A beekeeping friend in New England started packages of bees in April and May. While each colony had plenty of bees, one colony struggled. These bees took up less syrup than the other similar colonies. Eventually, they quit feeding on syrup altogether. The beekeeper requeened the colony to give it a queen with stronger pheromones and greater egg-laying potential. Still, the colony dwindled and died. A Mississippi beekeeper installed four packages of bees and captured a swarm in May. Each colony started to expand rapidly, and then they all became queenless. A Tennessee beekeeper says that he has plenty of bees in his hives, but they are not putting a surplus of honey in his supers. All three are frequently seen occurrences in beekeeping. It is possible that each shares one thing in common: the new strain of Nosema disease, Nosema ceranae. Unlike the original Nosema strain, N. apis, N. ceranae exhibits no symptoms in the bees. The bees lose their ability to digest food, and they may starve in the presence of plenty food. Like the New England bees, the nutritionally stressed bees quit eating. Nosema disease can lead to early supersedure of queens, a possibility with the Mississippi colonies. Perhaps the most notable effect of honey bee colonies being infected by Nosema ceranae is slow population build-up caused by the premature death of foraging worker bees. While a hive may appear to have plenty of bees, without a large population of the older bees, the foragers, very little surplus honey can be stored. This is a possible explanation for the Tennessee bees’ not storing honey. Nosema ceranae infection produces perforated honey gut linings, exposing the bees to viral infections. The combined effects of Nosema and viruses can be lethal.
Randy Oliver discusses current studies into Nosema ceranae on his website, http://scientificbeekeeping.com/nosema-ceranae-kiss-of-death-or-much-ado-about-nothing/. In time for the major summer nectar flows in the Arkansas Delta, I am spacing nine frames so the bees can extend the honeycomb.