Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Arkansas Honey Festival

One thousand people gathered in Little Rock on a delightful early fall day for the third annual Arkansas Honey Festival. Pleasant weather made for enjoyable events both indoors and out. The event, held at Bemis Honey Bee Farm, featured a full day of classroom, honey house, and bee yard presentations. I was invited to make a classroom presentation on the control of parasitic Varroa mites. I took the group of interested beekeepers into the bee yard where we sampled hives for Varroa mites. We used two methods of sampling, a powdered sugar roll and an alcohol wash. The group noted that the alcohol wash was the more accurate method of determining the bees’ mite load when both methods were used on the same hive. Other presenters described how to properly label honey, how to build bee-friendly gardens, the production of bee hive products other than honey, and marketing of bee hive products. The new Veterinary Feed Directive was described to beekeepers and veterinarians present. In the honey house, eager groups attended sessions on making mead, extracting honey, making creamed honey, and cooking with honey. Bee yard events involved demonstrations on handling bee hive pests and diseases, fall bee hive management, and checks made by the state’s apiary inspectors. I gave a presentation on top bar hive beekeeping. In today’s photo, I demonstrate handling a Kenyan top bar hive brood comb.

The Arkansas Honey Festival was an enjoyable social event on top of being an educational opportunity. Beekeepers and folks simply interested in bees enjoyed themselves at the bee farm. Live music played while people shopped with vendors and at the bee equipment store. I dined at the food truck. Children jumped in a bounce house and visited farm animals in a petting area. Some got their faces painted, and many enjoyed riding about the farm on a tractor-pulled hay wagon. The people’s choice honey show allowed the public to taste honey entries from diverse nectar sources from throughout the state.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Resistance to Antibiotics

For decades, beekeepers have used antibiotics in the control of certain honey bee diseases, particularly European foulbrood and Nosema disease. While antibiotics can be effective drugs, their misuse can lead to the development of strains of disease that are resistant to the medications. Resistance has occurred as well in diseases of humans and livestock. American foulbrood, AFB, a honey bee brood bacterial infection, is often resistant to antibiotics. The use of antibiotics is not effective for controlling AFB, as they only suppress the disease-causing bacterium; they don’t kill it. To limit the use of antibiotics administered to animals, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has recently enacted a Veterinary Food Directive. This action will greatly restrict the use of antibiotics administered to bee hives. Unfortunately, the unavailability to obtain the antibiotic, Terramycin, will likely lead to the spread of European foulbrood, the fastest spreading honey bee brood disease.

A report the Idaho Statesman,, describes research being conducted at the University of Idaho. Researchers are trying to determine the mechanisms of bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics. Such a resistance is a problem for treating disease anytime antibiotics are used in humans, livestock, and even in honey bee colonies. The results, published in Nature, focus on plasmids, tiny pieces of DNA that can be transferred between bacteria cells. Plasmids transfer traits, such as resistance to antibiotic drugs, from one bacterium to another. Surprisingly, this can occur in as little as a few minutes. Resistance to antibiotics also occurs when bacteria chromosomes mutate. Interestingly, plasmids can produce resistance to multiple antibiotics at once. Research team leader, Dr. Eva Top, describes how we are affecting bacteria: “They’re picking up a lot of antibiotic resistance genes and spreading them because of our habits of using so many antibiotics.” Today’s photo: migratory hives in Idaho’s Treasure Valley, an area of diverse agricultural crops. Many crops are in bloom, and honey bee colonies are collecting nectar and building up honey stores after travelling for pollination service.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

New Findings on Queen Bees

Queen bees and worker bees develop from fertilized eggs, and drone bees develop from nonfertilized eggs. Queens develop from eggs laid in downward facing queen cell cups similar to the one on the side of a top bar hive comb (photo by Melissa Bridgman). A New York Times piece,,  describes recently published research from PLOS Genetics identifying a newly-identified mechanism involved in the development of queen bees. It has long been known that queen bee development is associated with diet. Worker bees feed developing queen bees and worker bees a different diet even though they both develop from the same fertilized eggs. The larvae of both queens and workers are fed an enriched food, royal jelly, in the first day of larval development. Worker larvae are then fed secretions workers produce from “bee bread,” a food consisting of fermenting pollen and honey. Queen larvae, however, continue to receive royal jelly through their larval development and throughout their life.

The new research finds that caste development, the differentiation of queens, which have a complete reproductive system, from workers, that are sterile, uses plant-based small molecules called microRNA. The study’s co-author, Dr. Chen-Yu Zhang explains, “The royal jelly and plant microRNA work together to affect caste formation.” It now appears that the plant-based molecules suppress the workers’ ovary development. This research expands our understanding of queen bee caste differentiation. It also reflects the interdependence of plants and honey bees. Flowering plants and bees have been co-evolving for the past 100 million years. Plants and bees share microRNA, a plant substance that affects bee development and a bee substance that is important in the development of certain flowers. Dr. Zhang explains that microRNA from bees can make flowers larger and more colorful. The authors relate that these microRNA molecules affect species in different kingdoms, such as plants and insects or plants and humans. Other experts reacting to the report expect that microRNA will emerge as a major area of research in human medicine.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Sampling Varroa Mites

