. At the time of this writing (9/16/2011) a few million spores (up to about 25 in a field of view) would be considered by many to be “normal” for field bees for much of the season, perhaps spiking to several million (100 or more spores per field of view) during spring when there are heavy pollen flows, but then dropping to near zero during summer. I cannot make recommendations, but post the latest information at ScientificBeekeeping.com.
I’ve shown many beekeepers how to quickly process bees for spore counts. I suggest that every bee club purchase a scope, and assign one member to gain proficiency at its use. At the break during your meetings, you can easily process a great number of bee samples in a few minutes (have everyone bring a counted sample in a ziplock bag). Such sampling will allow beekeepers to actually track nosema levels throughout the season, and determine whether it appears to be a problem in your apiaries.
You can also buy a microscope camera that will transmit the image on the slide to your laptop or to a digital projector for all members to view at the same time (as opposed to having a queue waiting at the scope). I’ve tried several digital cameras-- be forewarned that the image will not be quite as clear as when viewed directly through the microscope lens, but definitely worthwhile as a training aid. Microscope.com offers the OptixCam series, of which I found the OCS-3.0 ($329) easy to use and adjust.
CARE AND FEEDING OF YOUR MICROSCOPE
Now that you’ve forked over your hard-earned cash for a shiny new microscope, treat it well for a long life. A microscope is a precision tool full of delicate parts. Don’t ever bang or drop a scope—those tubes may contain 15-20 lenses that can be jarred loose! A wise practice is to always carry a scope with both hands. Keep the scope covered or in a case when not in use. Dust, moisture, skin oils, and bee guts are the scope’s enemies! Wipe off any liquids with a soft cloth moistened in isopropyl alcohol. Never touch the lens surfaces with your fingers or regular tissue paper. Use only microscope lens paper or a Q-Tip, moistened in lens cleaner or alcohol.
October 2011 cover story
Coconut Oil as a Varroa Control?
by Jerry Hayes
Over the years lots of research-proven products have been approved and labeled and lots of unlabelled substances, mixtures and concoctions have been tried by creative independent beekeepers worldwide. Let’s not lose sight of how hard it is trying to kill or damage a little bug on a big bug…it is very tough.
As an example, let’s pretend that there were mammal parasites the size of a mouse that need to attach to us and feed on our blood. How would a “mammalicide” be formulated that would kill the mouse-sized parasite and not hurt us, the big mammal? How do you formulate an insecticide that will affect the little bug, (varroa), and not the big bug, (the honey bee)? (I am, of course, using the word “bug” unscientifically).
Make a fist. Put it someplace on your body. Proportionately, this is pretty close to how large a Varroa mite is on an adult, larval or pupal honey bee, sucking its blood (hemolymph) for food. This is a large significant parasite on European genetically-based honey bees. It is not even a good parasite. A good parasite does not kill its host, the European honey bees. On its natural host, the Asian honey bee, Apis cerana, Varroa does not kill them. On our unadapted European honey bees, it does kill them. Having watched Europe and European beekeepers deal with Varroa, as they had them first, using chemicals, we did the same thing when Varroa was found in the U.S. The old chemicals fluvalinate and coumaphos in plastic strip form were chosen to be labeled for varroa control on honey bees in the U.S. Short-term this was a good idea, long-term it was not quite so good.
When fluvalinate and coumaphos first came on the market, they were amazing Varroa killers. The “silver bullet” had been found—98% of Varroa mites died quickly and dramatically. But, and there is always a but, that meant that 2% of varroa mites were not killed. They possessed enough genetic diversity to survive. They not only survived, but bred and produced offspring that also were resistant to these chemicals. In the U.S. we have populations of Varroa mites resistant to fluvalinate. Some bee populations were resistant to coumaphos and some populations were resistant to both.
Watching the Europeans once again, we saw the use of various “acid” materials such as formic acid and oxalic acid. Formic acid is a caustic product that damages Varroa small body parts by chemically burning them. It can also damage honey bees, just like the insecticides, but being on a larger insect, the damage is controlled and not readily noticed. There is some evidence that antenna tips may be chemically burned. Antenna are the honey bees nose. Honey bees use smells, scents to communicate (pheromones) and find food sources. Acids are temperature, humidity and colony population density sensitive. When they work for Varroa control, they work well and when they don’t, it can be ugly.
Essential oils such as thyme, eucalyptus, menthol have also been identified as Varroa control products. They evaporate/off gas and the concentrated odor and chemically irritating volatiles damage Varroa. They also can be sensitive to internal and external environmental conditions. They are not as aggressive as the “acids,” but work well many times.
Our first mite in the U.S. was the tracheal mite. This is a small microscopic mite that
lives in the breathing tubes, or tracheae, of honey bees. The tracheal mite locates a new
host by leaving the trachea of the bee it is on and finding a young healthy bee. When a honey bee emerges from its brood cell, its cuticle, the exoskeleton, has not hardened completely yet. As it hardens, it releases chemical odors which the tracheal mite picks up and recognizes as a young bee ready to be parasitized. Researchers discovered that vegetable oil, vegetable shortening, the same kind as in your kitchen, released chemical odors similar to a young bee’s hardening exoskeleton. Putting a patty of vegetable shortening in a colony confuses tracheal mites looking for a young bee as there are no distinct odor profiles. There is no comparison and contrast as every bee now smells like a young bee. Tracheal mites cannot make a good selection. Sometimes they select the right-aged honey bee and sometimes they don’t and can’t reproduce on an old bee and sometimes they just make no decision at all and dry out and die. A leap of faith was made by some that Varroa could be controlled by “oils” as well in the same way as tracheal mites. Mineral oil was touted first as a Varroa control. Cotton balls, cords and strings soaked in mineral oil and placed in honey bee colonies became the hot topic. Is everyone using cotton balls soaked in mineral oil now? No, they are not. Data, real or anecdotal, simply did not show it did much for Varroa control. All it did was make the bees kind of greasy. Just because one mite is controlled in one way does not immediately mean another larger more robust mite can be controlled in the same way or by the same methods.
It does get a bit tiresome to hear of all the unsubstantiated claims of Varroa control using herbs, vinegar, toilet bowl cleaner, rotating hives, small cell, chicken and hog mite chemicals, along with all of the paper towels, shop towels, popsicle sticks, beer coasters, cotton balls and a whole variety of garden sprayers and spray bottles as delivery devices. The worst are those who set themselves up as experts on the internet and support and push a new agenda every few weeks. “Magic Formulas” are pretty easy to find.
One of the latest “Magic Formulas” for Varroa control that caught the attention of beekeepers, specifically in my state of Florida, is Coconut Oil. We have even had speakers traveling the State getting speakers’ “fees” for selling the vision of coconut oil as a neat, clean, safe Varroa control. Several beekeepers approached me asking why I was not supporting this safe, cheap, efficient and environmentally sound Varroa control solution? What was the matter with me? Why was I such a laggard and skeptic? Then, I asked the dreaded question, “Where is the data from a controlled study?” Well, there wasn’t any. So, I took it upon myself to see if the skeptic in me was simply old and wrong or if the treatment really worked. What I decided to do is follow the coconut oil application instructions circling the state from the presentations made and see if it worked or not to reduce Varroa levels.
The instructions indicated the use of Organic Coconut Oil was the best. I found some Spectrum brand organic coconut oil in a local health food store. Not cheap, but it was organic, whatever that means. The oil is a solid at refrigerator temperatures, but has a low melting point, room temperature. It was easy to liquefy. The delivery device is a 2” X 2” Swisspers brand cotton cosmetic pad. This pad is soaked to saturation, but not runny or dripping with liquid coconut oil. A pad is applied every two weeks laid on the top bars of frames of the brood chamber. The honey bee colony individuals, in removing this big foreign object, the Swissper pad, get the coconut oil on them and their sisters and Varroa go away, somehow. Sounds pretty easy.
At the end of the day the only thing that really matters is if there are fewer Varroa over time. You can’t know what you have until you actually sample. I added in a sampling regimen to determine Varroa levels with an alcohol wash using the standard pint canning jar with a screen inserted into the ring lid. An approximate ¼ cup of worker bees from the center of the brood nest are collected in the jar holding about ½ cup of 75% Isopropyl alcohol. This is then swished and jiggled for approximately 2 minutes and the liquid contents poured out through the screen lid. Varroa mites dislodged, flow out with the alcohol into a white plastic basin. (It is easier to count Varroa with a white background) More alcohol is added to this same sample, jiggle, swish, repeat. Then, count the mites.
Four colonies at random were selected from a fixed apiary site holding 35 additional similar colonies. No Varroa controls were being used on any of the colonies. I just wanted to see if Varroa counts changed over time.
The trial was begun on April 4, 2011. A baseline of Varroa numbers was taken using the described alcohol wash. Then, according to obtained instructions, a pre-soaked “pad” was placed in the colonies. Varroa counts were conducted approximately every two weeks and a new pre-soaked “pad” inserted. The numbers are recorded int the above table.
As the numbers attest, Coconut Oil simply doesn’t work as applied per instructions. It makes the hive smell like coconut Macaroon cookies, which is kind of nice, but that is it. “Another Mite Control Bites the Dust!”*
*A friend of mine, Jackie Post, is going to conduct similar trials through the fall of 2011 and report back on any Varroa level changes that she notices.
September 2011 cover story
by Donald Steinkraus
Many people are unaware that there are thousands of different kinds of honeys, varying in taste, color, propensity to crystallize, and nutrients. Certainly every beekeeper should be aware of this and explain to the public that honey from sunflowers, tupelo trees, black locust trees, or hundreds of other plant species, will taste and look different from common clover honey. The great variety of honeys is a wonderful thing, similar to the diversity of wines. However, occasionally bees gather nectar from plant species that results in unpalatable honey that should not be sold or given away as food.
Eight years ago a graduate student named Mark Bray took my beekeeping class at the University of Arkansas. He bought some hives and in late July 2003 asked for my help in harvesting his first honey crop. We extracted his honey and eagerly tasted it. To our dismay the honey was so extremely bitter that both of us felt it was inedible. We found that Mark's bees had gathered nectar from a plant called "bitterweed". I put a gallon of this honey in a jug, labeled it, and kept it for use in taste comparisons of various honeys. Occasionally, I have given a jar of bitterweed honey to others who have honey collections for taste comparisons, like Dr. May Berenbaum of the University of Illinois. Recently, I was struck by the fact that eight years have gone by since Mark's bees collected this honey and it has not crystallized and remains as bitter as when we first extracted it. I decided to study bitterweed after finding there were relatively few articles on bitterweed honey.
Bitterweed, Helenium amarum, is an attractive, yellow-flowered plant in the daisy or composite family, the Asteraceae (Fig. 1). It is a native annual plant that grows along roadsides and in pastures in Southwestern, Midwestern and Southeastern states. It is particularly abundant in Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. While it can range from ½ to 2 ½ feet tall, most plants I observed were about 12 inches tall. It has attractive narrow leaves, is hardy, and makes a pretty plant in a garden. In northwest Arkansas it blooms from June until early November with peak bloom in late summer and early fall. It has several common names, including: bitter sneezeweed, yellowdicks and Spanish daisy. Some references said it was called "sneezeweed" because its dried pulverized flowers, were snorted in order to cause extreme sneezing in humans. However, it was not made clear why anyone would want to sneeze violently! Does violent sneezing have a health benefit? I don't know the answer.
August 2011 cover story
Reversal of Misforturne
by T'Lee Sollenberger
Misfortune has made me a better beekeeper no doubt. I've had more than my share of Mother Nature's lessons learned at considerable cost, including: mis-supering for the honey flow and never catching up; watching my best colony swarm out their front door, (with their honey stomachs full); almost losing my harvest after a storm ripped through my bee yard flipping my three best colonies into the mud; dropping a $25 queen in the grass never to find her again; and my all time favorite, yakking it up in the honey house with my bud while holding tank overflows onto the floor. Yup, these are just a few of the misfortunes favored upon this beekeeper.
Being an eternal optimist has helped or I would have quit this business years ago with all the chaos and mistakes that have landed on my bee hives. So, it's nice to share a story about the reversal of misfortune; the harvesting of a nice sized honey crop that never should have happened during this spring of drought. I suppose, even Mother Nature has a sense of humor.
It really started in the late summer of 2010. The spring showed great promise in North Central Texas. It looked like it might become another bumper crop year right on the heels of the previous bumper crop in 2009. It didn't happen. Drought hit for six long weeks drying up the wildflowers and squashing the bee's build-up. Then the rains came. Flooding rains. Heavy downpours, gully washers.
Know what happens when you get rain at the wrong time of the year? Sure you do-nasty-assed things bloom that shouldn't-fall plants that bitterize the honey grow twice as big and give off twice the nectar. The bees went berserk collecting it.
The end result? A ruined harvest. The honey from my each and
every one of my 25 colonies scattered across a good many counties tasted like a bar of soap. Seriously. Ya know the kind. Your mom probably washed your mouth out with it after catchin' ya sayin' some swear words you were tryin' on for size. This honey was seriously-vile. Never mind harvesting it. I left every bit of it on the bees for their winter chow; twice almost three times the normal amount. Then, I dragged my sorry butt home and cried in my beer.
Believe it or not, the first part of any palm gilted in gold starts somewhere least expected. The unharvested honey crop was least expected and hurt my bank account somethin' fierce. "So sorry honey customers," I said. You really wouldn't thank me for the likes of this crop.
The winter of 2010-11 was ugly. Stayed colder than usual, dryer than usual. No typical fall rains. Come January, well, hell froze over and tossed us Texans a few ice storms and dropped us some serious snow. Every once in a while we get a winter, not a question mark of 60°F days with 40°F nights.
Warm winters make the bees fly. They eat up their surplus in a hurry and find scant little to replenish with. In a cold winter like the one just passed, they stay clustered up and don't eat too much.
So, by now, you're askin' yourself what does a cold winter and too much honey surplus have to do with misfortune? Sounds ideal, eh? For those of you in colder climes, who already have winter hardy stock, no problem. And by the winter of 2010-11, my half Africanized-Italians were the resulting survivor stock from the equally ugly, very cold, snowy winter of 2009-10.
For those of you who don't work with partly Africanized honey bee swarms incorporated into their operations, they have definite climatic preferences and extended periods of cold and snow aren't them. By the end of the 2009 winter, Mother Nature had whittled down my colonies by, (seriously), fifty percent. I wasn't alone. I heard the same lament from other local beekeepers.
So, this past winter's frosty breath didn't faze my semi-wild bloodlines. They acted more like northern bees and huddled up, did a bit of vibrating and stayed warm. (And yes, I was running my colonies with screened bottom boards before you all start e-mailing me). I didn't lose a single colony to the cold. I couldn't believe it! When the spring of 2011 hit, I had strong bees, the kind I could have sold for instant pollination.
So, where's the misfortune in that, you're still askin'?
I'm gettin' there.
The colonies were so strong comin' outta the snow, I made early queen splits around Saint Patrick's Day. I took a five-frame nuc and added a couple of brood frames, plus one each of honey and pollen. I liked these bees well enough temperament and production-wise, so I let them make their own queen cells from the split, (or I could have added a grafted cell at this point). One frame of brood was sealed and ready to hatch, and the other was uncapped with freshly laid eggs and developing larvae. The bees made one or more queen cells on the egg frame.
I fed the nucs sugar water, (I like to add Honey B Healthy to that mix), and keep them well fed the entire time the nuc was raising the queen cell. As the baby bees matured, they would begin naturally forage and supplement the feed with fresh nectar.
July 2011 cover story
Where in the World is Nagaland?
(And do they keep bees there?)
by Stephen Petersen
Give me a map of the world, name an obscure place, entice me with BS (bee stories) and throw in a few perceived dangers e.g. headhunters, land mines, insurgents, election upheaval or, on the US State Department's list of places NOT to go, and I'm on the next plane.
So it was with great excitement I made the acquaintance of Mhatung Yanthan in Vietnam at the Participatory Workshop on Beekeeping Development with Apis cerana (the local Asian Hive Bee) sponsored by the Canadian International Development Agency and the Vietnamese Bee Research and Development Center in Hanoi. Even his business card was right up my line of work - he's the head of the Nagaland Beekeeping and Honey Mission; it's not just a job, it's a Mission!
A Bit of Geography and History for Nagaland
Whip out your atlases folks and look in the far NE corner of India right up against the Burmese border - the seven NE States, often called the Seven Sisters, are connected to the rest of India by the "chicken neck", a small corridor just north of Bangladesh. Unless you have a regular subscription to Insurgents Weekly or devour the Headhunter's Digest (pun intended) the average couch potato has never even heard of Nagaland (I consider myself fortunate growing up without a TV and having a complete collection of National Geographic magazines back to 1930). Did you know it is the largest Baptist state in the world!?! With a population of some 2 million, 90% of which are Christian and 75% of those Baptist, it out-baptizes the southern Baptist State of Mississippi that struggles to maintain a slight majority of 52%.
