The Classroom December 2013
by Jerry Hayes
(excerpt)RESPONSE TO SEPTEMBER, DAMAGED COMB PICTURE
Last year I had similar looking damage to some regular, drawn out, plastic frames. It was caused by bumble beetles. It was a moderately strong hive, so we took it totally apart, checking each frame.
About 3 years ago we got a big load of horse manure for the garden. A while later I noticed hundreds of larvae while digging and planting. The County Extension thought they were cutworms. I didn’t really think so because I wasn’t seeing any plant damage, so I gathered a bunch into a container and let them be for a while. They turned into bumble beetles. They are about 1/2-3/4” long, mottled brown and gray, slightly hairy, hard shelled, and emit a foul odor when squashed. When flying they sound like low and slow bumblebees. That year I had lots of them around the garden and especially on the sunflowers. I handpicked (killed) hundreds. The next year there were fewer, last year fewer still and I haven’t seen any in the garden this year. However, I just checked the hive affected last year and found 5 at or around the entrance. The hive is much stronger this year and the bees were really tussling with those. I am going to closely watch this hive the next few days before I tear it apart. I think its location under a very old cottonwood tree is part of the problem. Evidently, bumble beetles like rotting wood and compost. Extension workers said they were one of the “good bugs”. I guess it’s like weeds, they’re a pest if they’re in the wrong place.
I so look forward to your Classroom column. It has been very valuable as my friend and I try to figure out this hobby of raising bees. Thank you for the time you devote.
Good Morning Marion,
I looked up “bumble beetle”, Euphoria inda, and it was very interesting. Did you happen to keep a sample of the “bumble beetle” in your freezer or in alcohol? I would be interested in being sure it is a “bumble beetle”. You are most likely 99.999% right that these are the “bumble beetle”, but let’s get a taxonomist to give a 3rd party ID.
Yes, I have 4 bumblers right now, either just dead or almost in a plastic container. I will right now go put them into some alcohol and send them to you.
Good Morning Marion,
I received a reply from the Coleoptera (beetle) expert we have here:
“I’ve checked the literature, and the only reference I can find that is related is adults of the eastern species Euphoria sepulchralis being recorded inside bee hives in Florida, where they were presumably eating the honey. It would not be out of the question for the same behavior to be observed in a related species, and since the beekeeper insists they were collected from within the hive, I’m inclined to believe this is the case. As for control, again I think this is an unusual, opportunistic event that can be resolved by cleaning up the hive in question and not an ongoing situation that will require continued control efforts.” Dr. MacRae
Thanks for taking the effort to send them. I learn something all the time.
I’ve been keeping bees with my father ever since I can remember. I have been stung numerous times throughout my life without any problem, until last week. As I was getting the hives ready for the fall, I was stung by one of my bees and ended up going to the ER. I had a very bad reaction to the bee sting and now must carry an EPI pen with me. I was also told to stay away from bees. Is there anything that I can do in order to rebuild my immunity towards stings so that I can continue to tend to my bees?
As confusing and scary as this event was for you, unfortunately, it is not unusual. I do not know how old you are, but as we reach those midlife years, our bodies change in many ways. You are intellectually much sharper, as the wisdom of the ages is cataloged, but physiologically you “lose a step” as they say. One of these changes is in the robustness of our immune systems. It simply isn’t as robust as it was and it may react in ways that it did not in younger days to compensate.
For us beekeepers, when we get stung our body ‘learns’ to react to the foreign proteins in the honey bee venom in controlled ways that isolate and localize the venom reaction. When we get older, our immune system forgets, if you will, what it did before. It then reacts as if this were a brand new and dangerous situation and over reacts, flooding the body with mass quantities of natural chemicals that may lead to anaphylactic shock and a trip to the ER. Thank goodness we live in a First-world medical country. The EPI Pen contains chemicals to cancel the dumping of chemicals by your immune system into your body as it responds inappropriately to the honey bee venom until you can get back to the ER.
In our First-world medical community there are allergy specialists. They exist because there are other people whose bodies respond to milk, eggs, gluten, dust, insect stings, dogs, cats etc., just like you do to honey bee stings. This medical doctor, who specializes in treating allergies, can treat you for honey bee stings and “desensitize” your body. This will make your immune system less on alert, so that you can relax more around honey bees. This takes time and dollars for the desensitization, but doesn’t everything.