Varroa mites are the greatest pest killer of honey bees. If left unchecked, these parasites will kill a colony of bees in about 18 months. It is, therefore, necessary for beekeepers to be aware of the mite load that a hive carries and to take corrective action when mite numbers exceed critical levels. Varroa mites live in bee hives, and they reproduce in the sealed brood cells of the pupal stage of honey bee brood. Mite levels typically peak in late summer at the time that queen bees slow their rate of egg laying. Excessive numbers of Varroa mites in the hive often lead to colony death. Mites weaken individual bees by sucking the bee’s blood, known as hemolymph. When a mite pierces the exoskeleton of a honey bee, it passes numerous viruses to the bee. At least 15 Varroa-vectored viruses have been identified. Varroa mites and the viruses that they transmit lessen the life span of the bees, leading to smaller winter colony clusters. These smaller clusters are often unable to generate enough heat to survive the winter.

Some individuals ignore the threat of parasitic mites and lose their bee. Others attempt to kill the mites with harsh chemical treatments. They are usually successful in reducing the colony mite loads, however, repeated use of harsh chemicals leads to populations of mites that are resistant to the chemicals. Beekeepers who take a judicious approach to controlling parasitic mites develop their own Integrated Pest Management program that involves mite sampling and treatments as necessary. The Honey Bee Health Coalition offers Tools for Varroa Management: A Guide to Effective Varroa Sampling & Control as a free document. The guide and video demonstrations of Varroa control techniques may be downloaded from There are several methods of sampling a bee hive’s mite levels, including powdered sugar rolls and alcohol rolls. In today’s photo, Rita is counting the number of Varroa mites on 300 bees using a simple alcohol roll test.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Sun's Corona

Photographer, Mike Worthy, captured this picture of the sun at total eclipse showing the sun’s corona, the atmosphere of the sun. See NASA’s website: The photo was taken August 21, 2017 at Marshall County, Kentucky. Thank you, Mike!

Beekeepers Observe an Eclipse

An eclipse of the sun is a rare event. A total eclipse passed across the entire United States on August 21, 2017, the first such occurrence in nearly 100 years. Rita and I travelled to Marshall County, Kentucky to meet beekeeping friends, Shirley Murphy and Mike Worthy along the path of the moon’s totally shadowing the earth. The trip was worthwhile. The experience of observing a total eclipse is significantly different from witnessing the same event a short distance away in the much wider area of partial eclipse. The 70-mile-wide area of total coverage of the moon’s shadow affords researchers and photographers an opportunity to observe the sun’s structure in rare detail. It also provides a rare and awe-inspiring spectacle of nature for anyone in place. Mike Worthy, an accomplished photographer and amateur astronomer, photographed the eclipse. Here is Mike’s photo of the sun at total eclipse, showing solar prominences, red streams of hot gasses looping hundreds of thousands of miles out into the sun’s outer atmosphere. See NASA’s website for a description of solar prominences:

As the moon crossed in front of the sun, the sky slowly darkened. Within a few minutes of total eclipse the air cooled and colors shifted. August lawns turned a brighter green; Mike’s white car turned silvery gray. When the moon finally covered the sun, the sky abruptly darkened. The only light showing was an orange glow in the horizons. Planets and mosquitoes appeared. Song birds called, and crickets chirped. Beekeepers questioned how honey bees would react to light conditions darkening to nighttime at mid-day. Alert beekeeper, Brent Ferguson, along with three others in his bee yard in central Arkansas in the area of partial eclipse, watched the bee hives for any change in the bees’ behavior. There was no observed change in behavior. Did the foraging bees change their navigation from solar guidance to ultraviolet, magnetic, or odors? Eclipses are rare; honey bees are resilient and capable of operating in rapidly changing conditions.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Water for the Bee Hive

Honey bee workers forage for four things that they bring into the bee hive: nectar, pollen, propolis, and water. Nectar is the sugary secretion of flowers that bees convert into honey. Pollen, also a product of flowers, is a necessary component of bee food that contains protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Propolis is a sticky substance that bees gather from the saps and gums of trees. It is the “bee glue” that honey bees use to seal cracks and openings in the bee hive, and, due to its antimicrobial properties, protect the hive from pathogens. Water is an important part of the life of a honey bee colony. Bees require water for metabolic processes; they use water to dilute stored honey for consumption in the hive; and they use water to help cool the hive. Honey bees are quite adept at regulating the environment inside the bee hive. Whenever there is brood in the hive, which is most of the year, the bees regulate the hive temperature to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Bees must cool the hive in the summer. They do this in part by fanning their wings across droplets of water. With July temperatures above 95 degrees, the bees are foraging heavily for water.

A bee hive consumes lots of water. It is important for the beekeeper to ensure a reliable source of water for all bee yards. Unless an apiary is located near a natural body of water, like a lake or stream, artificial water sources should be provided. Because scout bees share the flavor of water that they find, bees prefer water with a taste. Bees will readily forage from pet or livestock watering containers.  Bees also like to collect water from swimming pools; and, for this reason, beekeepers need to provide an attractive water source close to urban hives as part of their Good Neighbor efforts. In today’s photo, honey bees float on duckweed and water lilies in my goldfish ponds to collect water.