It has the dubious distinction of having the longest running insurgency against the Indian Government (since 1956); peace accords were signed a few years back, but at last count there were 15 major groups still operating in the region; 40, if you count the smaller groups. The whole NE region of India is in political turmoil - as is the region just over the border in Burma. The fighting in Nagaland has boiled down to factional in-fighting among the groups with occasional transportation tax (a fee to use the road), sales tax, and kidnapping popular revenue raising venues.
It's been at least since World War II that headhunting has been practiced (however, rumors abound in the hinterlands of activity in the 70's); formerly headhunting was considered a social status symbol, but now it has been replaced by cell phones and flat screen TV's. Bees? But of course! Why else would I want to go there?
Several valid bee items jump to mind - there are no mellifera (European honey bees) present in the area and they want to keep them out (hooray!); they have indigenous Apis laboriosa (the high-altitude, cliff-nesting, rock bees) as well as the standard dorsata bee, both of which are sought out by honey hunters; and they practice cerana beekeeping (Asian hive bee) in hives buried in the ground. Add to that the Nagaland Honey Mission Honey Festival going on in Dimapur from December 15-19 and I'm battling the sari-swathed Indian grandmothers shoving my way to the head of the line at the ticket counter.
Agri-Expo 2010 & the Nagaland Beekeeping and Honey Mission Festival
I wasn't able to make it to Nagaland in time for their famous Hornbill Festival, a fantastic cultural event held the first week of December each year, but I was able to attend the North East Agricultural Fair held every two years right after the Hornbill Festival (next one in 2012).
The Agri-Expo (Agricultural Exposition) offers the "seven sisters" (the seven NE India States) plus now Sikkim (annexed by India in 1975) an opportunity to show off their agricultural, horticultural, apicultural, sericultural (silk production), and just plain cultural achievements. The ultimate in - dare I coin a new word? - Apitourism.
The Nagaland Beekeeping and Honey Mission (NBHM) had a full 100 meter square display with dozen of booths from different districts offering honey from stingless bees (Trigona), Apis cerana, Apis laboriosa, Apis dorsata plus the all-time crowd pleasers such as honey cakes and apitherapy (bee stings to improve what ails you). The NBHM was a big draw - with observation hives, a mock up of the cliffs the honey hunters scamper down on bamboo ladders, and combs of all species of bees found in Nagaland. An excellent video "Honey Hunters of Mimi" played on a flat screen TV and there were plenty of information packets to pass out. As for the beekeepers, they came away smiling after selling every drop of honey they brought to the Fair.
All this paled beside the Nagamaids and the zutho or rice beer that flowed freely in each of the sixteen different indigenous tribal group booths, each with its' own distinctive ethnic dress and architectural style. Here was an opportunity to haul out my photo albums featuring Asian bees and beekeeping in Alaska-a sure conversation starter. What can I say? They are the travelers' equivalent of having a golden retriever puppy in your arms while you tour sorority houses in Berkeley. Within a couple of days and charming young lady professors I'd already learned the words for bee (moo), honey (moo pani), daughter (chookuree), snow (borrup) and ex-wife (purana mayki) in Nagamese, the lingua franca of the area.
There are some 16 major tribes in Nagaland spread out over eleven districts, all speaking mutually unintelligible languages so Nagamese (derived from Assamese - a Tibeto-Burman family language) serves as the common denominator while using Roman script for writing (I even saw the Nagamese Holy Bible for sale in the local market, translated courtesy of the Baptist missionaries).
The Nagas love their meat - pork in particular; whilst eating lunch with a charming Naga girl she took a two inch cube of pure pork fat, spread a little chili sauce on it, and down the hatch! If it was -30°C and I was snow camping - maybe, but at 25°C an involuntary shudder coursed through my hardening arteries. A local specialty is the mithun (Bos frontalis) a species of gaur or wild ox that has been semi-domesticated. In the good old days you could trade two baskets of beeswax across the border with Burma for a mithun - they are big; the one at the Agri-Expo weighed in at 555 kilos (about 1200 lbs)! They serve as a symbol of family wealth as well as produce a rich, high-fat milk which makes great butter.
Naga chilies are rated the most potent in the world - measured in Scoville Units of piquancy a pimento scores 500, Tabasco sauce 2500, hot jalapeños 8000, but Naga chilies take the grand prize at 1,041,427 SU (Scoville units). It almost makes me want to buy some dried ones to pay back all my Thai friends and their "Here, taste this, very sweet" routine; revenge just may be a dish best served spicy.
June 2011 cover story
Managing Varroa - conclusion
Controlling Varroa with Brood Cycle Disruption
The Story of Central Pennsylvania Beekeeper Warren Miller
To keep bees in the 21st century, you have to be part farmer and part scientist.
Sometimes it seems like you have to be part alchemist as well. I've been keeping bees for about 25 years. For me, it was love at first sight. I can think of few greater pleasures in life than working with bees on a sunny day.
I have a few small bee yards and manage just over 100 hives in central Pennsylvania. In the past several years I've been able to improve the survival rates of my bees by approximately 300%-all without the use of chemicals. I attribute my success to a few related factors. About ten years ago I started raising my own queens and selecting for certain traits that help my colonies thrive. I've been making sure that my hives go into the winter with a young queen that is acclimated to northern conditions. Annual re-queening offers some promising benefits; however, unless you get the timing right, it isn't enough to appreciably increase colony survival rates. Timing is everything.
If you do the math, you realize that I got involved with bees in the mid-1980s-just before the time when all of the trouble with Varroa began. I kept about a half dozen hives for five years before mites hit central Pennyslvania. But, like most beekeepers, I suffered some pretty significant losses in those days. At the time, I tried to combat my losses with chemicals.
Converting From Chemicals to Chemical-Free Beekeeping
For eight years in the 1990s, I used Apistan strips. Chemical treatment was standard protocol in those days. At the time, I thought I was doing my hives a favor. Some of the treated hives lived, and some of them died. I'm a frugal guy, and I started wondering why I was spending money on treatments that didn't give consistent results. I was also getting a little resentful; I realized that I was spending my time managing mites when I really wanted to be managing my bees.
So, in 1999, I stopped using chemicals to treat my hives. My bees and I went cold turkey. My first year, I lost 9 of my 12 hives, which left me with a 25% survival rate. Typically, I'd have 3 to 4 hives make it through the winter without chemical treatment. Usually, one of those hives would stand out as a good producer. I started paying attention to that hive. A lot of bee researchers are paying attention to sick hives, and they're learning a lot from them. I think there's something to be said for taking the approach of paying attention to our healthy hives.
For instance, one of the big discoveries that caught my attention was the fact that Africanized honey bees are not affected by varroa mites in the same way that their European cousins are affected. The reason seems to be that Africanized honey bees constantly swarm or abscond from their hive. This breaks the mites' breeding cycle and keeps the mites from devastating a colony. It occurred to me that there must be a way to mimic this behavior yet maintain the qualities of the European honey bees to which we have grown accustomed.
May 2011 cover story
Proceedings of the American Bee Research Conference
The 2011 American Bee Research Conference was held January 6-7 at the San Luis Resort in Galveston, TX. The twenty-fifth American Bee Research Conference will be held in Beltsville, MD in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Apiary Inspectors of America in February 2012. The following are abstracts from the 2011 Conference.
1. Arechavaleta-Velascoa, M.E., K. Alcala-Escamillaa, C. Robles-Riosa & G.J. Huntb - IDENTIFYING CANDIDATE GENES FOR HONEY BEE MITE-GROOMING BEHAVIOR USING FINE-SCALE MAPPING - Varroa-sensitive hygienic behavior and mite-grooming behavior have been identified as perhaps the most important traits that reduce Varroa mite populations. In this study, honey bee mite-grooming behavior was evaluated with a laboratory assay. Worker bees taken from the brood nest were chilled briefly at 4 °C until almost immobile and then a mite was placed on the thorax. The bee with the mite was placed in an arena that contained wax-coated foundation, food and nestmates. The time that elapsed before the bee engaged in grooming behavior (swiping at the mite with her legs) was recorded. After testing samples of bees from many colonies, a cross was made between a high mite-grooming colony and a low mite-grooming colony. A hybrid (F1) daughter queen was raised and backcrossed to a drone from a high mite-grooming colony to produce a family of workers to be used for mapping quantitative trait loci (QTL) that affect this trait and to search for the genes involved. The cDNA of the F1 queen was sequenced to identify single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in DNA that would differ among her offspring. Probes were designed for these SNPs that could be used on Illumina Bead Station genotyping arrays. Four hundred backcross workers were tested for their grooming behavior prior to extracting their DNA. DNA samples from a subset of 96 workers were analyzed with 1,536 SNP probes within gene sequences that cover the entire honey bee genome on the bead station. MapQTL software and a map of 1,348 informative SNP loci were used to associate the grooming behavior of the bees with their genotypes. The genotypes of 15 workers indicated that they were drifters that were unrelated to the mapping family, so they were excluded from further analyses. The log of the time elapsed before responding to mites was used as a trait for interval mapping of genes that influence this trait. A putative QTL on chromosome 5 was identified (the likelihood test statistic was LOD 2.37). A second suggestive QTL (LOD 1.94) on chromosome 4 was found. The location of this QTL corresponded with a QTL for Varroa-sensitive hygienic behavior (VSH) identified in another study (see abstract 32 of these Proceedings), indicating that one or more genes may influence both of these mite-resistance traits. Finally, a third putative QTL (LOD 1.92) was found one chromosome 10. The genes that lie in these QTL regions are currently being studied for their possible functions, and more individuals are being added to the analyses to increase the precision of mapping. It is particularly interesting that one region may influence both mite-grooming behavior and VSH. These studies should help future development of bees that have high tendencies for both traits that give them the ability to remove Varroa mites from the hive.
2. Aronsteinc, K., R. Coxc, E. Saldivarc & T.C. Websterd - COMPARATIVE STUDIES OF TWO NOSEMA SPECIES IN HONEY BEES - The objective of this research was to determine differences in the effects of two species of Nosema on honey bee health. A recently detected species, N. ceranae, has been reported to be more virulent than N. apis, the original species in the Western Hemisphere. N. ceranae has also been implicated as a possible cause of "colony collapse disorder" (CCD).
In a series of four experiments, laboratory cages of 100 worker bees were fed one of two species of Nosema spores or a 50:50 mixture of the two species. Dead bees were counted and collected each day for later analysis. We examined the bee gut contents microscopically to determine the percentage of bees infected or to calculate the number of Nosema spores per bee. Nosema inoculated bees became infected and produced millions of spores/bee within 3-5 weeks.
In most experiments we also found that N. ceranae was not more virulent than N. apis in laboratory cages. Actually, N. apis inoculated bees seemed to die sooner, and a greater percentage of the bees were infected when compared to N. ceranae inoculated bees. When inoculated with a high dose of the mixture of the two species (50,000 spores - 25,000 of each species), bee mortality was about the same as with N. apis inoculated bees. In four experiments, infection with N. apis always resulted in higher bee mortality three or more weeks post inoculation than with N. ceranae. In these same experiments, N. apis spores caused a greater percentage of the bees to become infected than did N. ceranae when bees were inoculated with higher doses of Nosema spores (>5,000). In the fourth experiment, bees inoculated with 500 spores of N. apis died sooner than bees inoculated with the same dose of N. ceranae. Further, it appears that inoculation with 5,000 or more spores of either species of Nosema results in a shorter life span for worker honey bees.
Do these laboratory results apply to field colonies of honey bees? A small-scale field study planned for the spring of 2011 may yield results to help answer this question. If these results do apply to field colonies of honey bees, then colony health is at no greater risk from N. ceranae than from N. apis. Actually, N. apis may shorten the life of worker bees more than N. ceranae at lower doses. Additionally, the results of these experiments do not support the hypothesis that the newly introduced species of Nosema is the primary cause of CCD.
3. Aronsteinc, K., F. Drummonde, B. Eitzerf, J. Ellisg, J. Evansh, N. Ostiguyi, S. Sheppardj, M. Spivakk & K. Visscherl - THE CAP STATIONARY APIARY PROJECT: COLONY STRENGTH DATA ANALYSIS 2009-2010 - A project was initiated in 2009 to assess causal factors for colony loss in stationary apiaries in seven states across the U.S. Thirty colonies were started from packages in Minnesota, Maine, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, and Florida in 2009. Two other apiaries were started in 2010 in California and Maine (n= 15 colonies). All packages were re-queened with Italian queens in April or May in the starting year of each apiary. Monthly sampling of colonies was conducted to assess colony strength (brood and workers), queen status and all pests and pathogen symptoms. In addition, collections of workers were made for dissection assessment of Nosema spp. infestation, tracheal mite infestation and molecular determination of virus infections. Viruses screened included Deformed Wing Virus (DWV), Black Queen Cell Virus (BQCV), Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) and Sacbrood Virus (SBV). We found that the pattern of colony loss was significantly different across sites. Abiotic factors that appear to be related to the level of loss and/or supersedure were maximum temperature during the brood rearing season, the percent of agricultural land within a 2 mile radius of the apiary, and pesticide contamination of pollen. Biotic factors were used to develop statistical models for estimating risk of colony loss. Initial models suggest that Nosema infection, Varroa mite infestation and IAPV infection are all significant causal factors of colony loss, but there were significant apiary site interactions with some of these factors. This project will be continued for another 1-2 years.
4. Chaimaneem, V., Y. Chenh, J. Pettish & P. Chantawannakulm - NOSEMA SPP. IN EUROPEAN AND NATIVE HONEYBEES IN NORTHERN THAILAND - The microsporidium Nosema ceranae was detected in honey bees in Thailand for the first time. In this study, we collected and identified species of microsporidia from the European honey bee (Apis mellifera), the cavity nesting Asian honey bee (Apis cerana), the dwarf Asian honey bee (Apis florea) and the giant Asian honey bee (Apis dorsata) from colonies in Northern Thailand. We used multiplex PCR technique with two pairs of primers to differentiate N. ceranae from N. apis (Hernández et al., 2007 Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 73: 6331-6338). From 80 A. mellifera samples, 62 (77.5%) were positive for N. ceranae. Amongst 46 feral colonies of Asian honey bees (A. cerana, A. florea and A. dorsata) examined for Nosema infections, only N. ceranae could be detected. No N. apis was found in any of our samples of the four Apis species (Chaimanee et al., 2010 J. Invertebr. Pathol. 105: 207-210).
If we consider the phylogenetic relationships between N. ceranae isolates and the nesting behavior of the host Apis species, an interesting pattern was evident. Based on the partial sequences of polar tube protein 1 gene using maximum parsimony, the data showed that N. ceranae isolated from A. mellifera grouped into the same clade as the N. ceranae that isolated from A. cerana supported by a high bootstrap value (92%) (Figure), both of which nest in cavities and build multiple combs. The single comb nesting species, A. dorsata and A. florea, each harbored distinct isolates of N. ceranae. Our data indicate that some degree of specialization or isolate variation is occurring as N. ceranae invades Apis species in South East Asia.
5. Dahlgrenn, L.P., R.M. Johnsonn, M.D. Ellisn & B.D. Siegfriedn- VARROACIDE TOXICITY TO HONEY BEE QUEENS - As a honey bee queen is the colony's sole egg layer, the effects of a toxin on the queen can be more important to colony success than the toxin's effects on her worker offspring. We established a dose-response curve for queen honey bees exposed to varroacides commonly used in honey bee colonies. Five hundred and seventeen queens were raised to find the LD50 for tau-fluvalinate, coumaphos, amitraz, thymol, and fenpyroximate. Sister virgin queens were grafted from a single source colony. Virgin queens were then emerged in queen banks, and when 4 days old, they were removed for 1 h to complete varroacide treatment. There were three or more replications for each varroacide. Each replication had at least 15 virgin queens that were topically treated with a range of doses including doses expected to cause 0% and 100% mortality. Mortality was checked at 24 h, 48 h, and then at 1 week intervals for 6 weeks.
We found that queens are much less susceptible than workers to tau-fluvalinate, coumaphos, fenpyroximate and thymol. There were no significant differences between worker and queen mortality when treated with amitraz. Coumaphos and fenpyroximate did not produce reliable queen mortality at the highest dose tested, 500 µg and 300 µg respectively (Table); consequently, we could not establish a precise LD50 and minimum possible LD50s are reported. Future studies will examine the basis for the high tolerance of queens to some varroacides. Mortality is not the only way varroacides can affect queens, and our findings provide a foundation for future studies of queen fecundity, egg-laying rate, brood survival, pheromone output, retinue formation, and behavior.
6. Eischenc, F.A., R.H. Grahamc, R. Riverac & R. Jamesc - CONTROLLING NOSEMA SPORES ON STORED HONEYCOMB - In previous work, we had observed significant numbers of living Nosema ceranae spores on stored honeycomb. In this study we tested five fumigants, viz., methyl bromide, phosphine (Phostoxin), formic acid, ethylene oxide, and ozone for efficacy in controlling Nosema ceranae spores on stored honeycomb. Standard Langstroth-sized honeycombs harboring living spores were exposed to a dose range of fumigants. They were then tested for survival of spores using sytox green and DAPI stains or placed into nucleus colonies having no detectable levels of Nosema. Colonies receiving treated combs were checked for Nosema infection on days 0, 12 and 38.