Once a beekeeper, always a beekeeper. Hang in there and go see the allergist.
Q How to Make Scary Big Colonies
Jerry, you mentioned at our Master Beekeepers’ Workshop that “Brood pheromone is a huge part of the start of young worker bees deciding to make new queen cells and one can delay this impulse by swapping brood up and away from the nest.”
Is there a correlation between brood pheromone and the making of queen cells by young workers? Can one really delay the queen cell-making impulse by moving brood comb away from the main part of the brood area?
I understand workers usually produce queen cells for 3 main reasons (really 4): (1) Prep to swarm known as swarm cells; (2) to supersede a failing queen (3) emergency replacement of a missing queen or (4) for “insurance” purposes only to be torn down later when unnecessary. One-3 usually results in the queen cup becoming a cell. In #4, rarely does the cup become a cell, unless 1, 2, or 3 occur.
Brood pheromone may signal the queen is failing, especially if the brood pattern is spotty. Secondly, the queen’s rate of laying would increase with a nectar flow, which results in vastly more brood that could thus trigger the swarm impulse. If brood in the main nest becomes congested (assuming this contributes to the swarm impulse), perhaps moving/swapping brood up and away from the nest relieves that congestion? Before a colony swarms, about a week before, workers begin biting at the queen’s legs and chasing her around the hive to keep her from laying. This slims the queen down over time, increasing her flight performance in preparation for the swarm flight.
M. in Alabama
One of the key signals for asexual reproduction by swarming is lack of space for the queen to lay in the brood nest, coupled with increasing day length. Keeping this reproductive imperative 100% in check is unobtainable for all of the “life finds a way” reasons we all know. But, and there is always a but, sometimes one can short-circuit it. Open brood produces odors/pheromones that inform the colony that all is well. Capped brood does not to any great degree. So, having a preponderance of capped brood and no place for the queen to lay means no open brood and “no everything is OK” pheromones. This is where the “ever expanding brood nest concept” comes in.
Picture a colony with three-deep brood chambers and the queen contained in the bottom one with a queen excluder. In spring, when the days are lengthening and the colony is in the growing mood, move frames of young brood from the bottom brood chamber to the second one every three days. Replace those frames in #1 with empty comb ready to lay in. Then, move older almost ready-to-cap or capped brood to the #3 hive body. So, young brood to #2 and older to #3. Empty comb to #1. Continue to do this for long as you can. With a decent queen, you can build scary big colonies.
In Africanized honey bee (AHB) areas beekeepers use this sometimes to keep AHB in the box and not swarming, absconding all the time. The problem is that these huge colonies can become dangerous.
You were already thinking about this concept. And you were right.
Q VARROA TREATMENTS
I hope I am not bothering you with too many questions, but I wonder what your opinion of Apivar with Amitraz might be. I have heard and read good things about it. Any input would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for your expertise.
No bother Bill. Just finished up a great Tennessee Beekeepers Association meeting and sitting in the airport hoping to get home tonight. Killing, damaging, hurting a little bug (varroa) that is sucking the blood of a big bug (honey bee) is tough to do without hurting the honey bee.....actually it is impossible. But, it is what it is until we find a safe, sane, effective way to do it. All that to say that all products used to control varroa are “pesticides”. By definition there is no such thing as a benign chemical that kills stuff. There are some products that are less toxic and some that are more toxic. Specifically, Apivar is the name of an acaricide that uses the pesticide amitraz as the active ingredient.
I am an old guy, so have old stories. In approximately 1993 I was involved in bringing an amitraz-based varroa product to market called Miticur. There were some formulation problems with it and it killed more bees than it killed mites. Beekeepers sued and the company removed the product from the market. Fast forward to 2013--Apivar from a different company than in 1993 seems to be a better formulated product and results are encouraging. Apivar is still a pesticide put deliberately in a honey bee colony. One advantage of it is that it breaks down quickly and leaves fewer toxic residues. With beeswax comb being a chemical sponge and holding lots of miticide and environmental toxin residues, having less of those is a good thing. All that to say, I would personally select Apivar over a fluvalinate- or coumaphos-based varroa control product, but behind Apiguard (thymol gel).