Tag Archives: health

New Year’s Resolutions

Synopsis : Often made, less often kept. How to improve your health, wealth and generosity … good habits for the season ahead, plus wildfires, bananas and XXXL beesuits. New Year’s Resolutions for beekeepers.


Historically, the Babylonians used the start of their New Year as an opportunity to clear old debts, return a kindness or right a wrong. In 2000 BCE 1 these New Year’s resolutions were retrospective, they did something measurable to ‘correct’ a past event.

At some point in the last 4000 years resolutions evolved to become prospective … and acquired increasingly religious connotations. The Romans made promises to their god Janus after whom the month of January is named. The change from a lunar calendar also shifted New Year, from the Babylonian springtime to its current location, shortly after all the mince pies are finished and the tree has shed the last of its needles onto the carpet.

Lots of people – perhaps 40-50% of the population 2 make New Year’s resolutions and almost as many fail to keep them. In many cases this failure seems predestined; asked at New Year whether there’s an expectation that a resolution will be kept, only ~50% say they expect to achieve their goal.

In practice, that’s ambitious.

When asked one year later only 12% had managed to keep the resolution.

‘Close, but no cigar’ 3.

These days the once predominantly religious resolutions have, for many, been replaced by ‘self promises’ that can be broadly categorised as health (e.g. lose weight, quit smoking, get healthier), finance/career (e.g. save money, reduce stress) or generosity (e.g. be helpful, donate to charity).

New Year’s Resolutions for beekeepers

And, in a blatantly-contrived way, some of these resolutions are also relevant to beekeeping.

Like everyone else, beekeepers are just as capable of not keeping their resolutions, despite the clear benefits of doing so.

So, in no particular order, let’s have a look at a few beekeeping resolutions tailored to our obsession but still recognisable as generic or popular New Year’s Resolutions.

Quit smoking

Most beekeepers are smokers, or at least use smokers.

Smoker still life

Smoker still life

In fact, the smoker is probably the most widely recognised tool of our trade. The smoke is used to calm the colony before inspections. It masks the alarm pheromones and so makes inspections a little easier. After smoking a colony and opening it up you will usually find a significant number of the bees gorging on open honey stores or nectar.

This probably accounts for the explanation that bees nesting in tree cavities have, over eons, evolved to respond to smoke from natural forest fires. This response includes gorging on stores so that the colony can abscond – a term used to describe the entire colony abandoning any brood and relocating – to set up home elsewhere.

This is almost certainly incorrect.

Abscond? What’s the point?

Firstly, bees exposed to wildfires do not abscond. Unfortunately they just get cooked, and almost certainly die from either heat or asphyxiation 🙁 . Or, if the nest survives the fire, they starve as there’s no forage in range. Secondly, if you assume it’s midseason and the queen is laying eggs like crazy, they probably cannot abscond as she will be too heavy to fly any distance.

What’s more, if you open a colony without using smoke there will still be bees gorging on honey stores … the disturbance alone is sufficient to make them do this.

Try it.

Mr Smoke-Too-Much

Just like the Monty Python character, you can smoke too much. If you do the bees get disorientated and distressed. On occasion I’ve had to smoke a colony heavily and it’s generally something to avoid (but they never abscond).

Many beekeepers probably rely on smoke rather more than they should. If you smoke a colony heavily at the hive entrance the bees will be driven up … to the exact region you want fewer bees when you manipulate the frames. A very gentle waft under the crownboard and the occasional very light puff to clear bees from the frame lugs should be sufficient.

There are alternatives to smoke. A plant mister with plain water works well for many colonies and is what I often use if I’m just inspecting nucs. There are also commercial smoke/smoker alternatives like Fabi-Spray or Apifuge.

One of the best ways to learn to use less smoke is to keep bees in a shed. If you are over-generous with the smoker you also end up getting ‘kippered’.



I leave the smoker outside the door and only retrieve it when initially opening a colony and very rarely during inspections.

Of course, the best way to need to use less smoke is to select for calm, stable bees when you are queen rearing.

So … perhaps don’t quit smoking, but as Bounder-of-Adventure suggested to Mr Smoke-Too-Much in Monty Python’s Flying Circus, ’better cut down a little’ 4.

Reducing stress

The Oxford English Dictionary has at least 13 definitions for the term stress; although many automatically think of tension or anxiety, biologists also use the term to mean:

Disturbed physiological function occurring in an organism or cell in response to conditions, events, or factors that are deleterious or threatening.

Bees subjected to adverse conditions – like long-distance transport, temperature extremes or disease – show evidence of stress which can be quantified in changes to the levels of molecular markers such as pheromone receptors and immune responses. This ability to respond is important, but it can be at the expense of normal physiological activity; e.g. more fighting pathogens or keeping warm than following waggle dancing foragers or feeding developing larvae.

Whilst I’m not aware of any studies of inspection-induced colony stress 5 I’ve no doubt it occurs … and that it’s at least transiently detrimental. The pheromone levels and gradients in the hive are disrupted, the brood nest is flooded with light, the location of bees in the nest are disturbed.