In general, phosphine (Phostoxin) at the recommended label dosage (45 tablets/28.4m3) was the most successful. Less than 10% of spores showed viability with Sytox green and DAPI stains. This efficacy was confirmed when treated combs were placed in uninfected colonies (Table). After 38 days of exposure, we found 40,000 spores/bee. This was significantly lower than the 7.65 million spores/bee in colonies receiving an untreated comb (P < 0.05).
Both methyl bromide and formic acid at their respective label doses caused small, but significant declines in viable spore numbers. This was confirmed when treated combs were placed in "Nosema-free" colonies (Table). In the nucleus test, no significant differences were detected among the three compounds; however, we suspect that small sample size (n = 6) prevented this. Limited testing with ethylene oxide found that control was excellent, but is expensive. Tests with ozone thus far have proved inconclusive. Since Phostoxin is labeled for protecting stored combs against wax moth, we see it as a good choice for controlling N. ceranae on stored combs.
7. Eischenc, F.A., R.H. Grahamc & R. Riverac - IMPACT OF NUTRITION, VARROA DESTRUCTOR AND NOSEMA CERANAE ON COLONIES IN SOUTHERN LOUISIANA - This study examined the impact of three factors, i.e. nutrition, Varroa, and Nosema acting singly or in combination on colonies during a 14 month period (Oct. 2009 - Dec. 2010) in southern Louisiana. Colonies (n = 50) were randomly assigned to eight treatment groups: 1. negative control (no diet, no medications); 2. diet, no medications; 3. no diet, fumagillin; 4. diet, fumagillin; 5. no diet, amitraz; 6. diet, amitraz; 7. no diet, fumagillin, amitraz; 8. diet, fumagillin, amitraz. Starting in early October 2009, colonies receiving diet were fed either 454g or 908g of Bee Pro + 4% Prolen (Mann Lake Ltd.) about every 10 days. Medications were applied at the start of the trial and amitraz again after five and nine months.
Colonies were moved to California (Jan. 2010) for almond pollination and feeding stopped. At this time strength levels were highest for all groups receiving diet. Those colonies that received diet and both medications were largest. Regardless of treatment group, by late January 2010 colonies that started the trial with 149 Varroa or less (natural mite drop during 72hrs) had a significantly greater percentage of colonies that met a minimum 6-frame strength criterion suitable for almond pollination than colonies that had 150 mites drop. Colonies with 150+ Varroa were slightly larger at the start of the trial, but exhibited a marked decline in strength. Colonies treated for Varroa had a significantly higher percentage of colonies meeting a 6-frame strength criterion than those left untreated. However, treating for Varroa in colonies that had 150+ Varroa, did not develop into as large of colonies as those with <150 mites.
Colonies returned to Louisiana in late March and were supered. Honey production was measured in late August and was, on average, about 79kg for colonies receiving both medications. Those treated for Nosema or Varroa only produced about 55 and 47kg, respectively. Control colonies produced about 34kg of honey.
Survival was greatest for colonies receiving diet and both medications (66%). Survival varied between 34 - 46% for the other seven groups. Adult strength was greatest for the group receiving both medications (14.45 frames). All groups receiving fumagillin were significantly larger than those that were only treated for Varroa or left untreated. Untreated colonies and those receiving diet only were, on average, either 3.2 or 1.9 frames of bees, respectively in December 2010.
We conclude that good nutrition, Varroa and Nosema control are essential for colony performance especially if colonies will be used for almond pollination or honey production.
8. Ferrario, T.E. & A.B. Cobbo - CORRELATIONS BETWEEN GEOMAGNETIC STORMS AND COLONY COLLAPSE DISORDER - In 1994, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Solar Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) began recording disturbances to Earth's magnetosphere caused by the sun's solar eruptions. Separately, three independent groups of scientists surveyed honey bee losses from August through February. Our review of their data indicates that a perfect bivariate correlation exists between severe geomagnetic storms and CCD loss estimates.
First: Camazine et al. (Entomology Department, Penn State University, Newsletter No. 77) reported two statewide surveys assessing colony losses by beekeepers during fall/winter periods from August to March, 1995/1996 and 1996/1997. Independently, SWPC/NOAA recorded geomagnetic activity during the same periods. After the 1995/1996 winter, beekeepers reported 51% colony losses, and SWPC/NOAA reported 21 hours of major geomagnetic storms. During the 2006/2007 period, colony losses declined to 26%; concomitantly, major storm durations declined to 12 hours. Over two-consecutive fall/winter periods, honey bee losses declined 51% and geomagnetic storms declined 57%. This parallel would normally be considered a happenstance (P=0.25) were it not for two subsequent surveys.
Second: Burdick and Caron (2006, MAAREC Beekeeper Survey. http://maarec.cas.psu.edu/pdfs/MAARECSurveyPRELIMAA.pdf) reported survey results conducted in the Northeast during six fall/winter periods from 2000 to 2006. Apiary inspectors reported colony losses in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. Information requested was what beekeepers' total colony losses were. Thus, CCD was only one component amongst all causes for colony failures. Simultaneously, SWPC/NOAA recorded geomagnetic activity.
As major storm durations escalated, corresponding increases in colony losses occurred and weak, positive correlations emerged. Considering the variance imposed because multiple causes of colony losses were reported and different numbers of states were surveyed from year-to-year, a relatively weak correlation was not surprising. Of statistical significance, however, is that when correlations of colony losses with progressively greater storms were compared, a graph of respective correlation coefficients was nearly perfect (R2=0.978). Thus, evidence indicates that as geomagnetic storm intensities increased - while all colony loss causes remained constant - correlations with colony losses became stronger.
Third: During three fall/winter periods, from August to March 2006 to 2009, apiary inspectors surveyed colony losses throughout the United States (van Engelsdorp et al., www.
plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0004071). Beekeepers were specifically asked to estimate "what percent of their total losses had no dead bees in the hive," a key CCD symptom. Again, SWPC/NOAA independently recorded Earth's geomagnetic activity. Results were consistent with the two prior surveys: graphs of major storm durations and colony losses due to CCD produced a perfect positive correlation (R2=1.0) between the two independent variables. Data represent a larger database and greater area than the MAARC survey; a more consistent number of states were sampled, and, importantly, the survey targeted CCD losses.
Numerous biomagnetic studies indicate that orientation behaviors of many organisms are altered by imposed magnetic fields or anomalies. During three different time periods, totaling 11 years, as major geomagnetic storm durations increased there was a systematic increase in colony losses. Foragers contain superparamagnetic magnetite, providing a basis for magnetoreception. In conclusion, surveys and experimental evidence indicates that foragers possess a magnetoreception sense for orientation purposes and that over long distances major geomagnetic storms can interfere with their homing ability, causing them to get lost and "disappear."
9. Ferrario, T.E. & A.B. Cobbo - HONEY BEES, MAGNETORECEPTION AND COLONY COLLAPSE DISORDER - CCD has afflicted honey bees for decades, if not centuries. The disorder predates most pesticides, diseases, pests and management protocols. Scientists have searched - unsuccessfully - for chemical and biotic causes for this scourge.
Behavioral scientists have established that many organisms extract directional information from Earth's ambient magnetosphere. Anomalous magnetic fields have also been shown to alter a honey bee's orientation behavior (Winklhofer, M.J., 2010 J. Royal Soc. Interface 7: S131-S134; Johnson, S. and Lohmann, K.J. 2008, Physics Today 61: 29-35). Their "magnetoreception" sense is controlled by magnetite (Fe3O4) in adult bee abdomens (Hsu and Li, 1993 J. Exper. Biol. 180: 1-13). Linked together, magnetite crystals act like a compass needle and orient bees in magnetic fields. Discovery of magnetoreception in foragers resulted in astonishing interrelationships between the sun's explosive eruptions, geomagnetic perturbations they produce to Earth's magnetosphere and why they disrupt a bee's homing ability. Our theory is that solar storms interfere with Earth's magnetic fields, a forager's perception of it and consequently its homing ability.
CCD's epidemiology, symptoms and involvement with a forager's magnetoreception sense are interrelated. Considering a bees' behavior, our theory makes shrewd predictions regarding how major geomagnetic storms reveal CCD's six key symptoms (Wilson, W.T. & D. M. Menapace, 1979 Am. Bee J. 119: 184-186, 217). Geomagnetic storms interact with a honey bee's magnetoreception sense depending on what developmental stage they are at and what they are doing when it occurs:
Spring, Summer, Fall: Only foragers contain magnetite and, therefore, are vulnerable to a major storm. Disoriented and without accurate coordinates to return to their hive, they fly away and get lost. Unlike diseases, there would be no evidence of their demise - CCD's leading symptom.
If a queen is exposed to a storm during a mating flight, that could lead to disaster. Fortunately, long distance mating flights are unlikely and visual references would suffice to lead a queen safely back to the hive. Hence, healthy egg-laying queens are present in colonies suffering from CCD - a second symptom.
Summer: Larvae, pupae and young bees are insensitive to fluctuations in the magnetosphere because they don't contain magnetite. Bees accumulate magnetite beginning a few days after emerging from cells. After a storm, young bees can replace lost foragers and save a colony. This is likely to occur when summer brood rearing peaks. That colonies suffering from CCD have brood and young adults present are common observations - a third symptom.
Fall: Geomagnetic storms appear dreadfully deadly during fall because forager losses would reduce pre-winter food collection and produce weak winter clusters - a fourth symptom.
Winter: With limited food and insufficient bees to maintain a habitable cluster temperature during winter, a fall storm would render colonies susceptible to cold. Sadly, a storm's impact might not surface until spring when frail or lifeless colonies become noticed - a fifth symptom.
A sixth observation is that CCD is not contagious: equipment from affected hives can be used on healthy colonies without causing ill effects. If such colonies do decline, the original loss was likely due to disease and was misdiagnosed as CCD.
10. Frazierp, J.L., M.T. Frazierp, C.A. Mullinp & W. Zhup - DOES THE REPRODUCTIVE GROUND PLAN HYPOTHESIS OFFER A MECHANISTIC BASIS FOR UNDERSTANDING DECLINING HONEY BEE HEALTH? - The reproductive ground plan hypothesis links a pleotropic set of genes for reproductive anatomy (ovary size), reproductive physiology (yolk protein level), sensory physiology (sucrose sensitivity), and foraging behavior (pollen/nectar). While the evolutionary significance of ground plan genes is open to debate, substantial experimental evidence indicates that the above factors co-vary, can be selected for at the colony level, and that down regulation of specific genes affects more than one of these components. Multiple environmental factors including nutrition, mite feeding, pesticides, and colony manipulations are known to alter the expression of these components involving a common set of hormonal regulatory pathways. Given a specific set of genes and some common regulatory pathways, specific mechanism based hypothesis testing may uncover new relationships for the actions of factors known to impact honey bee health and colony dynamics. Specific examples of environmental factors altering the expression of these ground plan components will be presented. Testable hypotheses of the potential actions of pesticides and the benefits of combining these with simulation modeling to determine their impacts on honey bee population dynamics will be discussed.
11. Frazierp, M.T., S. Ashcraftp, W. Zhup & J. Frazierp - ASSESSING THE REDUCTION OF FIELD POPULATIONS IN HONEY BEE COLONIES POLLINATING NINE DIFFERENT CROPS - Beekeepers pollinating agriculture crops are concerned about the reduction of colony field forces and the ultimate weakening of their colonies. Pesticide exposure is a potential factor in these field force reductions. During 2009-2010 we assessed changes in the field force populations of nine colonies on each of nine crops by counting foragers leaving colonies at regular intervals during the pollination period for each crop. We also collected for pesticide analysis, dead and dying bees at the hive, returning foragers, crop flowers, trapped pollen, and corn flowers associated with the cotton crop. Field forces were significantly reduced in colonies pollinating cotton, corn and alfalfa, while those on, apples, pumpkins, almonds, melons, blueberries and wild flower honey production, increased or remained fairly consistent.
A total of 52 pesticide residues were identified in samples collected across the nine crops. In cotton, returning foragers had no pesticide residues, while dead and dying bees collected around hives had 11 residues including 306 ppb acephate. In alfalfa, returning foragers had three residues, while dead and dying bees had 10 residues including 12.7 and 59.5 ppb of thiamethoxam and esfenvalerate, respectively. Dead and dying bees collected around colonies in association with corn had only residues of 2,4-DMPF at 5,160 ppb and fluvalinate at 3.4 ppb. Overall, fungicide residues occurred frequently and often were found at high levels. Chlorothalonil was found in pumpkins in trapped pollen (1100 ppb) and dead and dying bees (2290 ppb). Captan was found in blueberries (1310 ppb), apples, (3860 ppb), and in trapped pollen. In almonds iprodione, pyraclostrobin and boscalid were found in trapped pollen at 3260, 3480 and 7270 ppb, respectively. In-hive miticides were typically found at low levels, the highest levels of fluvalinate and coumaphos were 87.6 and 18.6 ppb. The exception to this was the amitraz metabolite, 2,4-DMPF, found at 5,160 ppb in dead bees in corn. Clearly honey bees used for crop pollination are being exposed to a diverse array of agrichemicals, especially fungicides, and the impacts of this on colonies following the exposure period needs further investigation. Since honey bees are polylectic, requiring diverse sources of pollen, the establishment of flowering, pesticide-free refugia near bee-pollinated crops could help mitigate exposure to and impacts of pesticides.
12. Hoodq, W.M. & S. Petersonq - COMPARATIVE TRAPPING INVESTIGATIONS OF SMALL HIVE BEETLES INSIDE HONEY BEE COLONIES - Three small hive beetle traps which are currently marketed in the U.S. were compared for their trapping efficiency during a full season in 2010. Field tests were conducted at Clemson University, South Carolina, using the Freeman Beetle Trap, the Better Beetle Blaster Trap, and the Hood Trap. The Freeman trap consists of a hive bottom made of wood and screen that allows beetles to freely enter a removable plastic tray (partially filled with vegetable oil) below. The Better Beetle Blaster trap (Cutts trap) is a plastic reservoir, half-filled with vegetable oil, and is designed to be fitted between two frame top bars in the hive. The Hood Trap is a small plastic box trap that is fastened inside a hive frame. The trap has three compartments, the middle compartment filled with cider vinegar as an attractant and the two side compartments half-filled with food grade mineral oil as the killing agent.
The primary objective of this research project was to compare the number of adult beetles killed in the three traps when placed in new colonies that were established from package bees. The other objective was to measure and compare other colony parameters including adult bees, capped brood, honey, and Varroa mites.
Four apiaries were setup in the Clemson University Experimental Forest. Eight test colonies were established in each apiary with 2-lbs package bees on 6 April 2010. On 3 May, colonies were randomly selected in each apiary to receive one of four treatments: Cutts Trap, Freeman Trap, Hood Trap, or no trap (control). Treatments were replicated twice in each apiary. All 32 test colonies were fitted with Freeman trap hive bottoms.
The Cutts, Freeman, and Hood traps were serviced at 2-week intervals through 2 November by removing and counting dead beetles and replenishing traps with vegetable oil, vinegar or mineral oil as appropriate. Each test colony received a 1-day survey for beetles and a 3-day Varroa mite survey at 6-weeks intervals through 19 October by placement of a clean Freeman Trap tray with fresh vegetable oil and a Varroa mite sticky board. Other colony parameters were measured at 8-week intervals through 19 October. An end of season total "colony shakeout" of beetles was conducted on all colonies on 8 November to count adult beetles remaining in colonies.
Thirteen 2-week trap counts of beetles killed were compared. Significantly more (P<0.05) beetles were killed in the Freeman traps versus the Cutts and Hood traps. There were no differences in number of beetles captured in the Cutts traps versus the Hood traps. There were no overall differences in the 1-day Freeman trap surveys. There was no significant difference (P>0.05) in the mean number of beetles counted during the total colony shakeout of beetles (Freeman/62, Cutts/75, Hood/82, and control/128). There were no overall treatment differences in the other colony parameters.
This investigation suggests that the Freeman Trap proved to be a more efficient trap based upon the number of beetles removed from the colonies. The low mean number of beetles remaining in the control colonies at the end these investigations suggests that traps in the remaining colonies may have provided "trapping sinks" in test apiaries.
13. Hopkinsj, B.K., C. Herrr & W.S. Sheppardj - PRODUCTION OF HONEY BEE (APIS MELLIFERA) QUEENS USING CRYOPRESERVED SEMEN - As primary pollinators, honey bees are an essential contributor to modern agriculture, contributing directly to the production of a third of the human diet. As such, the crisis that is causing decimation of honey bee colonies is of grave concern. In general, the health of the colony is affected by two factors, the environment and genetics. Genetic differences among colonies within populations are responsible for differences observed in parasite and pathogen resistance. There are many potentially valuable and rare alleles in the honey bee populations within and among 26 distinct subspecies and, presumably, here in the U.S. However, substantial annual colony losses, small breeding populations, selection and genetic drift all contribute to reduced genetic variation, and the loss of potentially valuable and possibly rare alleles is a concern. Increased genetic diversity even within colonies can increase fitness and productivity and reduce parasite and pathogen loads.
