Speaking at the Arkansas Beekeepers Association’s fall conference in Mountain View, Arkansas, Dr. Tom Seeley, author of Honeybee Democracy, described his genetics study of feral honeybees collected at Cornell University’s Arnot Forest in 1977 and 2010, http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2015/150806/ncomms8991/full/ncomms8991.html. The study analyzed honey bees before and after the arrival of parasitic Varroa mites. Surprisingly, colony densities in the forest remained the same after the introduction of the mites. Bees collected in 2010 were, however, the offspring of only a few surviving colonies that repopulated the forest. Finding feral survivor colonies is encouraging news for beekeepers.
Other work by Dr. Seeley defined the mechanisms honeybees employ in swarming. To determine honey bees’ preferences for choosing a nesting site Dr. Seeley used numerous swarm catcher hives. He questioned: How large a cavity? How large an entrance hole? Hive in the sun or shade? Direction hive should face? Can the hive be drafty? Can the hive be damp? Answering these questions help us design effective swarm catcher hives. Bees choose hives according to their ability to correct hive deficiencies. For example, if a hive is drafty, bees will often accept it because they can easily fill drafty cracks with propolis. On the other hand, bees will often reject a hive in the full sun because it is more difficult to cool in the summer. Pixar Studios filmed honey bee swarms moving from their swarm resting site to their permanent hive. Observing individual bees in flight lead to an understanding of how workers guide the swarm. Of great interest was Dr. Seeley’s finding of feral honey bee colonies surviving in the forest while carrying parasitic Varroa mites. Two significant factors seem to support the feral colonies’ survival. First, there is little drifting of forest bees. Next, honey bees in nature prefer a nest cavity of approximately 40 liters, close to that of a single Langstroth hive body. Small cavity hives develop brood nest congestion, leading to swarming. Swarming interrupts Varroa mite reproduction. Today’s photo: Ozark Mountain maples.