The science of the mite-bomb

In the backwaters of beekeeping, a bitter debate is raging between the proponents of the so-called ‘mite-bomb’ theory and its opponents who claim it is stuff and nonsense. It isn’t the friendly sort of discussion beeks may have over tea and cake; discussing if you need matchsticks under the crown board when overwintering bees, goodness no, it is a debate with firmly entrenched opinions which each think the other side is either flat earthers or in the pocket of chemical companies.

In short, critics of those beekeepers who choose not to manage mite populations and allow them to die to say those actions kill other beekeepers’ hives. They claim varroa mites travel from the collapsing hives to nearby apiaries and overwhelm healthy hives leading to their demise as well.

This article in Bee Culture provides a more detailed narrative.

I’m not in the business of telling beekeepers how to manage their bees. So, I don’t intend to provide commentary on differing opinions on bee husbandry.

However, I do find the process of how varroa mites move from one hive to another fascinating and if you do too, read on.

The role of cuticular hydrocarbons in hives

Cuticular what now?

Insects’ cuticles, the outer layer, are coated with a layer of hydrocarbons – hence the name cuticular hydrocarbon. Its primary role is to stop the insect drying out. However, it also plays another important role in insects as a means of communication.

There is extensive research demonstrating that the chemicals signatures of these hydrocarbons play and important role in social insects’ communication mechanisms.

For example, in 2003 a study published in Nature described how researchers observed that ants could identify not only the tasks its nestmate was undertaking but also use that information to decide what task it needed to complete.

The context of honey bees you won’t be surprised to find out that forager bees have a different chemical signature that nurse bees.

How does varroa select the bees they hitch a ride on?  

To understand how varroa move from a collapsing colony to a new one is it important to understand if varroa has a way to distinguish between different types of bees.

Work done by Dr Cervo and the team determined that given a choice varroa mites had a preference to attach themselves to nurse bees. From the mite’s perspective, a nurse bee will inevitably lead to new brood cell and a juicy fresh larva to raise more varroa on.

As a colony starts to collapse the population decreases to the point that the bees hydrocarbon signature becomes less distinct; resulting in phoretic varroa choosing both nurse and forager bees.

The other consequence of the declining colony population is an increased insistence of robbing.

Varroa will also readily attach themselves to these robbing bees and therefore make their way into other hives.

There is no question that mites have a mechanism that allows them to move from hive to hive, especially, if they have exploited their hosts to the point of colony collapse.

Intervention free beekeeping?

From my perspective, the real mite-bomb debate isn’t treatment or treatment free beekeeping but rather interventionless or interventionist beekeeping.

Being treatment free doesn’t mean you can’t make interventions in the colony to reduce the impact of varroa on your hives. There are plenty of bio-technical measures that can be deployed to manage mite levels within the colony which do not require chemical treatments that mimic how feral colonies are coping with varroa in the wild.

If you aren’t intervening in your colonies, even just to monitor health, you probably aren’t beekeeping.

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The Beehive Jive Podcast 005 – Drama free swarm control.

Welcome to episode five of the Beehive Jive podcast. A beekeeping podcast from London, England.

In this episode we discuss the tricky issue of swarming: why do bees swarm, can you spot the early signs and what to do if they do swarm.

 

 

 

Running order:

00:00: What is Paul up to in his bees.

00:08: Tracey’s apiary update

00:14: Stress-free swarm control

00:20 Artifical swarm

00:30 How to spot signs of swarm preparation

00:35 Using swarm control for queen rearing

00:38 How many queen cell to leave in the hive

00:44 Top two tips for swarm control

00:47: Don’t panic and knock down all the cells!!

00:49: Clipping queens

00:55: Collecting swarms

01:00 Wrap up

 

Links:

Guide to swarm control http://www.nationalbeeunit.com/downloadDocument.cfm?id=1077

Wax moths – an unlikely environmental hero.

 

Wax moths have been one of my biggest challenges as a beekeeper, they’ve caught me out a fair few times. In my first season I listened to some advice that moths weren’t attracted to honey supers because they didn’t have the scent of broad in. That cost me stack of supers. Last year I extracted some honey and left two supers indoors, within two weeks the dreaded moths had made them their home. To be fair leaving empty supers in the kitchen was what my wife would call ‘lazy’

Suffice to say given my defeats at its hands .. erm … feet; I’m not a fan.

