Thursday, September 9, 2021

Small Hive Beetles

 


The worker bees in a strong colony protect the fragile beeswax combs that hold honey, pollen, bee bread, and brood required to sustain the colony. However, whenever a colony is weakened, either by becoming queenless or through disease, hive scavengers rapidly move in and destroy the combs. The principal hive scavengers are wax moths and small hive beetles, and it is the larval stage of both of these insects that destroys the combs of unprotected hives. Wax moths have been a part of American beekeeping since the bees were brought to the New World in colonial times. However, the small hive beetle is a much more recently introduced invasive pest, having arrived from Africa in 1998. It spread across the country in just four years.

 

Strong honey bee colonies have plenty of workers to drive adult beetles to the far edges of the hive where the bees build “jails” of propolis to trap and hold beetles. If a hive loses its queen or is stressed by disease or environmental damages, the opportunistic beetles rapidly expand their reproduction, and small hive beetle populations explode exponentially. Beetle reproduction is especially rapid in hot weather. Today’s photo shows beetle larvae in a hive that lost its queen in a late summer supersedure attempt. The voracious larvae are attracted to the protein of stored pollen. As beetle larvae devour the hive’s pollen, honey, brood, and beeswax combs, they leave behind a “slime” of their waste. Yeast grows on the slime which has the odor of fermenting oranges. The odor repels honey bees and attracts small hive beetles from great distances. The beetles’ highly sensitive antennae detect honey bee alarm pheromone from distressed colonies small hive beetle slime odor. It often takes the bees a full year to build their combs, and they can be destroyed quickly by small hive beetle larvae. Scavenging beetle larvae destroy natural beeswax hive foundation, but plastic foundation can be reused after washing away the slime with water.

--Richard

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Insecticides Kill Bees

 


Honey bee foragers bring flower nectar and pollen into the hive as food. The nectar is carbohydrate that the bees convert into honey. Pollen is primarily protein; it also contains fats, vitamins, and minerals. When honey and pollen are combined in the hive, the food is called “bee bread.” Yeast and bacteria from the bees’ gut microflora cause fermentation of bee bread, breaking down the hard shell around pollen grains and exposing the proteins. Fermentation also preserves bee bread. Young worker bees consume bee bread, and glands in the workers’ head produce brood food that nurse bees feed to developing bee larvae. Bee bread is also used to produce royal jelly, a high-energy food fed to all brood in its first day and fed to the queen bee throughout her life.

When honey bee foragers visit flowers, pollen grains adhere to the bees’ hairy bodies. The bees groom the dusty pollen into pellets that they carry on “pollen baskets” on their hind legs. Honey bees at times pick up environmental dusts that adhere to their bodies similarly to pollen. Grain dust from poultry feed is commonly collected by honey bees. Chemical pesticides in dust form are also accidentally collected by bees and brought back to the hives. Carbaryl, and insecticide sold under the name “Sevin,” is particularly deadly to honey bees when applied to flowers in dust form. Insecticides may kill honey bees rapidly on contact or ingestion. However, they may kill bees more slowly if the poison is stored as pollen and later converted into bee bread. When the bees feed their brood secretions from poisoned bee bread, they kill the developing bees. Likewise, they can kill the queen by feeding her poisoned royal jelly. Beekeepers look for larger numbers of dead bees on the ground near the hive entrances, seen in today’s photo. I, and other area beekeepers, lost brood and queens in a number of hives. Those using insecticides should use caution and be prudent applying chemicals.

--Richard

Monday, May 17, 2021

Nuc Hives and Packages


How can you get a colony of bees for your new bee hive? You may purchase a complete hive from a beekeeper along with its colony of bees, or you may purchase a nucleus hive, or nuc, which is a small colony taken from a full-size hive. A nuc is a bee colony in equilibrium; it contains an egg-laying queen, brood of all stages, and workers of all ages. A nuc may be a split, or colony division. A split is made by dividing a hive, moving frames of bees to a new hive and introducing a new queen. Alternately, you may purchase a package of bees: bees in a box and not on frames. A package of bees typically contains three pounds of bees, about 12,000 bees, and a mated queen held in a protective cage. The bees in a package are workers gathered from numerous hives, and the queen is reared separately. A package of bees only becomes a colony after a few days when the bees detect and then organize their behavior around the queen’s pheromones.