Cryopreservation of semen has the potential to preserve honey bee genetic diversity in the form of spermatozoa and provide breeders with a source of genetic variation that can be used to interject new alleles into a breeding program from which to select upon. The focus of our research is to develop a cryopreservation technique that will provide a valuable tool for breeders and make possible a genetic repository for global honey bee genetic diversity. Liquid nitrogen storage of germplasm is a cost effective method for long-term storage of genetics, and a stable medium for distribution that can ameliorate problems associated with the seasonality of breeding. The improvement that cryopreservation can have on breeding stock has been well demonstrated in the cattle industry. More than half of the artificial inseminations in cattle breeding utilize preserved semen and have contributed to substantial increases in milk production.
We have improved the cryopreservation of honey bee semen and demonstrated the ability to produce sequential generations of queens by backcrossing each generation to a single stock of cryopreserved semen. These results demonstrate two valuable uses for frozen honey bee semen that have.
April 2011 cover story
Wax Moth Biology and Open Air Comb Storage
by Dr. Wyatt A. Mangum
The greater wax moth destroys thousands of dollars of comb every summer. For southern beekeepers they are a particular problem with the longer warm season. To study wax moth biology in detail, I decided to raise them. Initially I was ambivalent about this approach. As a scientist, a closer study of the wax moth's life history was very appealing. As we will see, they are interesting creatures. But as a beekeeper trying to control wax moth damage, raising them was somewhat disagreeable, even though I knew other people raise the larvae for fish bait and laboratory experiments.
As one can imagine, raising wax moths is not difficult. I began by letting adult moths infest some old comb sheltered in a box. The box kept the comb in the dark and poorly ventilated, a situation very attractive to them. Since I started this project during the summer, a time of intense wax moth activity, they quickly found the comb. In a beehive, female moths typically lay their tiny eggs in small cracks, safe from the reach of patrolling bees (see Figures 1 and 2). Given their small size and concealment beekeepers rarely see wax moth eggs.
March 2011 cover story
by Larry Connor
How do bees produce beeswax?
After foragers return to the hive loaded with nectar, enzymes are added and moisture is removed to generate honey. During the process, certain worker bees inside the hive take up the liquid from the nectar processors and work as wax producers or remove it from the honey comb and digest the sugar in their digestive tract to produce a complex set of compounds in the wax glands and mirror plates on the underside of the abdomen of the worker. There are eight of these plates, each generating one thin scale of wax. The wax is secreted as a liquid but hardens immediately. Under the microscope the scales appear in layers, reflecting this secretion process. Once the scale is large enough the workers remove it with a spine on their hind leg and transfer it to their mouthparts where saliva is added and the striated scale is masticated into a pliable form so that it may be applied to the places on the hive where comb construction is active. This may be where honeycomb is being constructed, added to brood comb to cap the cells of larvae ready to pupate, or to construct queen cells.
Properties of beeswax
Beeswax is secreted by eight glands arranged in pairs on the ventral (under) side of the worker honey bee on abdominal segments four to seven. The glands are enlarged when the bee secretes wax, but shrink in size when the bee is not. Beeswax is a complex mixture. It is a tough wax, able to withstand great stress and pressure from the weight of honey, pollen, brood and the bees that hang on the honeycomb structure. Heavily loaded wax combs will stretch when exposed to high temperatures. The wax consists of monoesters, hydrocarbons, diesters, free acids, hydroxy polyesters, hydroxy monoesters, trimesters, acid polyesters, acid esters and free alcohols.
Peak wax secretion in bees is at 12 days after emergence, but bees must feed on pollen for the first five to six days of their adult life to be able to produce the fat bodies that are essential to wax production. These bees congregate in areas where wax production is underway, and maintain a temperature of 95 to 97 degrees F. It takes 8.4 pounds of honey to produce one pound of beeswax from 450,000 wax scales. New wax is white, but it quickly takes on the pigments of pollen-the yellows, tans or browns according to pigment color.
Beeswax is valued for its very high melting point range of 144 to 147 degrees F., producing superior burning candles and an excellent resist in both electronics and art production. When exposed to increased heat beeswax bursts into flame at 250 degrees F. Considerable discoloration takes place whenever beeswax is heated over 185 degrees F, an excellent reason to carefully monitor processing equipment to prevent wax overheating and discoloration.
Your Tax Obligation
First, I will offer an argument of why you should file your beekeeping-related taxes. Second, I will suggest several strategies which will reduce your tax liability. So, even though you comply with the IRS requirements, your tax assessment is minimal.
The truth is most beekeepers don't file such taxes. The reasons are various. It's not much money. The activity is off the radar. It's too complicated to use those special self-employed tax forms. Since it's a break-even proposition, why file? The amount of under-the-table business activity that isn't reported is significant. No tax forms are generated in the activity. Beekeeping is a hobby, not a business.
The first argument for filing is that the IRS requires that all worldwide income over $10 be entered into your taxes. The IRS doesn't say $10 in profits; but $10 in sales. So, if you sell $500 worth of honey, you need to enter the sum, in order to comply with the law. Entering the revenue doesn't mean you will have to pay taxes, because you deduct expenses from revenue to arrive at a tax liability.
Beekeepers might argue that the numbers are so small that it doesn't matter. But, the IRS doesn't see it that way. Overstating expense figures is an error, but not disclosing income is fraud. It's a serious crime not to disclose revenues-even small revenues. There have been cases where IRS agents have come down hard on non-filers. I know of an individual in a neighboring town who stopped paying income taxes for his home business. When the IRS caught up with him eight years later (he ignored letters), the agents recomputed what he would have owed and assigned him to pay $1,300 month for twenty years. His choice was accepting this or going to jail. Obviously, he accepted the IRS's judgment, even though they were significantly overstating his liability. The point of this story is not to scare you, but to point out that if the IRS ever found out about your beekeeping activity and wanted to make an issue of it, they have discretion of what they could do. They could make you wish you had complied.
January 2011 cover story
Repair Repaint Review
by Howard Scott
Fall was a busy time. Between the harvesting and preparing product, you barely had time for anything else. So, you piled your honey supers in rows, and went off to attend to your home chores. That's the way it usually happens. And you won't return to beekeeping until April when you purchase packages. The only thing is, you haven't completed your chores. And late fall through winter is the perfect time to get them done, prepare for the next season, and contemplate what you will do differently. For example, do you need to order, assemble and paint some beekeeping woodenware that has rotted?
Here are seven chores to do during this less active period:
- Scrape and clean all frames. The frames you took off for harvesting honey are not ready to be put away. Propolis, wax accumulations, and bee parts cover the wooden frames. Using your hive tool, frame by frame, scrape every surface so that bare wood shows. One long motion cleans the top bar. But the sides are so gunked up that frames don't sit evenly in the honey super. Scrape propolis and wax from all sides of the sidebar. Get underneath the top bar so that the frame moves smoothly along the ridge. It is equally important to remove debris from the front and rear edges so that 10 frames sit in the honey super without undue strain. What might look like wood is actually propolis. You would be surprised how a little proprolis edging uses up valuable space.
Then, make sure the comb is free from imperfections. Cut out swarm cells, excess wax bridges and that sort of thing. Note broken comb or comb with holes, and consider replacing these frames with fresh foundation. You never know whether the bees will accept these damaged frames, so it is always better to have new foundation. Be sure there no beads of propolis on the inside surface of these frames. A quick sharp downward stroke with your hive tool aimed away from the comb cuts a whole row of these out. By the chore's end, you want to move the palm of your hand over the wooden surfaces and not feel any bumps or irregularities.
- Paint those boxes that need painting. In the spring, everything will be happening at once, and you more than likely won't get to painting. The warmth of your basement or garage will be adequate for applying paint. The general rule is that the air should be 50 degrees. Remember, scrape the loose paint off before you try to paint over. Once the loose parts are removed, you may paint the entire surface, giving an extra heavy coating to the unpainted surface. Do not paint the inside walls or even the edges. Only the outside surface needs painting.
On a warmish day, go out to your bee yard and repaint the eroded surfaces of your brood chambers. If the temperature is at 50 degrees, the bees will not bother you. Furthermore, there is small chance that the bees will get stuck in paint. They're coming out for a winter cleansing and will concentrate on that task. To reduce the chance of the bees breaking cluster, scrape with soft, slow motions. Jarring the hive might provoke more bees to come outside than you would like to see.
- Replace dark foundation. Most of your brood frames will be in the bee yard, but you might have some in the basement due to dead hives or excess equipment. Some beekeepers ignore this task, and in doing so, they are missing an opportunity to maintain healthy, clean, fresh hive bodies. After five, six or seven years of use, brood chamber frames tend to turn dark brown to black. This coloration is from the brood deposits and hardening of food particles. Over time, the cells get smaller and smaller. Moreover, these overused cells are ripe for disease infestations. For healthy hive management, they should be replaced with new foundation.
For many beekeepers, this task is hard to do. Even though the wax is dark, it's a perfectly formed foundation. The bees don't have to build new cells.
The beekeeper thinks: Which is worse, leaving the bees with darkened frames or making them do the work all over to produce comb from foundation? Often, the decision is to leave the old frame. To prevent that bad practice, get in the habit of replacing a certain number of frames each year.
Depending on the age of your hive, you might replace 5% to 10% of the frames. If you have 60 frames-three hives-replace four to six dark frames annually. Always work from the ends of the brood chamber. The wax color of the frames to be discarded should be brownish to black. If the cells have a reddish hue, that's still viable comb. Of course, you won't go in the active brood chambers and replace darkened frames. But you should put the fresh-foundation frames in next spring. And replacing from the outside of brood chambers will give the bees time to build foundation into comb.
Why Supplemental Protein Feeding
Can Help Reduce Colony Losses
by Gloria DeGrandi-Hoffman and Yanping Chen
Carl Hayden Bee Research Center, USDA-ARS, 2000 East Allen Road, Tucson, Arizona, 85719
* Bee Research Laboratory, USDA-ARS, Beltsville, Maryland 20705
The interconnectedness of nutrition, worker lifespan, colony growth and survival has never been more evident. While in the past, good nutrition was necessary for colony growth and honey production, today it is essential for preventing colony losses.
We are losing more colonies now than any time in recent history. The colony deaths have been attributed to Varroa mites, diseases (e.g.,nosema), pesticides, and colony collapse disorder (CCD) whose exact cause remains elusive. Perhaps an underlying factor contributing to colony losses is inadequate nutrition. A steady supply of pollen insures the growth of colonies because it provides protein to adult bees and stimulates brood rearing. Adequate amounts of pollen also are needed to optimize worker lifespans. This is because workers in colonies with low pollen reserves transition from nest activities to foraging earlier in their adult life. How long workers live depends upon when they begin foraging. Workers that become foragers earlier in life die sooner than their nestmates that continue performing tasks in the hive. Thus, colonies with limited protein intake decline from the combination of reduced brood rearing and a shorter lifespan for adult workers. If parasitic mites and pathogens are present, the population decline can be even more severe so that the colony perishes.
In addition to affecting colony growth, nutrition (particularly protein availability) is a key component in mounting immune responses to pathogens. In honey bee colonies, protein deficiencies that affect the immune response might accelerate the spread of disease among the bees and cause pathogen levels to increase so that adult longevity and survival are reduced. Thus, what began as a nutritional deficiency could develop into colony loss from disease.
Honey bees rely on pollen for protein and for other essential nutritional requirements such lipids, sterols, vitamins, minerals and certain carbohydrates. Some digestion of pollen occurs in the midgut of the bee, but the primary means by which the nutrients from pollen are made available to the colony is its conversion to worker jelly. The conversion occurs in the paired food glands called hypopharyngeal glands (HPG) located in the frontal area of the worker's head (Fig.1). The glands are comprised of acini that produce the protein-rich worker jelly that is fed to larvae of all castes and to the adult workers and queen. Through the processing of pollen to worker jelly by nurse bees and their feeding of larvae and adults, the nutrients from the pollen are circulated throughout the colony.
Pollen is not always available to colonies, so protein supplements are fed to bees to stimulate brood rearing and prevent colony populations from declining. The supplements might not contain pollen, but instead have protein derived from sources such as soy or whey. Ideally, feeding protein supplements causes a flow of nutrients through a colony that is similar to pollen because the supplement stimulates the HPG of young bees to produce worker jelly.
Cover Story November 2010
Immune Response to Viruses
Viruses are obligate intracellular parasites that infect all organisms, from bacteria to humans. Their evolution represents a constant arms race with the host: Viruses need to reprogram host cells in order to produce progeny virus, but this is often successfully limited by the host antiviral defense, which in turn is frequently targeted by the virus, and so forth (Rehwinkel 2010).
A puzzling aspect of CCD is that when bee samples are analyzed, the "normal" immune mechanisms do not appear to be mobilized, despite the fact that the bees are rife with infectious pathogens (Johnson 2009). What could possibly cause such a suppression of the bee immune system?
If you'll look back at the bee immune system diagram in my last article, you can see that the induced bee immune response-the production of antimicrobial peptides-is dependent upon the upregulation of certain genes. Both this process and the bees' antiviral RNA response take place at the molecular level of gene expression. Certain pathogens, notably viruses, are able to sabotage this pathway.
Bees vs. Viruses
Viruses are the ultimate parasite-stripped to the absolute minimum. They are nothing more than encapsulated strands of genetic instructions. They are incapable of life on their own, being entirely dependent upon somehow getting into a host cell and hijacking the cellular machinery in order to trick it into producing more copies of the virus. They are so insidious that the line between host and parasite becomes blurred (about a twelfth of the human genome is viral in origin).
Surprisingly, this insinuation of viruses into host genomes appears to often confer evolutionary benefits, such as the introduction of new genes, or the acceleration of evolutionary change. Viruses may cause the extirpation (local extinction) of species, but any host that develops resistance to a strain of virus is then endowed with a competitive advantage over others that do not have such resistance (such as in the case of European human invaders to the New World, whose viral diseases decimated the Native Americans).
Bees are host to at least 18 viruses, nearly all being single-stranded RNA viruses. Some, such as Sacbrood virus have been with us for some time. Others are "emerging" pathogens-both Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) and Acute Bee Paralysis Virus (ABPV) were once considered to be "economically irrelevant" (Genersch 2010), then, with the arrival of varroa as a vector, they began to devastate colonies, and are still strongly linked to collapsing colonies today (Highfield 2009, Evans 2010, Hunt 2010).
Each time a virus mutates, or shifts hosts between bee or other insect species, it can suddenly cause epidemics as it spreads through a "naïve" population, just as new strains of flu virus can spread through the human population. For instance, Thai (or "Chinese") Sacbrood Virus has caused massive collapses of colonies of Apis cerana as it spread from Guangdong Province in 1972 to the whole of China and Southeast Asia (Verma 1990). Indeed, as this article goes to press, Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk's team is on the cusp of announcing that they have found strong indications that there may be a novel virus involved in CCD collapses in the U.S.
Back to School
The genetic blueprints for a bee are carried in its DNA, which are essentially sets of coded instructions, coiled into long strands called chromosomes, which reside in the nucleus of every cell. The coding elements are called "genes," of which bees have perhaps 20,000-about the same number as humans! Scientists are working to better understand the bee genome-about 50 laboratories worldwide are currently focused on molecular analyses of honey bees, as bees are a perfect experimental organism, since they are relatively simple, well studied animals, yet exhibit complex behaviors and unusual aging aspects.
The "action" of a virus infection takes place largely in the ribosomes-the organelles in the cytoplasm of each cell that "read" the genetic instructions on messenger RNA, and translate them into actual proteins. I'm introducing these terms because I feel that they are important if you wish to understand what is happening in collapsing colonies. If your eyes are starting to glaze over due to the use of "Big Words," please take a deep breath, and don't let the jargon scare you-it'll be worth the effort to get a grasp of what exactly is failing in the bee immune system. I understand that it's been a while for many of my readers since biology class, so please bear with me, and allow me give you a little refresher. A picture here may be worth a thousand words (Figure 1):
Cover Story October 2010
Managed Pollinator CAP - Coordinated Agricultural Project
Breeding a Better Bee:
A Promise Unfulfilled--So Far
by Nick Calderone, Cornell University
Steve Sheppard, Washington State University
The past few years have been difficult for many sectors of the beekeeping industry both in the US and abroad. Many beekeepers have experienced exceptionally high losses, and while Varroa destructor continues to be the number one cause of colony mortality, a substantial proportion of recent losses are suspected of being due to another condition called Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD. To date, many questions about the exact nature and cause or causes of CCD remain unanswered. The CAP project was established to study colony health and to evaluate possible causes for CCD. Regardless of the ultimate findings, the bigger question centers around the remedies that will be employed by beekeepers to ensure colony health in the future.
