Isolation Starvation

Starved Bees
Starved Bees

The saddest sight a beekeeper can see is a huddle of dead bees, heads thrust deep inside empty wax cells, with the queen dead in the middle. And the wretched thing is that they had starved just an inch away from a broad, golden arc of honey. This phenomenon is called “Isolation Starvation“. 

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Rhubarb, Rhubarb

Varroa - Courtesy Of The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) Crown Copyright
Varroa Mites On A Bee – Courtesy Of The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) Crown Copyright

Beekeepers are getting hot under the collar about an academic study which compares the different methods of applying oxalic acid (derived from rhubarb leaves) to a hive to combat the pernicious varroa mite. Oh yes. Continue reading “Rhubarb, Rhubarb”

Bret’s Bajan Bees

Bret Tujela
Bret Tujela

On a previous visit to Barbados, I had met Ben The Bajan Beekeeper. Following my blog post, I received an invitation from one of Ben’s fellow beekeepers, Bret Tujela, to visit his Bajan Bees when I was next on the island.

Bret responded enthusiastically when I let him know that the entire Apis beekeeping family would be holidaying in Barbados. He was keen for us to see his bees as soon as we got off the plane. That was before we had hired a car, so we postponed the invitation. That was to prove fateful.

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The Sawh Dynasty

Sawh Sign
The Sawh Sign

Maff spotted the sign, on the outskirts of Bridgetown, Barbados: “Sawh’s Bee Hiving Enterprise – we specialize in bee hive removal. 100% pure Honey. 100% pure Bajan.

Irresistible.  I called the number. After a long, almost too long ring, the phone was answered by a woman’s voice. A kind, busy, slightly singing intonation. I explained that I was a beekeeper from London and that I’d like to buy some genuine Bajan honey. “Certainly”, the lady replied: “where are you staying on the island? I’ll bring some to you.”

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Bee Craft : Forage Hangout

Foraging Beekeeper, Out & About

Thanks to James Dearsley at Bee Craft for hosting this on-line Google+ “Hang-out” on Forage and Natural Beekeeping tonight.

More on my Berlin trip later. It gave me exceptionally intriguing insights into another city’s beekeeping experience. Much more on Forage later, too. I’ve been out and about on that topic and have a real breakthrough. By beekeepers, for beekeepers. Yes, indeed!

But for now, here’s the Hang-Out….

Changeling Varroa

Newly-Emerged Bee With Varroa Mites (The Brown Discs)
Newly-Emerged Bee With Varroa Mites (Brown Discs)

At the Leiston and District Beekeepers’ Association AGM, some exciting new research into varroa mites was disclosed. (The L&DBKA partly sponsors an Eastern Area Research Student (EARS) project and that student is associated with this research).

These new insights into the fiendish cunning of these deadly bee parasites showed that varroa mites employ chemical camouflage to move, undetected, from the bee, on which they feed, into the brood cells, where they reproduce. Since the odour of a bee is very distinct from the odour in the brood cell, this is quite a transition.

Essentially, a varroa mite can change its chemical profile in between 3 and 9 hours when switching between bee or brood cell hosts and thus remain undetected by the bees. Even a dead varroa mite is capable of mimicking its host’s odour.

Here is the Abstract from The Journal of Chemical Ecology: Social insect colonies provide a stable and safe environment for their members. Despite colonies being heavily guarded, parasites have evolved numerous strategies to invade and inhabit these hostile places. Two such strategies are (true) chemical mimicry via biosynthesis of host odor, and chemical camouflage, in which compounds are acquired from the host. The ectoparasitic mite Varroa destructor feeds on hemolymph of its honey bee host, Apis mellifera. The mite’s odor closely resembles that of its host, which allows V. destructor to remain undetected as it lives on the adult host during its phoretic phase and while reproducing on the honeybee brood. During the mite life cycle, it switches between host adults and brood, which requires it to adjust its profile to mimic the very different odors of honey bee brood and adults. In a series of transfer experiments, using bee adults and pupae, we tested whether V. destructor changes its profile by synthesizing compounds or by using chemical camouflage. We show that V. destructor required direct access to host cuticle to mimic its odor, and that it was unable to synthesize host-specific compounds itself. The mite was able to mimic host odor, even when dead, indicating a passive physico-chemical mechanism of the parasite cuticle. The chemical profile of V. destructor was adjusted within 3 to 9 h after switching hosts, demonstrating that passive camouflage is a highly efficient, fast and flexible way for the mite to adapt to a new host profile when moving between different host life stages or colonies.

That’s just not cricket !

Christmas Day Varroa Treat(-ment)

The varroa mite is an ubiquitous parasite on British honeybees.