 

You can gather bees when colonies swarm. Swarming is a natural occurrence; it is reproduction of bees on a colony-wide basis. European honey bee colonies, like those we have in the U.S., typically swarm once a year. If you are able to capture a swarm, it can be moved into a hive. You can put swarm catcher hives, or bait hives, in trees to attract swarming bees. There are two methods of moving bee colonies that are already established in structures like hollow trees or walls of buildings. You can attempt a trap-out, where you build a funnel to allow bees to exit the structure and not reenter. A cut-out involves physically opening the structure and cutting out the combs containing the bees and brood. I’ve bought or sold bees using each of these methods. Today’s photo: nucleus hives awaiting beekeeper pick-up at Bemis Honey Bee Farm in Little Rock.

--Richard

Friday, February 19, 2021

Winter Tests Bee Colonies

 


Winter weather tests honey bee colonies and the beekeepers who set up the hives last fall. This year’s cold temperatures and heavy snow contrasted with recent years which saw mild temperatures and very little snowfall. Winds that normally swirl around the arctic, known as the polar vortex, took a dip deep into the South. Southern states recorded the coldest temperatures in years, and Arkansas and much of the South was blanketed with snow. Honey bees have the same requirements as humans: a warm, dry house, food, water, and an environment free of toxins. When beekeepers set up their hives for the winter, they make sure that the bees have plenty of food, placed where the bees can access it. Especially in the winter, bee hives must have adequate ventilation; hives must be able to vent considerable amounts of water vapor. Honey bee respiration produces water vapor, and water from condensation dripping in the hive can kill bees. With air entering bee hives through screened bottom boards or hive entrances, a small vent in the inner cover allows moist air to escape. Snow covering the entrances is porous and should allow air to enter the hives; however, bees must wait for a snow melt or the beekeeper’s clearing of hive entrances to make cleansing flights.

 

Bee hives are by design resistant to winter weather. Cold winds are dampened by parallel sheets of honeycomb, and empty comb cells hold dead air, providing natural insulation. In the South, wrapping of hives and closing screened bottom boards is generally unnecessary. New beekeepers learn the necessary hive preparation techniques from seasoned beekeepers in their area. Regardless of the beekeeper’s care in setting up hives for winter, there are often some colony losses. The majority of these losses are due to starvation. Bees are capable at regulating temperatures in the hive, but starvation often results from small wintertime bee clusters not being able to move about the hive in extended cold weather to access stored honey.

--Richard

Friday, February 5, 2021

Winter Hive Walk Around

 


Beekeeping involves observing hives from the outside as much as on the inside. Beekeepers can’t risk opening hives for a thorough examination during cold weather, but we should occasionally visit the hives during cold and inclement weather. Much can be told of the condition of the colonies inside the bee hives by observing from the outside. Bees do not venture outside the hives when temperatures are below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. They remain inside, clustered together to retain warmth. Honey bees eat their high-energy food, honey, and generate heat in their flight muscles. Only on warm days, bees venture from their hive to make cleansing flights to eliminate their body waste. You will see forager bees that are collecting water, nectar, and pollen. Observing foragers returning to a hive carrying pollen on their pollen baskets of their hind legs usually indicates that their queen is laying eggs. Finding some dead bees on the ground in front of the hives is normal, as a number of bees die inside the hive every day, and they are removed from the hive. A foul odor at a hive may indicate a dead colony with a large number of bees decaying on the hive’s bottom board. If the air temperature is close to 50 degrees, the beekeeper may briefly open a hive’s cover to see if the bees are alive. If the colony has died, the beekeeper needs to protect the combs so that they will not be destroyed by hive scavengers.