Background: The negative consequences of the industry's growing dependence on chemical solutions for managing pest problems have become increasingly evident the past few years. AFB has developed resistance to Terramycin, and catastrophic losses to mites have become commonplace as mite populations evolved resistance to pesticides. Not only have chemicals become less effective, research has shown that pollen and beeswax in hives are both contaminated with chemicals applied by beekeepers (coumaphos and fluvalinate) as well as by a broad array of other pesticides applied by growers of a variety of crops. These residues can cause serious damage to colonies in terms of reducing a bee's length of life and increasing its susceptibility to pathogens and parasites. Poor acceptance rates and an increased frequency of non-acceptance, drone layers and supersedure of many commercially available queens may also be caused by or exacerbated by this contamination. Interestingly, the remedy for much of what ails the industry has been available for the past 70 years.
In the 1930's, several individuals (O.W. Park. F.B. Paddock and F.C. Pellett at the Iowa Agricultural Experiment Station in Ames, IA) collaborated in the development of American foulbrood (AFB) resistant honey bees. In the 1950's, E.G. Brown of Sioux City, IA developed the ‘Brown' line of AFB resistant honey bees at his wax rendering plant. These bees were used by Prof. W.C. Rothenbuher (first at Iowa State and later at Ohio State) in the early 1960's to develop his AFB resistant line of honey bees - named the Brown line. An AFB susceptible line was obtained from another beekeeper named Van Scoy. With these two lines, Rothenbuhler investigated the genetic basis of AFB resistance. In 1964, he published what was to become a classic paper in behavioral genetics in which he demonstrated that resistance to AFB could be largely attributed to two independent behavioral traits: uncapping and removal of diseased brood by adult workers. He dubbed this mechanism ‘hygienic behavior'. Subsequently, a number of other traits were identified that also contributed to AFB resistance. The years since that seminal work have seen a genetic (and selectable) basis identified for a number of other important traits including removal of freeze-killed brood (a surrogate for Rothenbuhler's original hygienic behavior), resistance to acute bee paralysis, resistance to tracheal mites, resistance to varroa mites, pollen hoarding and length of life.
Cover Story September 2010
by Howard Scott
All right, you’re old, but that doesn’t mean you’re through with beekeeping. Or, does it? Sure, your back feels like a dynamite explosion every time you lift a brood chamber, and you can no longer spot the pollen sacks on bees’ legs, and your hand shakes too much to re-wax frames or graft a queen cell efficiently. But there’s still your omnipresent, bubbling over enthusiasm. So while you can continue, perhaps it is prudent to take precautions. If you are one of these geezers/geezeresses with these concerns, read on. Remember, many beekeepers do not even start their hobby or sideline until after they retire from their regular jobs, so you have lots of company.
As an introductory statement, let me state the obvious: you are not the kid you used to be. You have less strength, less endurance, less agility, poorer eyesight, and iffier balance. So why not reduce your hobby to manageable size. If you have several hundred hives, sign up for Social Security (it’s free) and only keep 50 hives. If you have 20 hives, do 7. If you have been tending 5 hives, do 2 or 3. In each instance, the more manageable size will feel like a breeze. You’ll avoid the aches and pains that follow a work session, as well as the sense of frustration at not getting everything done. Yet, you’ll still witness the bees’ enthusiasm, and that in turn will keep your outlook, if not your body, youthful.
Curious? Follow these guides:
*Adopt a ‘we’ll see what happens’ attitude. Every year, the bees surprise you. Whatever they do, they do and you’ve had the privilege of being there, on the edges, watching, helping, but not interfering. If you get a harvest, fine. If you don’t that’s fine, too. If the bees don’t overwinter, no problem. You start anew with a package next spring. There’s no more scorecard, comparing last year’s production to this year’s. I’m basically suggesting a new attitudinal shift, which is the frame of mind of a true hobbyist.
*Reduce the numbers of customers you supply. Since you no longer are counting on a specific production, you must tell people who depend on you to get alternate sources. If you supplied three stores, did three fairs a year, and sold out of your house, you might cut back to one store, one fair, and otherwise concentrate on home sales. Suggest beekeepers who might be willing to sell these stores their honey. At your club meeting, solicit potential vendors and give them store numbers. Do the same with fairs. Continuity of supply is much appreciated by merchants who sell local honey.
Cover Story July 2010
American Bee Journal Editor - C. P. Dadant
When George W. York, editor of the American Bee Journal from 1892 until his sales announcement in the May 1912 issue,1 was looking for an opportunity to start a new life in the West, he was faced with the problem of disposing of the American Bee Journal. Consequently, his thoughts turned to C. P. Dadant who had been a faithful contributor to the Journal for some 40 years.
Although York had contributed to the columns of the Journal for a long time, and was the editor and publisher for 20 years, he actually was not a thoroughly experienced beekeeper, being more of a theorist and interested in the development of beekeeping rather than in the actual operation of a beekeeping business.
With C. P. Dadant, it was a different matter. Coming to America in 1863 at the age of 12 with his father, Charles Dadant, he had to take an active role in providing a living for the family. He actually was doing more in agricultural work-until the opportunity arrived.
Soon after the family settled near Hamilton, Illinois, Charles Dadant bought two colonies of bees, and he gradually increased the number of colonies. As time passed, the natural resources of flora caused the colonies to prosper and he found it necessary to call on his son to help with the care of the bees. This was to signal a big change in C. P.'s life.
Camille Pierre (for that is what C. P. stands for) soon became the main operator of the home apiary and gradually expanded to outyards in the search of better locations, moving colonies to harvest honey during the fall flows in the bottom lands along the Mississippi River. These moves were made, of course, with wagons since automobiles were not available yet.
Although his father was writing extensively for American and especially foreign journals, at first, C. P., of necessity, devoted but a small part of his time to writing. It can be assumed that he helped his father in writing for English publications since Charles found the language difficult, and some of the articles are authored by Chas. Dadant & Son.
C. P.'s first contribution to the American Bee Journal was entitled "Review of Foreign Bee Journals," and appeared in the May 1872 issue.2 This was followed by an article in the June 1872 issued entitled "Introducing Queens."3 Naturally, in these early years he didn't have too much time to devote to anything but bees in order to earn a livelihood. His records show that, as early as 1882, he had extracted 25,000 pounds of honey, which was an enormous crop for anyone at that time. Nevertheless, his contributions to the Journal amounted to as many as six in 1885, nine in 1890, eleven in 1896, and these increased, as he had more time to devote to writing, to as many as 32 in 1906. The latter was after he had retired in 1904, leaving the bees and the comb foundation business to his three sons, Louis, Henry and Maurice.
Prior to assuming editorship of the American Bee Journal in 1912, C. P. Dadant is listed as a contributor upwards of 350 times. A concise reporting isn't made here because some of the volumes were not indexed as to contributors and some articles are listed by Chas. Dadant & Son. His contributions in 1906 marked the beginning of his series entitled "Dadant Method of Honey-Production,"4 and ran through 21 issues. The article No. 22 entitled "Dadant Methods of Vinegar-Making with Honey" appeared late in the same year.5
After assuming the editorship in 1912, C. P. Dadant is listed as a contributor to the Journal some 460 times, before his declining health in 1937 and death in 1938. His largest number of contributions occured in 1927 when 46 articles were listed.
We might interject here that, after a busy life and after his sons had entered the business during the period from 1900 to 1910, C. P. Dadant decided he would retire and lead a quiet life. So, in 1904, he built a large brick house in Hamilton and retired.
With C. P., however, the quiet life did not prove entirely satisfying. He found time hung heavy, so he took pleasure in acquiring the American Bee Journal in 1912 and moving it to Hamilton.
The Journal offices were moved to the floor above the First National Bank in Hamilton. This was quite an undertaking for C. P. and soon he looked around for help. Dr. Miller, as associate editor, answered questions and was of editorial help, but remained at his home in Marengo, Illinois.
Cover Story - June 2010
My Recipe for Successful Beekeeping
After being away from beekeeping over 25 years, I started helping some friends with their hives in 2007. Because of the pest and health issues facing honey bees today, I had to re-learn beekeeping. It was difficult because there was too much information available.
Many beekeeping authors - even most - hesitate to say, ‘This is how to do it.' And for good reason. There are so many variations in honey bee behavior, weather, diseases, pests, environment and everything else that it's impossible to be definitive. Details and possible variations are usually included to avoid misleading anyone. The unintended consequence is that people with only a few years experience in beekeeping can read stacks of beekeeping literature and still not know what to do in their bee yard. Too many details confuse people. Even with 20+ years of beekeeping experience, it was difficult for me to find a reasonably simply way to deal with today's beekeeping environment. After nearly two years of study, experimentation and hard work, Clyde Hammil (my partner) and I developed a simple procedure for successful beekeeping.
Instead of trying to cover all the possible variations, I will explain step-by-step what has to be done in the bee yard, why we have to do it and when we have to do it. Honey bees will no longer thrive on neglect. Some actions by the beekeeper are required. Those critical actions will be highlighted in red. I won't nag or call you a ‘bee-haver', but if you do not have the time and discipline to take these few required actions at the right time, your colonies will be weak, will not produce surplus honey and are likely to die out. That's just the facts of today's beekeeping.
Certainly, this procedure is not complete. Read all the books you can, join a beekeeping club and talk to experienced beekeepers. Really good beekeepers want to know all we can about honey bees. But keep this simple guide close at hand. A lot of things can go wrong, but they usually go right!
My experience is in south Arkansas. People farther north will have to adjust the suggested actions to the calendar and conditions in their area. If you have corrections or suggestions, by all means, let me hear them. My email is: firstname.lastname@example.org. My phone number is: 870-853-2412.
JULY - Extract honey and TREAT FOR VARROA MITES
For me, the beekeeping year begins in July. Our honey flow has ended and the VARROA MITE population is beginning to explode. (for beekeepers farther north, you will need to move that month to sometime in August.) I extract honey the first part of July and treat for Varroa beginning in the middle of July. The chart shows why Varroa mites are such a threat in summer and early fall. I realize some people still have a honey flow in July, Aug and even September, but fall treatment of Varroa is too late. The colony must raise healthy babies in the fall to produce honey next year! If the fall brood has been chewed on by Varroa mites, they will not be healthy enough to build a strong colony for next spring.
Hygienic queens may solve the problem for you, but you need to make sticky board counts to be sure the mites are under control. (I use the oil tray in our beetle trap for a sticky board.) Randy Oliver's web site, http://www.scientificbeekeeping.com/, provides more details.
Most of my bees are not hygienic enough to deal with Varroa on their own. I make two treatments with Apiguard - the first one in the middle of July and the second one two weeks later. I use Apiguard for two reasons. First, it is effective. Second, it is not a poison. The active ingredient in Apiguard is Thymol - made from the herb, Thyme. This is the only ‘chemical' I use in my colonies. I believe chemicals and poisons are major contributors to the current decline in honey bee health.
Formic acid is also a natural ingredient, but is much more harsh than Apiguard. It kills some brood and may even damage the queen. GOOD NEWS! The makers of Mite-Away-II, formic acid pads, have developed a new product called MAQS - Mite Away Quick Strips. They claim it is so mild it can be used even when honey supers are on the hive. It has not yet been approved, but surely will be by next year. This means that even beekeepers with summer honey flows will be able to treat their colonies when the Varroa mite population is expanding
Cover Story - May 2010
Proceedings of the American Bee Research Conference
1. Afika, O., W.B. Hunterb & K.S. Delaplanea - Effects of varroa mites and bee diseases on pollination efficacy of honey bees - Varroa mites and viral diseases are known to affect the efficiency of crop pollination by honey bees through the elimination of colonies, but only limited information exists on their influence on pollination at sub-lethal levels on the individual bee (Ellis & Delaplane, 2008 Agr. Ecosyst. Environ. 127:201-206). The purpose of this study was to learn about effects that varroa mites and bee diseases may be having on the foraging behavior of adult bees and the consequences of these effects on successful fruit pollination.
For the first season of the experiment, four honey bee colonies of about 4,500 bees each were established. Two of these colonies were each infested with 1,000 varroa mites collected from other hives by sugar powdering. Two other colonies were used as non-infested control colonies. In order to force mites to attach to the adult bees, brood combs from both treatments were replaced with empty combs before brood was sealed. Each colony was caged in a separate enclosure containing one blueberry target plant and two potted pollen source plants. Pollination efficacy was tested by measuring percent of fruit-set and pollen deposition at flowers exposed to a single visit by an individual bee. Each visiting bee was collected at the end of the flower visit and preserved for later pathogen analysis.
The results indicated that bees from mite-infested colonies achieved a lower percent of fruit set and tended to deposit fewer pollen grains on the flower stigma. Bees from infested colonies performed shorter flower visits and a lower percentage of them were pollen foragers. These two behavioral differences may contribute to lower rate of fruit-set since the duration of flower visit was positively correlated with pollen deposition and pollen foragers were found to be more efficient pollinators of blueberry flowers than nectar foragers. More than 75% of the bees from both treatments were determined to be naturally infected with the viruses DWV and BQCV, but no bee was positive for Nosema spp., ABPV, IAPV or KBV. The results suggest that bees from colonies highly infested with mites are less efficient pollinators, possibly due to shorter visits to the flowers and lower tendency to collect pollen. The effects of mite infestation combined with high virus infections have not yet been determined. Further research will focus on how to limit the effects of varroa mites on the foraging behavior and pollination success of honey bees.
2. Alauxc, C., J.-L. Brunetd, C. Dussaubatc, F. Mondetd, S. Tchamitchand, M. Cousind, J. Brillarde, A. Baldyc, L.P. Belzuncesd & Y. Le Contec - INTERACTIONS BETWEEN NOSEMA MICROSPORES AND A NEONICOTINOID IN HONEY BEES - Massive honey bee losses have been reported in the world, but the specific causes are still unknown. Single factors, like pesticide impact, or a disease or parasite have not explained this global decline, leading to the hypothesis of a multifactorial syndrome (van Engelsdorp et al., 2009 PLoS One 4:e6481). Consequently, we tested the integrative effects of an infectious organism (Nosema sp) and an insecticide (imidacloprid) on honeybee health. We demonstrated, for the first time, that a synergistic effect between both agents, at concentrations encountered in nature, significantly weakened honey bees. The combination of Nosema, a pathogen whose importance is emerging, with imidacloprid caused a significantly higher rate of individual mortality and energetic stress in the short term than either agent alone. We then quantified the strength of immunity of honey bees. While the single or combined treatments showed no effect on individual immunity (haemocyte number and phenoloxidase activity), a measure of colony level immunity, glucose oxidase activity, was significantly decreased only by the combined treatments, emphasizing their synergistic effects. Glucose oxidase activity enables bees to secrete antiseptics in honey and brood food. This suggests a higher susceptibility of the hive to pathogens. We, thus, provide evidence for integrative effects of different agents on honey bee health, both in the short and long term. By focusing either on the effects of pesticides or parasites alone, previously established synergy has been ignored, despite clear evidence from integrated pest management that entomogenous fungi act synergistically with sub-lethal doses of pesticides to kill insect pests (Alaux et al., 2009 Environ. Microb. doi:10.1111/j.1462-2920.2009.02123.x).
3. Andinof, G.K. & G.J. Huntf - A NEW ASSAY TO MEASURE MITE GROOMING BEHAVIOR - Grooming behavior is one of the known mechanisms of defense for honey bees against parasitic mites. Varroa destructor is often considered the biggest beekeeping problem within the U.S. and around the world. Mite-grooming behavior has been described as the ability of the adult bees to remove Varroa mites during grooming and has been associated with mites that have been chewed by the bees' mandibles, but the proportion of chewed mites is extremely tedious to measure.
We developed an easier assay to measure mite-grooming behavior that can be used for selection in breeding programs. Wood cages with screened tops and bottoms were used to hold a frame of bees collected from the brood nest. Bees were transferred to comb containing pollen and nectar but without brood. The mites removed during grooming were collected in sticky boards for three days at room temperature (22-25 °C) and then counted. The remaining mites on the adult bees were collected and counted using carbon dioxide (CO2) to anesthetize the bees and powdered sugar to remove the mites. The percentage of the mites removed was calculated.
A significant relationship (p = 0.0285) was found between the proportion of mites removed in the lab assay and the proportion of chewed mites on sticky boards from the source colonies. This relationship indicates that the colonies that removed the highest percentage of mites in the caged adult bees were also the colonies that had the highest percentage of chewed mites (Figure). These results suggest that the method used to measure mite-grooming behavior is effective. In addition, we also found a negative relationship (p = 0.0072) between the percentage of mites removed and mite infestation of adult bees, which indicates that the colonies with the highest percentage of mites removed in the cage assay, had the lowest population of mites on adult bees. These results suggest that the low population of mites present on the adult bees is due to grooming.