However; now researchers have discovered that Wax Worms, the larvae of the Wax Moth, are capable of eating and digesting Polyethylene. Since the end of the Second World War Polyethylene (PE) has been used in everything from bubble wrap to bullet proof vests. Cheap to produce, flexible and adaptable PE is one of those ubiquitous substances of modern day life. Unfortunately it is also one of the World’s most polluting substances.

Plastic pollution is a real environmental challenge. When you consider that we produce over a trillion plastic bags a year and despite PE being highly recyclable only about 5% of the plastic bottles produced are made from recycled material you can get a sense of the scale of the issue. PE also takes decades to begin to biodegrade. This discovery may eventually lend to processes that can break PE down into a more manageable by-product.

So although I will continue to wage war of the wax moth, they’ll have my grudging respect as one day they may provide solutions to a problem way bigger than my lost frames.

The Beehive Jive Podcast 004 – Alexa: how do I start beekeeping?

In this episode Tracey and Paul talk about things to consider if you want to jump into the exciting World of beekeeping.

In summary:

• Join a local club
• Take a class
• Make friends

It really is that simple ….. almost

00:00: What’s going on in Tracey’s apiary?
03:00: What’s up with Paul’s bees.
15:00: How to start beekeeping
16:50: Where to start
18:30: Find a local club
25:00: Types of hive
29:00: Where to get bees from
44:00: What can you do in the winter?
46:00: Book recommendations
52:00: Online resources

Links to stuff mentioned in this podcast.

British Beekeepers Association – https://www.bbka.org.uk/
Beebase – http://www.nationalbeeunit.com/
Guide to Bees & Honey: The World’s Best Selling Guide to Beekeeping- http://amzn.eu/1v0QLZ0
Bees at the Bottom of the Garden – http://amzn.eu/gCisynG
The Bee Manual: The Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Keeping Bees – http://amzn.eu/3dZsCDe
The Honey Bee Around and About – http://amzn.eu/0qM7itM

The Beehive Jive Podcast 003 – Spring into Spring

The Beehive Jive Podcast Episode 003: Spring into Spring

In this episode Tracey and Paul discuss what they do to give their bees the best start in the spring.

Notes: We recorded this in a garden room, so we had a good view but the audio quality is occasionally a little wonky – lessonlearnt. On the plus side, you can hear the birds singing away in the background.
When discussing Asian hornets Paul said they had a red thorax … oops …. they have a red abdomen:
http://www.nonnativespecies.org/alerts/index.cfm?id=4

http://www.thebeehivejive.com/3

twitter @thebeehivejive
email : thebeehivejive@gmail.com
Beekeeping blog: http://thebehivejive.com

Beekeepers’ Corner youtube – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAWbLe43GXsRx45OYWJhqWw

00:00 – 10:00 : Asian Hornet UK update
Asian Hornet update – in the last show we spoke about the Asian Hornet and we were unsure if the nest found in the UK had come from the population in the EU or arrived via another route – it has now been confirmed that it has come from the European population.

For more information about this threat check out the FERA page – http://fera.co.uk/news/showNews.cfm?id=795

17 March 2017 update:

Scottish Goverment today confirmed that a single Asian Hornet, Vespa velutina had been identified at a retail warehouse in the central belt of Scotland. The Asian Hornet is a non-native species and a serious predator of honey bees and other pollinators which has recently become established in Europe. There are no more public health risks associated with Asian hornets than with other bees or wasps.

Asian hornets were first identified in the UK during autumn 2016, that outbreak was dealt with and no further reports have been confirmed since. It is not possible to identify the origin of this individual and no further sightings have been made, however for surveillance purposes SG has placed Asian Hornet traps in the area and alerted the pest control industry and beekeepers to be vigilant for this species

10:00 – 21:00 : Tracey’s first inspection of the year.
22:00 – 28:00 : Bait hives. Check out the bucket bait hive featured on Kiwi Mana Buzz – http://kiwimana.co.nz/swarm-trapping-bees-with-a-mobile-swarm-trap-km104/
28:00 – 30:00 : Varroa control with sugar.
30:00 – 32:00 : Do you change boxes every season?
32:00 – 43:00 : Paul’s apiary inspection
43:00 – 53:00 : Hive records on the roof.
53:00 – 60:00 : Nosema & shook swarms
60:00 – 1:10 : Swarm control
1:10 – 1:14 : Clipping Queens
1:14 – 1:00 : Letter bag