 

On my hive visit today, I observed bee pupae on the landing board at the entrance to one hive as seen here. Likely, the workers are aborting brood infested with parasitic Varroa mites. A genetic trait, called hygienic behavior, allows workers to detect Varroa developing with the bee pupae and abort the bee and mites. When the weather warms enough for me to open the hives, I will measure the mite loads and apply an appropriate treatment if the mites exceed prescribed thresholds.

--Richard

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Pax Vobiscum


The year 2020 has been dominated by the Covid-19 virus. Viruses are infectious agents, smaller than bacteria, that infect all types of life forms, from animals and plants, even microorganisms. Millions of viruses exist; some infect a narrow group of hosts, and others infect a wide group of hosts. Viruses are carried, or vectored, from one host to another by a number of means. For example, viruses are passed between plants by chewing insects, and viruses causing the common cold are passed airborne between humans when infected people cough or sneeze. Humans and honey bees are affected by a number of viral diseases. Beekeepers fight the ill-effects of viral diseases of honey bees to maintain healthy colonies, aware of sacbrood disease and bee paralysis, caused by viruses, as well as Kashmir virus, black queen cell virus, and deformed wing virus. At least 50 viruses vectored by parasitic Varroa mites have been identified.

Humans are affected by a number of viral diseases including chicken pox and the common cold. A number of viruses exist in both honey bees and humans without doing harm to their host. However, a new virus, known as Covid-19, entered the human population and spread rapidly around the world this year. The highly contagious virus killed 300,000 people in the U.S. and sickened many more. Persons are susceptible to becoming ill after exposure to the Covid-19 virus unless they have developed an immunity either by having the disease and recovering or by receiving a vaccine. Vaccines for Covid-19 are being developed and distributed. Currently there are no vaccines to protect honey bees from the many viruses that are vectored by Varroa mites. The only effective means of protecting either humans or bees from viruses is to maintain a distance from the vector. With humans, that means wearing masks, maintaining separation, and isolation. With bees, it means controlling Varroa populations. Mindful and saddened by our losses to Covid-19, the Underhills of Peace Bee Farm wish peace be with you.

--Richard

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Bees are Foraging Propolis


Honey bees and beekeepers are preparing hives for winter. One of the bees’ hive preparations involves collecting propolis. Bees gather resins and gums from trees to produce propolis, the antimicrobial “bee glue” that they use to varnish their hives. The bees seal all unwanted openings in the hive with propolis to block entrance of unwanted insect intruders. Cracks inside the hive, smaller than a bee space of three eights of an inch, are filled with propolis. This includes the seams between the several boxes that make up a modern bee hive as well as the space along the edges of hive frames. A sturdy beekeeper’s hive tool is required to break the propolis bonds of individual boxes and frames. Propolis is sticky in warm weather and brittle when cold. The bees in today’s photo are foraging propolis warmed by the sun. Bees use the propolis to control unwanted drafts inside their hive, even building propolis plenums in the hive to block chilling winter air flows. Guard bees drive small hive beetles into sticky propolis “jails” to help control these hive pests. The antibacterial and antifungal propolis is an important element in the honey bee colony’s health. If a hive invader, such as a mouse, cannot be removed by the bees, they will encapsulate the dead body in propolis to prevent the spread of bacteria in the hive.

 

Inside the hive, worker bees are concentrating the honey from cells high in the hive to cells closer to the brood nest. While the bees continue to forage for fall nectar, beekeepers need to ensure that every hive has adequate honey stored for the winter. The essence of beekeeping is to tend to healthy colonies and not get too greedy when robbing the hives. If a beekeeper takes too much honey from a hive, the colony will starve over winter. How much honey should one leave on the hives? The answer comes from the shared experience of beekeepers in the local area.

--Richard