4. Bahreinig, R. & R.W. Currieg - INCREASING THE ECONOMIC THRESHOLD FOR FALL TREATMENT OF VARROA MITE (VARROA DESTRUCTOR A.&T.) IN HONEY BEES BY USING MITE-TOLERANT STOCKS IN NORTHERN CLIMATES - The objective of this research was to develop effective and economical methods to reduce the impact of varroa mites on honey bees under winter management systems. Fall economic thresholds for varroa mite control in the prairie region of Canada suggest producers should treat honey bee stock when the mite level is greater than 4 mites per 100 bees (in late August to early September) to prevent fall or winter colony loss (Currie & Gatien, 2006 Can. Entomol. 138:238-252). However, it is not known how the use of mite tolerant stock or late season acaricide application would affect these thresholds. An experiment to assess these factors was carried out at University of Manitoba in fall 2007 to spring 2008. Thirty-nine colonies from mite-susceptible (n=23) and mite-tolerant (n=16) stocks with mite levels (16±3 mites per 100 bees) above the fall economic threshold were chosen and within each type of stock were randomly assigned into two groups that would either receive a late fall (November 2007) treatment with 1 g of oxalic acid crystals or were left untreated. Colonies were randomly arranged in two small rooms in a wintering building maintained at 5°C. Colony worker population and mean abundance of varroa mites were assessed before and after wintering colonies, and varroa mite and worker mortality rates were determined.
As expected, late fall treatment with oxalic acid reduced the mean abundance of varroa mites over winter (to 3.5%), relative to that found in untreated colonies (12%) in both susceptible and tolerant stock as indicated by a significant acaricide treatment × season interaction (P<0.01). However, under high fall mite load, reductions in mite levels associated with late-season oxalic acid treatment did not improve colony survival relative to untreated colonies. The use of mite-tolerant stock improved colony survival. In the mite-tolerant stock winter survival of colonies was much higher (75%) than in mite-susceptible stock (43%). The populations of worker bees in mite-tolerant and mite-susceptible stock were similar in colonies that survived winter. Bee populations in tolerant stock tended to be slightly higher than in susceptible stock, whether colonies were treated with acaricide or not. Untreated colonies with tolerant and susceptible stocks had similar mite mortality rates over winter, but tolerant stock had slightly a lower mean abundance of mites at the end of winter, compared to susceptible stock. Overall, this study demonstrates that when late fall mite levels are well above the fall economic threshold, tolerant stock could be used by beekeepers to help minimize colony loss in the Canadian prairies and under these conditions late fall oxalic treatments may not improve colony survival.
5. Cobeyh, S., J. Pollardi, C. Plantei, M. Flennikenh & W.S. Sheppardj - Development of A PROTOCOL for THE International Exchange OF HONEY BEE GERMPLASM - The development of protocol for the safe, well regulated international exchange of honey bee genetics is needed. The current ban on importation is inconsistent and has failed to prevent the spread of pests, parasites and pathogens. The initial limited gene pool introduced into the U.S. before the 1922 ban and the alarmingly high loss of colonies due to Colony Collapse Disorder is an increasing concern. Genetic diversity has been demonstrated to increase colony fitness and reduce the impact of pests and diseases. Our project is designed to develop technologies to safely import honey bee germplasm, semen and eggs, and to import stocks selected for resistance to enhance our domestic honey bee gene pool.
An improved bee semen extender with an antibiotic mixture, containing gentamicin, amoxicillin, lincomycin and tylosin, specifically designed to control bacterial pathogens was developed and tested to facilitate the transport of semen. Extended semen was examined for viability and motility after storage for 7 days, and inseminated to virgin queens. Results demonstrated high sperm viability, normal spermathecal sperm counts and normal brood patterns of inseminated queens.
USDA-APHIS (Animal Plant Health Inspection Service) permits were obtained and honey bee semen imported. Apis mellifera ligustica from survivor stock in Italy and A. m. carnica from the Germany Carnica Association were imported in 2008 and 2009 and crossed with domestic stocks. The semen was tested for viruses and resulting colonies established in an approved quarantine area at Washington State University. Progeny of these colonies were also examined and tested for pathogens. The 2008 imports released were backcrossed to the 2009 imports to create more pure stocks and also were incorporated into proven commercial U.S. stocks.
The New World Carniolan × German A.m. carnica colonies expressed increased fitness and increased expression of hygienic behavior. The Italian stock is still undergoing testing. Future plans are to import A.m. caucasica, as this subspecies is detectable but largely unrecognizable in the U.S.
Honey bee eggs represent a complete genetic package and are available in large quantities. Therefore, we developed reproductive technologies to manipulate honey bee eggs to allow for their isolation, pathogen testing and transport. A method to manipulate embryos was developed using fine forceps modified by the application of micro-bore tubing. The transferred eggs were hatched in vitro and the larva were grafted into queen cell cups, reared into queens and instrumentally inseminated with a high rate of success.
6. Delaplanea, K.S. & J.A. Berryk - TEST FOR SUB-LETHAL EFFECTS OF SOME COMMONLY USED HIVE CHEMICALS, YEAR Two - We are involved in a two-year, two-state (GA, SC) experiment examining sub-lethal effects of selected bee hive chemicals; the list includes registered products at label rates, as well as two off-label formulations. The reason we are doing this is that there is evidence that some of the chemicals used in beekeeping are hazardous to bees and contribute to bee decline (Frazier et al., 2008 Am. Bee J. 148(6):521-523; Desneux et al., 2007 Ann. Rev. Entomol. 52:81-106). Understanding this piece of the CCD puzzle will help beekeepers move toward more chemical-independent management. Here are results for two years from Georgia. Varroa levels (mites/100 bees) were significantly higher in CheckMite (coumaphos)-treated colonies than in colonies treated with Taktic (amitraz); mite levels were intermediate in all other treatments. Bees in the non-treated control colonies exhibited numerically highest brood viability, homing ability, and foraging rate and numerically lowest incidence of queen supersedure cells. Information like this is important for evaluating the cost:benefit ratio of using exotic chemicals in honey bee management.
7. Desaig, S. & R.W. Currieg - INHIBITION OF DEFORMED WING VIRUS (DWV) MULTIPLICATION IN HONEY BEES BY RNA INTERFERENCE - DWV plays a major role in affecting honey bee health. High proportions of colonies are infected by this virus, and it can be detected in worker honey bees, queens, pupae, larvae, drones and also in varroa mites. DWV and its interactions with the ectoparasitic varroa mite and other diseases have caused significant mortality of honey bee colonies on a world-wide basis (Miranda & Genersch, 2009 J. Invertbre. Pathol.103:S48-S61).
RNAi is a comparatively "simple", rapid and specific method for silencing gene function and can be developed to be specific to an individual virus. RNAi has recently been utilized in a number of species including human beings, plants, animals and insects (Drosophila) and recently in bees to suppress viruses. For example, successful silencing of Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) in honey bees by feeding specific dsRNA to bees dramatically improved bee-to-brood ratio and honey yield (Maori et al., 2009 Insect Mol. Biol. 18:55-60).
RNAi reduces virus replication by causing degradation of the target mRNA. In this experiment, we assessed the effects of feeding dsRNA constructs against DWV to larvae that were infected with DWV and the potential lethal and sub-lethal effects on developing worker bees.
In DWV-infected larvae fed dsRNA survival (45%) was greater than the survival of larvae fed unrelated dsRNA (GFP) (31%) or DWV-infected larvae that were not treated with dsRNA. The dsRNA did not affect larval survival as DWV-"free" larvae fed our dsRNA construct had similar survival to that of untreated controls (Figure). Our dsRNA-fed larvae that were infected with DWV had significantly lower levels of wing deformity compared to larvae infected DWV or to larvae infected with DWV and an unspecific form of RNAi (GFP). Our experiment also demonstrated for the first time that feeding DWV orally in the absence of mites causes wing deformity in in-vitro reared larvae. We hypothesize that application of dsRNA into the honeybees fed DWV should result in a reduction in DWV titer over time with no effect on bee longevity. If proven effective, this mechanism can be used to block DWV and could improve winter survival of honeybee colonies.
8. Eischenl, F.A., R.H. Grahaml & R. Riveral - MOUNTAINSIDE WINTERING IMPROVES COLONY STRENGTH AND SURVIVAL OF HONEY BEES IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA - We examined the interaction of a feeding program and cold-windy conditions on honey bee colonies near Santa Ysabel, California (elev. 914 m). An equal number of colonies located near Fallbrook, California (elev. 219 m) served as controls. The trial began 7 September 2008 near Holtville, California (Imperial Valley). Colonies were randomly assigned to four treatment groups (n = 50), i.e., 1) Highland, fed continuously, 2) Highland, fed discontinuously, 3) Lowland, fed continuously, and 4) Lowland, fed discontinuously. On 20 November, lowland-designated colonies were moved to their normal winter locations near Valley Center, CA, and highland colonies to a mountainside near Santa Ysabel, CA. Groups 1) and 3) were fed continuously throughout the trial. Groups 2) and 4) were not fed during the period 6 Dec. 2008 - 13 Jan. 2009. Colonies were evaluated for strength and broodnest size on 26 January 2009, i.e., near the time of almond pollination evaluation.
Regardless of feeding treatment, highland colonies at the end of the trial were stronger by about 1.5 frames of bees than colonies of either lowland group. Brood nests of highland colonies were smaller, however by about 1.0 frames of brood. Stored pollen declined in the highland colonies, but stayed about the same in the lowland colonies; indicating that pollen foraging occurred in the lowland colonies. Highland colonies had a slight, but significantly higher survival rate than did lowland colonies.
To determine if the highland colonies would lose strength on return to lowland conditions, colonies from each treatment group (n = 25) were moved to an almond orchard near Shafter, CA and examined on February 15. Highland colonies were nominally larger than lowland colonies. Broodnest sizes were about the same for both highland and lowland colonies. Highland colonies had significantly more stored pollen than lowland colonies, indicating that their larger size caused increased pollen foraging. A simplified cost/benefit analysis indicates that it was economical to place colonies in a climate that limits unproductive flight during winter.
9. Eischenl, F.A., R.H. Grahaml & R. Riveral - ALMOND POLLEN COLLECTION BY HONEY BEE COLONIES HEAVILY INFECTED WITH NOSEMA CERANAE - In 2007 apiculturists became aware that the microsporidian, Nosema ceranae, had become established in the United States. A related species, N. apis is a well known honey bee pathogen. There was concern within the beekeeping industry that this "new" pathogen is part of the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) phenomenon.
A commercial beekeeper, based in Louisiana and New York, was found to have high levels of this pathogen in colonies used to pollinate almonds, blueberries and cranberries. We examined the impact of four N. ceranae levels on honey bee colonies including pollen collection during almond bloom in the Central Valley of California during February - March 2009.
N. ceranae levels in October 2008 were on average 1.0 - 2.9 million spores/bee (MSPB). By January 2009, levels increased to, on average, 1.6 MSPB in the lightest infection group to 49.5 MSPB in the heaviest. After transport from Louisiana to California during 31 Jan.-2 Feb, colonies in the two heaviest-infected groups had striking declines in their spore levels. We suspect the rigors of travel caused many severely infected bees to die.
Pollen collection by the lightest-infected colonies (Group I) was about twice that of Group II (159.8 vs. 74.0 g/day). Both Group I (0-4.5 MSPB) and Group II (5-15 MSPB) colonies collected significantly more pollen than Groups III (16-34 MSPB) and IV (35-49 MSPB) 16-34. When pollen collection was based on grams of pollen per frame of adult bees, we found that Group I colonies collected significantly more pollen. This suggests that foragers with heavy infections either make fewer collecting trips or pack smaller loads or both.
Colonies of all four groups lost significant adult bee strength during almond bloom, but losses were more severe in Groups II, III, and IV. At the end of pollination, no significant differences in N. ceranae spore levels were found among treatment groups, but levels rose in Groups I and II, while remaining about the same in Groups III and IV.
We suspect that these colonies, especially those with high spore levels, had large spore reservoirs on their honeycombs. We recommend including this factor when determining economic thresholds.
10. Eitzerm, B., F. Drummondn, J.D. Elliso, N. Ostiguyp, M. Spivakq, K. Aronsteinl, W.S. Sheppardj, K. Visscherr, D. Cox-Fosters & A. Averillt - PESTICIDE ANALYSIS AT THE STATIONARY APIARIES - One facet of the stationary apiary project within the "Sustainable Solutions to Problems Affecting the Health of Managed Bees Coordinated Agricultural Program" is a monitoring of the honey bee's exposure to pesticides. This is being done by determining pesticide residues in the pollen that is brought back to the hive by foraging honey bees. At five hives from each of the stationary apiaries, pollen is sampled with traps one day per week. Pollen samples are frozen after collection. Aliquots from all samples taken from an apiary during a calendar month are combined to generate a monthly composite sample for each apiary. Five grams of this composite sample are analyzed by a multi-pesticide residue procedure. In brief, the samples are extracted with acetonitrile using a dispersive solid phase technique known as QuEChERS (for Quick, Easy, Cheap, Effective, Rugged and Safe) and analyzed using high performance liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry/mass spectrometry. Using this technique allows over 140 different pesticides to be analyzed in the parts per billion (PPB) concentration range.
To date 29 of the monthly composite samples have been analyzed. Within these 29 samples, residues of 32 different pesticides or pesticide metabolites have been observed including: 14 insecticides plus one insecticide metabolite, 9 fungicides and 8 herbicides. The average composite pollen sample had an average of 4.1 pesticide residues detected. The concentration of residues when detected are mostly in the low PPB range (1< to 30 ppb), but some residues were substantially higher. The results indicate that honey bees at the stationary apiaries are being exposed to varying amounts of pesticides. As might be expected, this exposure amount varies with the location of the apiary (i.e. honey bees in Washington are exposed to different pesticides than those in Florida) and time of year. In addition, analysis of non-composited samples taken from five different hives within the same apiary on the same day also shows different pesticide amounts. This indicates that the honey bees from these hives are clearly foraging from different fields that have had different amounts of pesticides applied. This variability of pesticide exposure will be further examined as we continue to monitor these hives over the next several years.
11. Esaiasu, W. - RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN VEGETATION COVER, NECTAR AVAILABILITY, AND THE AFRICANIZED HONEY BEE - Collections of scale hive records of the Honey Bee Nectar Flow reveal dramatic regional variations related to honey bee forage and its phenology, and are used to quantify inter-annual variations that are related to changes in land cover type (nectar sources) and natural climate change. Temporal trends in the nectar flow dates correlate well with trends in vegetation parameters observed with the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on the Terra and Aqua satellites. Nectar flows are generally occurring earlier in the Northeast U.S., and later in the Southeast U.S., in conjunction with regional increases in winter minimum temperatures. Numbers of volunteer beekeepers who provide records of daily weight changes has been doubling for the past several years and is now approaching 100 locations throughout the U.S. Further insight into climate and land cover change impacts on the timing of nectar flows will be possible as the number of volunteer locations increases, especially in the central and western U.S. Maps of site locations coverage, and scale hive data itself, are available at http://honeybeenet.gsfc.nasa.gov. Research programs establishing longer term monitoring apiaries are encouraged to consider monitoring hive weight changes to evaluate the impact of inter-annual nectar flow variations on colony health and behavior.
Jointly with the USGS National Institute of Invasive Species at Ft. Collins (C. Jarnevich, J. Morisette, T. Stohgren), climate and satellite vegetation data and species distribution models (SDMs) are used to better understand the areas at risk from further advance of the Africanized Honey Bee, and to shed light on why its movement into eastern Gulf of Mexico states has been slow compared to movement to the north and west. A key limitation to these studies, based on presence of an invasion still in progress, is the relatively poor knowledge of exact AHB locations throughout the range, although some states are very well sampled. Additionally, the sampling is biased spatially, makes no distinction between overwintered versus incidental/transient transport, and sampling effort is not uniform or recurrent over time. With 1-5 km scale resolution, model depictions of areas having similar climate and vegetation to the AHB presence locations appear to be very robust in the Southwest U.S. (west of 190 W) using the Maxent model. Winter and summer temperatures and vegetation parameters were critical variables. Maxent does not give satisfactory results for the Southeast U.S. yet. There, sampling biases are extreme due to presence data only in the western portion and extreme southeastern (S. FL) portion of the region. However, initial software test runs using an ensemble approach with 5 different SDMs appear to provide very useful maps of suitable AHB regions for the U.S., with further refinement required. Based on those very preliminary results and the small number of historic and current nectar flow records available, there is complete correspondence between areas of AHB presence/absence and abundance/dearth of nectar in the late summer and fall. This suggests that the combination of physical climate and the bulk vegetation phenology data from satellite observations can provide useful insight into local nectar flow phenology, at national scales.
Contributors to this project are R. Wolfe, P. Ma, J. Nightingale, and J. Nickeson at GSFC, C. Jarnevich, T. Stohlgren, J. Morisette at USGS Ft. Collins, J. Pettis at ARS/USDA Beltsville, J. Harrison at Arizona State Univ, J. Hayes at FL DACS, D. Downey at UT DAF, and the HoneyBeeNet Volunteers. Funding is from the NASA Earth Sciences Applications - Decisions Program.