Just imagine having a spikey dinner-plate stuck to your back, vampiring your vital fluids – and you have an idea of what a varroa mite does to a bee.

So beekeepers treat their bees against varroa throughout the year, but this mid-winter application of a very dilute (3.2%) rhubarb acid (oxalic acid) in sugar syrup is the most important off all, since the hive should have little of no brood in it – which is where the varroa mites themselves breed – and so all the mites are on the bees (the technical term is “phoretic“) and they are vulnerable to the acid, which the bees transfer around their winter cluster.

In this video, the hive is opened for just one minute as the treatment is applied, so that the overwintering cluster of bees in the brood chamber, heated by the bees to a mid-20C temperature even on my chilly rooftop, does not get dangerously cold.

This will reduce the varroa load dramatically and set the Abbey Hive bees up for a healthy build-up into the spring. Merry Christmas !

Bees In Africa

Kenya Bees
Prof Suresh Kumar Inspecting A Beehive At Icipe HQ

Kenyan newspaper The Star reports that Africa’s largest bee laboratory has opened in Nairobi. I’d never heard of “Colonial Lapse Syndrome” before!

A Sh1.44 billion state-of-the-art bee health reference laboratory has been launched to help study disease and pests in a bid to enhance food security through pollination.

The laboratory is located at the African Insect Science for Food and Health (Icipe) headquarters in Nairobi. It is one of the largest in Africa and will help in investigating bee diseases, sterilisation of bees, genetics, study pesticides that are harmful to bees, GIS mapping, pollination and breeding of bees.

Prof Suresh Kumar Raina, the principal research scientist and team leader of the European Union Bee Health Project in Icipe said management of bee disease and pests is very essential for food security in Africa.
“Pests and diseases are attacking bees more in developed countries than Africa, especially the devastating Varroa mite that is viral and many other fungal and bacterial diseases which affect bees. There is also the Colonial Lapse Disorder where bees have been mysteriously disappearing.

“The exact cause of this disorder is not known as adult worker bees from a honeybee colony on foraging flights simply do not return to the hive. These are some of the research issues we will be investigating in the bee reference laboratory,” said Prof Suresh, adding that the impact of climate change on bee diseases and pests and how substantial the diseases and pests problem in Africa will also be determined.

Bees supply food and are also required for pollination of food plants such as pumpkins, cocoa, coffee, papaya, oranges and passion fruits.
They are crucial for the functioning of our environment as they pollinate 250,000 species of agricultural, medicinal, fibre and other flowering plants, some of which provide food for other organisms. Suresh said the state-of-the-art facility has very expensive equipment in the laboratory, the best ever in the African continent.

“Our research will help farmers improve on their markets quality assurance too, this laboratory is just what many farmers needed,” said Prof Kumar.”

In Abeyance

Sorry, No Bees
Wot, No Bees ?

There are worse ways to spend the Easter holiday than hopping onto the 10.45pm ferry from Portsmouth and then rolling off into the French countryside early the next morning.

We were heading for the in-laws in the flat calm sea of vineyards around St. Nicolas de Bourgueil in the Loire valley. This is the most northerly point in France where quality red wine can be grown. The strict appellation contrôlée rules insist that only grapes from the cabernet franc variety can be used to make a St. Nicolas be Bourgueil wine.

The wine which these vines produce on this sandy soil, layered over clay deposits of a vast former river bed, is light and fruity, but with a slight astringency. Best drunk relatively young, this red wine is served cellar-chilled.

In 2013, these 2,600 acres under vines (visualise a patchwork of 2,600 full-size football pitches) produced around 8 million bottles of wine. Honey-coloured tufa limestone, clean-cut and Flintstone-smart in new-built walls, is testimony to the prosperity of this nook of rural France. But I digress.

It is a truism that success comes at a price. And as we gently gardened in the sunshine, we saw bumblebees and butterflies aplenty. So, I hear you ask, what’s all this got to do with honeybees ? Well, nothing. That’s the point. I didn’t see a single honeybee over 6 days in the spring-flowering gardens. Not one.

My theory is that the man-made monoculture of vines and the attrition of varroa on wild bees share the responsibility for the abeyance of the honeybee from this rural idyll. With a huge communal forest, the mighty Loire and the somnolent suburbs of Bourgueil village, all under 2 miles away, I was astonished by the absence of bees.

There is an old French adage: “long comme un jour sans pain” – or, “as long as a day without bread” – to conjure up the torment to the gallic soul of a day deprived of that vital commodity, bread.

Here in St. Nicolas de Bourgueil, I’m tempted to translate that quaint expression into a beekeeper’s lament: “long comme un jour sans abeilles” – or, “as long as a day without bees“.