So, if you assume that that it is detrimental, try and minimise it. Only open the hive if needed, be gentle, use minimal smoke, be quick and calm and controlled … and try not to drop any frames 😉 .

The stressed beekeeper

The greater the disturbance you cause to the colony, the more defensive the bees become. They start pinging off your veil, burrowing into creases in your beesuit, stinging your gloves.

I love the smell of isoamyl acetate

You become aware of a feint but distinct whiff of ripe bananas … that’s the alarm pheromone produced from the Koschevnikov gland at the base of the sting.

Then things start going a bit Pete Tong.

Your stress levels rise, you use too much smoke, you try to work faster but consequently get clumsier, a bee gets inside your veil and you get even more stressed … and smoky … and clumsy … and stung.

If you are tense and anxious before even opening a hive the bees can probably sense it, and this may exacerbate things.

Beekeeping shouldn’t be like this.

To reduce your stress you need to:

  • have confidence in your protective clothing – buy a good quality beesuit and wear additional layers underneath when needed
  • wear gloves that enable good dexterity – thin nitriles rather than welding gauntlets
  • take care to cover areas of weakness – cuffs, ankles etc. (the bees will find them)
  • requeen defensive colonies as soon as practical from better quality stock
  • learn to inspect the colony quickly and calmly by practising (don’t avoid conducting inspections)
  • and, if you’re frightened of the sting reaction, take antihistamines in advance of apiary visits

Beekeeping is supposed to be an enthralling and relaxing pastime. If it’s a stressful battle – for you or the bees – then something is wrong.

Improved health

This is a huge topic and needs more than a few hundred words – here are three examples of good practice:

  • many diseases are always present in the colony but only become a problem under certain conditions. Deformed wing virus (DWV) isn’t an issue until Varroa levels rise, chalkbrood often ‘disappears’ by mid-season as the colony strengthens. Weak colonies are often more susceptible to disease and/or more likely to show symptoms. It therefore makes sense to maintain strong colonies. Take account of environmental conditions; don’t split them too hard and feed if necessary. Wasps and robbing bees aren’t ‘diseases’ but strong colonies are also better able to defend themselves.
DWV symptoms

DWV symptoms

  • ignore much of the nonsense you read in some surveys of colony losses. The biggest problem most beekeepers face is the toxic combination of DWV and Varroa. I would be amazed if these accounted for <75% of all annual colony losses. Isolation starvation? Nope … the winter bees died faster due to high levels of DWV and the little cluster froze to death. Monitor your Varroa levels a few times during the season and look out for overt DWV symptoms – much of either and you might need to intervene. Yes, there are other things to look out for, but mites and viruses are the biggest problem.

Varroa incursions and introductions in NSW, Australia, 19 December 2022

  • beekeepers are responsible for spreading many pests and pathogens between hives and apiaries. If the global distribution of Varroa doesn’t convince you of this, then the map of Varroa presence in New South Wales should. Similar data exists for foulbroods, where the only reasonable explanation for the presence of the same strain miles apart is hive movements or contaminated equipment. Practise good biosecurity and remember, ‘when you move bees, you move disease’.

Save money

Some beekeepers already have a bit of a reputation in this area … ‘deep pockets, short arms’ as they say 6. Even more beekeepers, whilst not actively mean, enjoy making savings wherever possible – if you want evidence of this just watch the stampeding hordes descend on the trade show sales at beekeeping conventions.

There are lots of ways to save money, at least after the initial expenditure on a hive (or two), beesuit, smoker etc.

Here’s one I started earlier … a Morris board under construction

Brood boxes and supers are probably best purchased as they are difficult/expensive to make without good tools, woodworking expertise and a source of high quality wood. Buy new cedar (even second quality) or poly boxes and they’ll last longer than you will. However, floors, roofs, crownboards and most of the things I consider as the horizontal components of the hive can be easily and inexpensively constructed.

Switching partly or totally to foundationless frames will save you a small fortune over the years.

Honey, honey

Of course, rather than reducing your outgoings, the other way to ‘save’ money is to raise your income.

Is your honey priced correctly? Beefarmers are talking about a glut after the good 2022 season, but I know plenty of places selling excellent local honey for £9-13 a jar (227 g or 340 g). The days when the milkman used to distribute and sell my honey for £4 a pound are long gone 7.

Do your homework, use attractive jars, think about your labelling and remember that well produced local honey is a unique premium product and should be priced accordingly.

Not local honey, but it might well be priced correctly

A final piece of advice on saving money. Omitting or skimping on Varroa treatments is false economy. I use Apivar and Api-Bioxal and spend less per hive per year than the cost of one 340 g jar of honey 8. That’s a small price to pay 9 and is a cost I more than recoup from increased honey production or reduced overwinter losses.

Be more helpful

One of the best ways to learn is to teach.