12. Fellv, R., C. Brewsterv, & A. Mullinsv - The Spatial Distribution of Varroa Mites in Honey Bee Hives - Studies on the intra-hive distribution of Varroa mites were designed to obtain a better understanding of the spatial distribution of mites, how these patterns change over time, and how this information might be used to improve sampling and treatment decisions. Mite populations were sampled in a group of eight experimental hives (consisting of 1 full-depth hive body or 1 full-depth and 1 medium depth) three times at two-week intervals from mid-August to early October. PSU/IPM sticky boards were used for sampling, but were modified to cover the entire bottom board of a hive. Sticky boards were left in hives for 3 days. After removal, mite numbers were counted in each grid square (1.8 x 1.8 cm) and used to establish a distribution matrix. A geostatistical approach utilizing GS+ and Matlab® (MathWorks Inc., Natick, MA) software was used to analyze the mite sampling data and to build spatial models of mite distributions that can be displayed as surface density maps (Figure). Brood distribution in each hive was also measured after mite sampling using digital images. Frames were removed and photographed on each side with respect to their position in the hive and then divided into a set of data cells that corresponded with the sticky board grid. Frame contents were categorized as brood (worker, drone, capped, uncapped) or non-brood. Mite and brood sample distributions were further analyzed using spatial analysis by distance indices (SADIE).
The results show mite distributions were aggregated or clumped, and significantly associated with brood distributions (Index of association [Im] values varied from 0.23 - 0.58, Pm < 0.0001). Surface density maps indicate that bee collection for mite sampling using techniques such as the powdered sugar roll should be made in or near the brood nest. The results of this study also indicate that mite-sampling data can be highly variable. Mite numbers from sticky board samples were found to vary by as much as 250% in as little as two weeks. These data make it difficult to set mite number thresholds for beekeepers to use when making management decisions for colony treatment. Colonies deemed below a treatment threshold may show mite populations significantly above the threshold two weeks later when sampled in late summer and early fall. The association between brood and mite distribution also suggests that brood frame manipulation might provide an effective management tool for altering mite distributions for targeted treatment approaches.
13. Frostw, E.H., D. Shutlerw & K. Hillierw - EFFECTS OF A MITICIDE ON HONEYBEE MEMORY: IS THE CURE WORSE THAN THE DISEASE? - Significant mortality from Varroa destructor has occurred in wild and managed honeybee populations. Although mortality is the clearest indicator of negative consequences, Varroa may have other subtle effects. For example, chemical treatments used to eliminate Varroa may interfere with the honey bees' ability to properly integrate stimuli that elicit feeding, mating, colony defense, and communication behaviors.
We assessed learning and memory of honey bees exposed to tau-fluvalinate, the active ingredient in Apistan®, using a standardized Pavlovian insect-learning paradigm (proboscis extension reflex [PER]), that mimics learning in the natural environment. Honey bees are presented with a neutral stimulus, usually an odor, followed by a positive reward such as sugar water. Honey bees learn to extend their proboscis when exposed to the odor, in the absence of a reward, because the odor predicts the presence of food. Stressors, such as pesticides may reduce the frequency of PER, suggesting impaired learning (e.g., Abramson et al., 2004 Environ. Entomol. 33:378-388; Decourtye et al., 2005 Arch. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 48:242-250).
Forager honey bees were collected in Nova Scotia, Canada in August/September 2009 and immobilized with only their antennae and mouthparts free. Tau-fluvalinate, dissolved in 1.25 µL of acetone, was applied dermally (thorax) or orally (proboscis) at concentrations of 0.125 µg (estimated to be daily exposure per bee in treated hives [Johnson et al., 2009 J. Econ. Entomol. 102:474-479]) or 1.25 µg. Controls were treated with 1.25 µL of acetone. Bees were trained to perform PER (training trials), and then tested for retention of odor memory 24 hours later (extinction trials).
Lower dose treatments had no significant effect on mortality or PER during training or extinction. At the 1.25 µg dermal dose, mortality was significantly higher in treated honey bees than controls at both 3 and 24 hours post treatment (p = 0.001 and p < 0.0001, respectively). Controls had a significantly higher average number of PER responses to odor cues during training (p = 0.05); there was no significant effect during extinction trials (p = 0.08).
We are also quantifying how tau-fluvalinate is partitioned within the honey bee body, and the relative concentrations. Chemical residues are evaluated using gas chromatography mass spectrophotometry by isolating the head and thorax and placing them in hexane to extract tau-fluvalinate. Quantities of tau-fluvalinate are measured by the size of the peaks on the chromatography output relative to a standard curve. Preliminary results suggest tau-fluvalinate enters the honey bee circulatory system after dermal contact. Honey bees with a dermal application (thorax) of tau-fluvalinate also have traces of the chemical in their head. Detoxification may also occur over time, with decreasing levels of tau-fluvalinate present in honey bee tissues over a 24 hour period.
Ultimately, this research will lead to standardized methods to evaluate suitability of mite treatment programs and potential sublethal effects of chemicals on honey bee
Cover Story - March 2010
An Adaptable Work Force
by Randy Oliver
I'd like to return to the analogy of the honey bee colony as being similar to a medium-sized mammal. The combs are analogous to the skeleton, the queen to the ovary, drones to sperm, honey to body fat, and the workers to the individual cells that make up organs.
The honey bee superorganism has one up on a mammal, though-a mammal can't "dissolve" unneeded or overrepresented organs, and shift those cells to augment other organs. A colony of bees can-by shifting workers from one task to another. This plasticity in worker task specialization allows the colony to quickly respond to changes in the environment-such as a sudden bonanza of nectar, or the need to shift from broodrearing to winter cluster formation. However, in order to undergo such transformations at maximum efficiency, the individual bees of the colony must be able to share information. Such sharing is done via the commerce of foods (analogous to the mammal's circulatory system), and through the bees' pheromonal language (analogous to a colony nervous system).
Allow me to return to the concept of the hive economy, which is driven by floral resources, and to the female labor pool that processes them. (Drones do not participate in within-colony labor other than in heat production. That leaves the two castes of females-the queen or queens, whose only labor is to lay eggs, and the omnicompetent and versatile worker.) By having only one sort of generic yet adaptable worker, that can specialize in short order to fill any task, the colony's workforce can rapidly shift from one job to another, as opportunities or challenges arise, so as to ensure that the economy of the hive functions most efficiently.
Seeley (1995) points out that much "communication" within the hive is by cues, rather than actual communicative signals. This is especially true with communicating the status of the state of nutrition within the hive. The feedback of cues (such as amount of jelly, or the ease of unloading nectar) forms the bulk of communication from the colony to the individual. Only a few signals (the dances, alarm and orientation pheromones, etc.) allow the individual to directly communicate to the colony as a whole.
Human economies respond to the dynamics of price-the more valuable goods get more economic attention. The same occurs in the hive-and foragers respond to cues that tell them how valuable certain commodities (rich or dilute nectar, water, or pollen) are at the moment. In response, the individual foragers invest work effort proportionally to the current value of each commodity, not for individual gain, but rather for the maximum gain of the colony as a whole.
Thus, a web of information sharing within the hive allows it to function without a central brain or government. Rather, the myriad feedback loops based upon food cues and pheromones allow the entire colony to act as a "mind" that allocates the labor pool to efficiently exploit the ever changing market of available resources upon which the hive economy is based-the pollen and nectar of the flowering plants that have coevolved in a mutually beneficial symbiosis with the bees. (Bees are the "shoppers" in the pollen market; plants advertise with bright petals and fragrant scent for bees to "buy" their product, and reward the shoppers with energy-rich nectar to fuel their shopping sprees.)
The godmother of hive dynamics was Dr. Anna Maurizio (1950), who found that workers in queenright colonies starved for pollen would transform into long-lived "winter" (diutinus) bees, even in summer. In the past several years the combined research of others has culminated in a considerable understanding of how nutrition and pheromonal feedback regulate colony economics and population dynamics.
Cover Story - February 2010
Strategies to Lower Your Tax Liability
by Howard Scott
As beekeepers, we all have the obligation to file all honey sales. For most of us, it's a sideline income. But that still doesn't exempt you from listing beekeeping revenue. The IRS states that all worldwide income must be entered on the tax return, whether $10 or $10,000. Furthermore, non-compliance can be fraud, which could result in serious penalty.
But, at the same time, the IRS allows us to subtract all expenses from the inflow, to arrive at a net profit. It is the net profit which is taxed. Whether you file a Schedule C (self-employment) or Schedule F (farming) or hobby income (revenue on line 21 of the 1040 and expenses on Schedule A), we file these expenses associated with our beekeeping activity.
In this article, I will offer five strategies to lower net profit, which in turn will minimize your beekeeping-activity tax liability (the amount of taxes you pay on your return).
? Home office deduction. Home office deduction can be used when the beekeeper uses a portion of the house regularly and exclusively to do bee work. An example would be if if there is a honey house on the property, that conforms to the regularly and exclusively standards. However, if the beekeeper has a corner downstairs where operates his beekeeping activity, whether extracting, bottling, or maintaining hives, and doesn't do much else in this spot, that qualifies as a home office. If a beekeeper has a place where he does all his administrative work (orders supplies, keeps product, figures out prices, pays bills) and doesn't do much else, that too qualifies. The new home office rules state that if that exclusive place exists, one can add other space in the basement or garage, where product is stored, where supplies are kept, or where experimenting and tinkering is done, even if this space isn't exclusively used for beekeeping activities.
Cover Story - January 2010
The Story of the American Bee Journal--
The Beekeeper's Companion for 150 Years
The story of the American Bee Journal, its origin, and Samuel Wagner, the first editor, must be closely associated with the Rev. L.L. Langstroth. In 1851, Langstroth had invented his movable-frame hive. In September 1851, a few weeks after a call on Langstroth, the Rev. Dr. Joseph Frederick Berg, pastor of a church in Philadelphia, visited Wagner and told him about this extraordinary beekeeper, his movable-frame hive and his beekeeping methods. They agreed that Wagner should go and see for himself, but it was not until August 1852, almost a year later, that he was able to do so.
After visiting Langstroth's apiary and seeing his hive, Wagner made a decision at a personal sacrifice to himself. He had corresponded with Dzierzon, discoverer of parthenogenesis, proponent of a practical system of beekeeping and author of a book entitled Rational Beekeeping. He had received permission to translate the book into English to be published for the improvement of American beekeeping. Wagner had made the translation, but it was never published. Recognizing the Langstroth movable frame hive as superior, he decided to encourage Langstroth to write a book instead; for his part, he would place all his store of information at Langstroth's service.
Langstroth quickly prepared the copy for the first edition of his book with the assistance of his wife, and Langstroth on the Hive and the Honey-Bee, A Bee-Keeper's Manual appeared in May of 1853.
Inasmuch as there were already two bee journals published in Germany, Langstroth made this prediction: "There is now a prospect that a Bee Journal will before long be established in this country. Such a publication has long been needed. Properly conducted, it will have a most powerful influence in disseminating information, awakening enthusiasm, and guarding the public against the miserable impositions to which it has so long been subjected."
Wagner established the American Bee Journal and its first issue appeared in January 1861, and from the start he had Langstroth as a contributor as well as an advisor. But after one year of publication, the Civil War resulted in the suspension of its publication until July 1866, when it was resumed.
To quote from Pellett's History of American Beekeeping, "The history of the American Bee Journal has been the history of the rise of beekeeping, and the one is inseparably linked to that of the other. Before this first copy of the first bee magazine in the English language appeared, there were few of the implements now in common use among beekeepers. Conventions of beemen had not been held, a practical smoker had not yet been invented, queen excluders were unknown, comb foundation was still to be perfected, the extractor had not come into use, nor had commercial queen rearing been suggested.
Cover Story December 2009
The Future: Pesticides and Fungicides
by RANDY OLIVER
Dave Hackenberg once quipped that, "Beekeepers have become the ugly stepchild of agriculture." Despite their general disregard for us, perhaps there are lessons that we can learn from our agricultural stepparents.
Pest Resistance Management
Beekeepers worldwide, in their exuberant use of every miticide available, have accelerated the development of mites resistant to (surprise) every synthetic miticide to hit the market. Luckily, U.S. beekeepers have been thrown a lifeline at the last moment in the form of the latest "silver bullet"- Hivastan®. However, lest I sound critical, I'm not blaming them-varroa has been the worst thing ever to hit beekeepers-it just won't go away! To their credit, every commercial beekeeper I've spoken to is concerned about the sublethal effects of miticides upon his bees, and most have experimented with alternative treatments.
The problem of varroa resistance to targeted poisons is hardly unique to beekeepers-this is a common phenomenon in modern agriculture. Allow me to quote from the pesticide industry's own pest resistance management website (IRAC 2009):
"General insecticide use is no longer the answer to pest control. Insects have developed widespread, insecticide-defeating resistance to many traditional treatments, and the industry may not have enough resources to continually develop and supply the market with new products precisely when needed to replace old ones. Growers with resistance problems do not have enough time to wait for new chemistry. It is imperative that the effectiveness of available insecticides be conserved by growers through adoption of these management principles. By working together, insecticide resistance can be managed!" [emphasis mine]
Folks, the above statement comes from the very companies that sell pesticides! They are telling us that we'd better learn to use Pesticide Resistance Management (PRM) for our own bee pests-mites, bacteria, and fungi. PRM strategy uses three main tactics of pest control-cultural, biological, and as a last resort, chemical. In the case of varroa management, "cultural" would include such techniques as the making of splits and other biotechnical methods. "Biological" would involve mite-resistant bees or biocontrols such as fungi or viruses specific to mites (unfortunately, we don't yet have the latter at our disposal). We should no longer consider miticides to be the first mode of defense.
A key aspect of pesticide resistance management to extend the effective life of a pesticide is the concept of "refuge strategy"-that is, to make sure that a large "refuge" of untreated pests remains outside of the managed fields. These untreated (and therefore susceptible) pests are expected to move in after treatment, and to outbreed the few resistant pests that survive the treatment, thereby delaying the development of pesticide resistance.
Unfortunately, the refuge strategy is problematic with varroa for two main reasons: (1) varroa normally mate brother to sister, so resistance alleles are difficult to breed out (shy of completely exterminating any colonies with resistant mites), and (2) because any miticide with a long residual life in the combs will maintain a constant selective pressure against "wild type" susceptible mites.
These facts suggest that long-term control of varroa with miticides will become more and more difficult with time (in case you hadn't noticed).
The "New" Antibiotic
Since I'm on the subject of resistance management, let's talk about tylosin. This antibiotic was registered for use against active cases of AFB. It was registered only after the AFB bacterium evolved resistance to the long-successful antibiotic Terramycin (oxytetracycline, or OTC). OTC has the desirable characteristic of degrading fairly rapidly in moist environments (as in a bee hive). Therefore, it fit the bill of allowing refuges of susceptible bacteria (and beneficial competing bacteria) to survive.
Tylosin, on the other hand, has a very long life in the hive-on the order of several months. That is why it is currently such an effective antibiotic against AFB-it just keeps killing and killing the bacteria. This persistence was noted in the process of its registration for bee hive use, so the label specifically prohibits its use as a prophylactic measure, or its application in sugar syrup.
Of course, many commercial beekeepers now routinely (and illegally, at least in my state) feed tylosin in sugar syrup as a prophylactic measure against AFB! It is a "box movers'" dream-no need to inspect for foulbrood, nor loss of AFB-tainted equipment-just treat ‘em all with tylosin. I strongly question this practice! We do not know the long-term effects of a persistent antibiotic upon symbiotic honey bee gut flora or those in the bee bread. Of even more concern is the imprudence of such practice-tylosin is an incredibly effective tool for the control of AFB. The routine use of it will predictably soon render it ineffective as tylosin-resistant bacteria evolve. Those misusing the product will ruin it for the rest of us! This is not a matter of "laughing with the sinners or crying with the saints"-it is rather a shortsighted folly.
First-World agriculture has reveled in the achievements of the Green Revolution and factory farms, the success of which unfortunately depend upon energy-gulping fertilizer and transportation, massive pesticide and herbicide use, dousing animals in "Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations" with antibiotics, and government subsidies. We've become infatuated with the beauty of our weapons* against pests, weeds, and diseases. Although this system has been highly effective for the short term, there are good arguments that it is unsustainable in the long run.
*Apologies to Leonard Cohen
Commercial beekeeping has become a microcosm of the larger agricultural system. Let me note that I make my living as part of that system-renting bees for pollination, and selling honey by the drum. I enjoy as well plentiful, and what appears to be "cheap," food (if one ignores the hidden costs). Be assured that I'm not criticizing the system nor the farmers or beekeepers who feed the nation. Neither am I disparaging the use of miticides and antibiotics-they are valuable and necessary tools. However, I feel that it may be wise to pay attention to the evolution of the larger system, as beekeeping will likely reflect similar changes and challenges.
Big Agriculture is moving toward fewer (and safer) pesticides and antibiotics, more biotechnical methods of pest control, such as crop rotation and interplanting, better breeding for pest and disease resistance, and better animal nutrition. The parallels with beekeeping are hard to ignore.
The market for agricultural pesticides is huge, so there is a constantly evolving arsenal of new pest control products-this year look for imaginative new names like Belay, Endigo, Zeal, Movento, Synapse, and Coragen (all ®) (Roberson 2009). The good news is that the newer classes of insecticides are generally designed to be more environmentally friendly, which is good news for bees.
However, with the release of each new pesticide, beekeepers wonder if there will be unforeseen ill effects upon their bees. When colonies die for no apparent reason, it is easy to blame said losses on the unfamiliar new product.
This has certainly been the case for the neonicotinoids. The good news is that the systemic neonics are replacing the nasty organochlorines and organophosphates (WHO Class 1-"extremely hazardous"), and can be used in much smaller amounts, since they are applied directly to the seed prior to planting, rather than spread or sprayed over the soil or crops.
However, many beekeepers in Europe, and some in the U.S., feel strongly that neonics can cause detrimental effects to their colonies. Numerous field trials (by Bayer, government labs, and independent researchers) generally fail to support this supposition (the continuing reports in the press are generally recycled old research). There is no doubt that some bees are harmed by some neonic applications, but in general, monitored test colonies appear to thrive when placed adjacent to neonic-treated crops in which the chemical has been properly applied. Indeed, I've spoken to some large commercial beekeepers who profess their love for the neonics, as their use has reduced the typical historical kills by the older generation of pesticides.
This is certainly not the final word on the neonics-I'm sure that the labels will need to be modified as we find specific cases where their use (such as in potatoes followed by clover, in melons, when applied by chemigation, etc.) appears to be harming bees and other nontarget organisms.
O.K., by the time you read this article, you may have heard the buzz about "guttation droplets" and neonicotinoids in young corn (maize) plants. Dr. Vincenzo Girolami in Italy released a video last year of bees dying rapidly after drinking droplets of sap exuded by clothianidin-treated corn seedlings. The twitching deaths were gruesome to watch, and fired up justifiable emotional outrage in beekeepers. Had the culprit for colony losses finally been pegged?
Well, there's a bit more to the story. In the first place, the knowledge about systemic pesticides in guttation fluid (a natural phenomenon in young plants in the grass family) was well known. The whole reason for seed treatment is to make the sap of seedlings toxic to root- and leaf-eating insects. Then as the plant matures, the concentration of pesticide naturally decreases, plus guttation normally ceases.
Beekeepers have complained about bee losses at the time of sunflower or corn flowering-but this occurs months after guttation in the seedlings. But some beekeepers also complained about losses just after planting. These losses could be explained by contaminated dust from the seeds as they are planted (as in the well-publicized clothianidin kill in Germany last year, in which the pesticide was not glued properly to the seed). Or, as Dr. Girolami (2009) points out in his recent paper, perhaps bees might be poisoned by drinking guttation droplets. His laboratory studies indicate that the droplets can indeed be toxic, but alas, he did not perform any "real-life" field tests, and stated "it is still not possible to draw a judgment on a possible correlation between neonicotinoid translocation into guttation drops and CCD."
Luckily, others have performed such field tests. I've been able to preview Bayer-funded studies that were performed in corn fields this spring at six sites in Austria and France, under different climatic conditions (some specifically chosen to have access to water restricted, and little alternative attractive flora), and involving 38 fields and about 100 colonies. Guttation on the corn seedlings was commonly present during foraging hours.
The results were that bees were observed foraging only at the field margins, and "only very occasionally" were individual bees observed exhibiting symptoms of intoxication. I've looked at the graphs of the numbers of dead bees caught in hive traps or fallen on linen sheets placed before the hives-there didn't appear to be any significant effect of seed treatment compared to control colonies on untreated fields.
The researchers found that the placement of gravel-filled watering trays decreased bee foraging for guttation water. However, colony development for three months appeared to be identical (and normal) whether alternate water was provided or not.
Aha, you say, that research was funded by Bayer! I also found that the Swiss government independently performed their own tests (BLW 2008), in which they found that clothianidin indeed occurred at toxic levels in the droplets for about a month after sowing. Again, the toxic droplets appeared to be repellent to bees. The independent Swiss researchers found no mortality due to clothianidin of bees in colonies placed next to the fields during and after sowing, and observed no deterioration of the health of the colonies. They did suggest that it would be good beekeeping practice to provide clean water if such was not naturally available.
The above findings will likely apply to the U.S. However, we plant corn in huge expanses, and I wouldn't be the least surprised if bees in such areas might be poisoned if drought occurs during the first month of seedling growth, should no clean alternative water sources be available. Again, please note that potential poisoning from guttation droplets would be an entirely different phenomenon from poisoning from the much later tasseling of corn.
In any case, I hope that the neonicotinoid question is resolved soon. Meanwhile, there is another class of plant protection products that keeps coming up on my radar...
Although beekeepers have long cursed pesticides, fungicides have generally been assumed to be safe for bees. We've recently learned otherwise. Some fungicides are demonstrably toxic to bee larvae. Exposure of larvae to pollen containing Captan®, Ziram®, or iprodione led to 100 percent mortality (Alarcón 2009).
Fungicides may also have synergistic effects when combined with other pesticides, or miticides applied by the beekeeper, making either more toxic to the bees. This is a problem that we experience when our colonies are pollinating almond orchards-where fungicides are often sprayed on the bloom. Many almond pollinators (myself included) have had serious issues after certain fungicides (e.g., Rovral® or Pristine®) were sprayed, sometimes in the short term, sometimes killing brood weeks later (Mussen 2008). This is a serious concern to those producing queens from colonies returning from almond pollination.
A scary thing about fungicide contamination is that there may be a delayed effect-one may not notice problems until the bees dig back into stored pollen months after exposure! VanEngelsdorp (2009) coined the term "entombed pollen" to describe brick-red beebread sealed by the bees with a black capping, and often associated with the fungicide chlorothalonil (Bravo®). The authors state: "These results provide compelling evidence that entombed pollen indicates exposure to a risk factor that is detrimental to honey bee colony survival." However, they did not find it to be directly responsible for either significant brood mortality or CCD.
In a recent series in this Journal, Dr. Gloria DeGrandi-Hoffman, et al (2009) reviewed the literature on beneficial microbes in bee hives. These microbes are mainly bacteria and fungi. Bees gather pollen, add nectar, saliva, and microbe inoculant from their mouths, and pack it into cells to undergo a lactic acid fermentation, similar to the making of silage, sauerkraut, or yogurt. After the initial fermentation, which preserves the beebread with acid, beneficial fungi then continue to digest the pollen, apparently making it more nutritious to the bees.
So let's say that you were about to make cheese out of milk at home. Unless you take special care to make sure that the culture is properly inoculated with beneficial bacteria and fungi, you will end up with a putrid, and possibly toxic, product (due to the bacterial and fungal toxins produced by unwanted microbes).
When bees ferment pollen into beebread, they count on the right microbes to do the job. Honey bees have a long evolutionary involvement with beneficial symbiotic bacteria and fungi, and several of them appear to be associated with the health and nutrition of colonies. When a fungicide (or possibly an antibiotic) is inadvertently added to the pollen, we simply do not know whether the "normal" fermentation process will take place, or whether the chemicals will allow toxin-producing microbes to thrive. The entombment of pollen may simply be the way that bees deal with beebread "gone bad" so that the nurse bees don't suffer from "food poisoning."
Now I've saved what most interests me for last. Honey bees require sterols as essential dietary nutrients (meaning that they can't create them themselves, similar to vitamins). The critical bee sterol is 24-methylenecholesterol (I'll abbreviate it as 24-mCh). Luckily, this is often the main sterol found in pollen (Svoboda 1983). There is also a sterol precursor to 24-mCh called sitosterol, but Herbert ( 1980), in feeding trials of synthetic diets, found that bees were apparently unable to convert sitosterol (or other sterols) to 24-mCh.
Without 24-mCh in the diet, nurse bees apparently "steal" it from their own body reserves to produce the jelly which they then feed to the queen and larvae. Herbert (1980) found that in diets lacking 24-mCh, broodrearing is restricted, and drops off precipitously after two brood cycles (although they can use plain cholesterol in the short term).
Note that this drop off after two brood cycles is typical of pollen "substitutes," including that used in a recent greenhouse trial at the Tucson lab. The colonies in that trial quickly recovered when they were given a small amount of beebread scraped from combs of free-flying colonies. No one has determined what the critical ingredient supplied by the beebread was.
Note also that due to bee colony population dynamics, a major drop in brood rearing wouldn't be noticed by the beekeeper (unless he's inspecting the broodnest) until about six weeks later, when the missing brood would have become foragers. A colony can quickly recover the field force if there is a lot of sealed brood, but not if there was a break in brood rearing several weeks previously.
Now here's the part that catches my attention. Loper (1980) found that almond pollen, hand brushed from the blossoms, contains both sitosterol and 24-mCh, but that in the same pollen, trapped from bees' legs in pollen traps that were emptied hourly, the sitosterol content dropped sharply (154 to 38 mg/kg), whereas the 24-mCh content rose substantially (428 to 544 mg/kg)!
So here's my question: If bees are unable to convert dietary sitosterol into 24-mCh in cage trials lasting weeks, how the heck do they manage to do it in an hour in the pollen loads on their legs?
The answer may come from Gilliam (1997): "Our studies of floral and corbicular [collected on bees' legs] pollen ...demonstrated that pollen from a flower changes microbiologically and biochemically as soon as the honey bee collects it." She found that bacteria and yeasts were very quickly replaced by molds (fungi). Certain fungi (such as Mortierella) are notable for producing 24-mCh (although Gilliam did not identify this genus in bees).
So, questions that I have for researchers are, (1) what is the mechanism for the conversion of sterols in the corbicular pollen, (2) do agricultural fungicides stop the process, and (3) since 24-mCh is critical in the royal jelly to produce queens, how are fungicides used in almonds affecting the queens produced afterwards? I'm very curious as to how fungicides, even those that aren't overtly toxic to bees, are affecting the nutrition, health, and development of queens in our colonies.
Modern agriculture has become heavily dependent upon pesticide use. Unfortunately, the pests are catching up. All forms of agriculture, including beekeeping, will be forced to move to smarter management, with fewer, and less hazardous, pest control products. Proactive beekeepers are currently shifting to such practices as IPM and natural treatments.
The incredibly effective antibiotic tylosin is unfortunately being misused, which will likely lead to resistant AFB bacteria, and possibly to unexpected problems with colony biotic balance.
Agriculture is generally moving toward more environmentally-friendly pesticides. The neonicotinoids appear to be one of these. However, some beekeepers feel that the neonics are causing serious problems. There is currently a lack of supporting scientific evidence in most cases (with noted exceptions), but research continues.
Fungicides, which have been generally considered to be harmless to bees, are being found to be anything but! Researchers are reinvigorating investigation of the roles that microflora play in colony health and nutrition, and the effects that fungicides and antibiotics may have when the microfloral "balance" is disrupted
As always, I am deeply indebted to my collaborator Peter Loring Borst, without whom I could not conduct the research necessary to document these articles.
Alarcón, R and G DeGrandi-Hoffman (2009) Fungicides can reduce, hinder pollination potential of honey bees. Western Farm Press March 7, 2009.
BLW (2008) Bienen Monitoring in der Schweiz (available as pdf by Googling the title)
DeGrandi-Hoffman, G, et al (2009) The importance of microbes in nutrition and health of honey bee colonies. American Bee Journal 149(6, 7, and 8).
Gilliam, M (1997) Identification and roles of non-pathogenic microflora associated with honey bees. FEMS Microbiology Letters 155: 1-10.
Girolami, V, et al (2009) Translocation of Neonicotinoid Insecticides From Coated Seeds to Seedling Guttation Drops: A Novel Way of Intoxication for Bees. J. Econ. Entomology 102(5): 1808-1815.
Herbert, EW Jr, et al (1980) Sterol utilization in honey bees fed a synthetic diet: effects on brood rearing. J. Insect Physiol. 26 287-289.
IRAC (2009) IRM The Facts. http://www.irac-online.org
Loper, GM, et al (1980) Biochemistry and microbiology of bee-collected almond (Prunus dulcis) pollen and bee bread. Apidologie 11(1): 63-73.
Mussen, E (2008) Fungicides toxic to bees? Apiculture Newsletter Nov/Dec 2008.
Roberson, R (2009) Vegetable insecticide arsenal expanding. Southeast Farm Press. March 26, 2009. http://southeastfarmpress.com/vegetables-tobacco/vegetable-production-0326/
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Cover Story November 2009
Apicultural Research--"Nozevit patties" Treatment of Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) for the Control of Nosema ceranae Disease
Nosema disease affects adult honey bees and due to its mostly inconspicuous signs and the need for eradication by exchange of frames with brood from a disinfected hive and often use of new wax, beekeepers devote insufficient attention or often neglect the disease. Also, there is a problem of controlling nosemosis, especially caused with N. ceranae because of its asymptomatic duration and prohibition of using antibiotics in the treatment of apian diseases in the European Union, as well as in Croatian regulations. We have predicted great results for use of protein pollen patties with "Nozevit" herbal preparation, as a feed supplement for bee colonies, where it can have an effect on brood rearing (colony strength) and at the same time reduce the number of Nosema ceranae spores. The aim of this study was to assess the effectiveness of the "Nozevit" phyto-pharmacological preparation in protein/pollen substitute patties for treatment of nosema disease in comparison with patties without "Nozevit" and sugar solution in a similar control group.
Nosema disease is a parasitic disease of adult honey bees (Apis mellifera) caused by two described species of microsporidia, Nosema apis (Zander, 1909) and Nosema ceranae (Fries et al., 1996), which in adverse living conditions forms spores. This disease affects adult bees and due to its inconspicuous signs and the need for eradication by exchange of frames with brood from a disinfected hive and often use of new wax, beekeepers devote insufficient attention or often neglect the disease. Honey bees afflicted with nosemosis start to forage earlier (Fries, 1995), while pathological changes of their mid-gut epithelial cells, as well as digestive and metabolic disorders (Hassanein, 1951), cause malnutrition (Muresan et al., 1975), lack of population build up and consequentially decrease of population size of honey bee colonies (Malone et al., 1995) leading to premature deaths (Morse and Shimanuki, 1990).
New Nosema ceranae is highly pathogenic and there are usually no visible symptoms of diarrhea or adult bee deaths and there is total lack of seasonality in the diagnosis (Martin - Hernandez et al., 2007), and little is known about pathogenicity (Oldroyd, 2007). Infections with N. ceranae induce a nutritional stress, suppression of the bee's immune functions and cause changes in behavior where infected bees tend to forage at cooler temperatures (Mayak, 2009). Bees infected with new parasitic pathogen starve to death due to lack of digestive function and this leads to increased number of honey bee colony losses, destruction of plant communities and low production in the same areas which consequently cause significant loss of beekeeper's income (Stefanidou et al., 2003).
There is a problem of controlling nosemosis, especially caused with N. ceranae because of its asymptomatic duration (Martin - Hernandez, 2007) and prohibition of using antibiotics in the treatment of apian diseases in EU, as well as in Croatian regulations. Recently, we have published results of experimental nosema disease treatment with the natural phyto-pharmacological preparation "Nozevit" in sugar solution (Tlak Gajger et al., 2009) which shows that a large number of spores were considerably reduced upon preventive (70.91%) and curative (78.37%) treatment. But, bees need more than just carbohydrates from honey or sugar syrup to survive, especially proteins. The most significant source of proteins in nutrition of honey bee colonies is pollen or pollen substitutes. Proteins are mainly needed for reproduction and brood rearing (Herbert, 1999); to produce protein-rich brood food to feed larvae, but also the queen needs a steady supply with protein-rich royal jelly, to have enough protein to lay up to 2000+ eggs a day. Also, there are a lot of reasons for additionally feeding bees with pollen substitutes like: early spring build up before appearance of first vegetation; build up in preparation for pollination; to force building in preparation for a strong nectar flow, to encourage early drone rearing; to maintain drone and brood rearing through a strong dearth (Day et al., 1990), and ensure wintering survival. Less brood rearing eventually reduces the number of adult bees, including foragers, and may consequently affect pollination efficiency and honey yields (Herbert, 1999) and if we draw a comparison with nosemosis, it has the same consequences. So, the pollen patties composition is important both for its nutritional value and for its effect on how readily bees consume it (Keller et al., 2005a). Because of that we have predicted great results for use of pollen patties with "Nozevit" as a feed supplement for bee colonies in early spring and in autumn, where it can have an effect on brood rearing (colony strength) and at the same time reduce the number of Nosema spores, thereby preventing the spread of disease inside the colony. The aim of this study was to assess the effectiveness of the "Nozevit" phyto-pharmacological preparation added to "Brood Builder" - protein/pollen substitute patties for treatment of nosema disease in comparison with patties without "Nozevit", and sugar solution in a similar control group. Also, we have checked the strength (number of populated and brood frames) of treated and untreated honey bee colonies during the clinical examination in the field conditions.