If you’ve got a year or two of beekeeping experience why not volunteer to act as a mentor for beginners? By sharing the responsibility for an additional hive or two you will get more beekeeping experience than if you just manage your own. These additional colonies will make the distinction between ‘good’ bees and ‘poor’ bees much easier, particularly if they share a similar environment.

Checking grafted larvae

Mentoring and training … the best way to learn

The inevitable questions from your mentee will challenge your understanding of the bees;

  • Is this a queen cell or a play cup? What’s the difference between them anyway?
  • Does this queen look inbred? Is there another explanation for a pepper-pot brood pattern?
  • How do I cut out a queen cell overlaying a foundation wire?

As good as the training course was that I attended, and despite my attentiveness during my subsequent solo blunderings 10, I’ve learnt much more from mentoring since I started.

Try it, you won’t regret it. You already know more than you think you know, and – if you’re anything like me – you’re only just realising how much else there is to learn.

Donate more to charity

I am aware of two charities that promote beekeeping in communities, supporting sustainable beekeeping to combat poverty, build resilient livelihoods and benefit biodiversity” and who mentor and train in local beekeeping best practices, business skills, and protecting the environment” 11 :

Both do really valuable work, primarily in Africa, but in other countries as well.

You can donate directly or purchase anti-tamper labels for jars that also help promote the work of the charity to the purchaser/consumers of your honey. Gift Aid donations if you can.

Lose weight

No, no, no … I don’t think so.

This one is the exception.

Other than during the self-flagellation exercise that is honey extraction, in particular shifting full supers from hives to the the store and then to the extractor, I don’t think there are any circumstances when beekeepers want less weight.

  1. I want my supers to be bloated with honey and I want them stacked head high.
  2. Colonies going into winter should be stuffed with stores and correspondingly heavy.
  3. I want the heaviest swarms possible to conveniently make their way to my bait hives. Bring it on, the more the merrier. They’ll get established faster and may even yield a good crop of honey (see 1, above).

There may be things I’m overlooking and my basic politeness means I have no intention of discussing anything to do with XXXL beesuits.

Does my bum look big in this?

Bargain basement

NHBS 12 currently have a special offer (£13.99 rather than £23.99) on Thomas Seeley’s The Lives of Bees. Although I’m not a fan of his Darwinian Beekeeping ideas, the book is an outstanding account of the biology of free-living honey bees. It is not a book about beekeeping but it explains loads of things about their behaviour which will help you understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. 

The Autumn of the Matriarch

I’ve previously commented that weak colonies that build up very slowly in Spring are more trouble than they’re worth. The resources they need – syrup, frames of emerging brood, more TLC – are rarely reflected in the subsequent honey yield.

Quite the contrary, they’re often a lost cause and it could be argued that, from a purely efficiency point of view, it would be better if the colony succumbed during the winter than staggered on into the Spring.

Better still, assuming they’re disease free, use the bees in the autumn by sacrificing the queen and uniting the colony with a strong colony. You’ll boost the latter and strong colonies both overwinter better and build up better the following year.

Do as I say, don’t do as I do.

All the above makes perfect sense, but a combination of sentimentality and ill-placed optimism means that it’s not unusual – in late Spring – to find myself being reminded that “weak colonies that build up very slowly in Spring are more trouble than they’re worth”.

And it’s happened again.

One of my colonies was undersized in late autumn and had built up very slowly this Spring. The queen was a little older than most in the apiary but she’d done well in the past and I thought she might have another season in her. Varroa drops in late autumn and mid-winter had been very low and the bees were beautifully tempered, calm, steady on the comb and a pleasure to work with.

But in the first inspection of the year (10th of May) there just weren’t enough of them. The queen was laying, pollen was coming in, there were no signs of disease and the colony behaviour remained exemplary.

Lagging behind

Comparison between colonies is very informative. That’s why it’s easier to maintain two colonies than one. Other colonies in the same apiary were building up well. By late May I was starting swarm prevention measures on these, using pre-emptive vertical splits.

The small colony was largely forgotten or ignored. I peeked through the perspex crownboard a couple of times and could see they were building up.


I got distracted harvesting the early season honey from other colonies, running out of frames and with more swarm prevention and control. I finally completed a full inspection of the colony on the 17th of June, shortly before the summer solstice and the first official day of summer (so still technically Spring).

Queen failure … not epic, but failure nevertheless

The colony had only a couple of frames of brood and covered a frame or two more than that. The temper and behaviour was still very good. The queen was present and laying. She was being attended by a retinue of workers and not being ignored or harassed.

Failing queen ...

Failing queen …

But she was clearly losing her faculties. Many of the cells contained two or more eggs.

Multiple eggs in cells are often seen with laying workers and sometimes seen when a newly mated queen first starts laying. With laying workers the eggs are often placed on the sidewalls of cells and, as they’re unmated, they develop into drones. The brood pattern is scattered randomly around the frame. With newly mated queens the eggs are usually correctly placed in the base of the cell.

Occam’s razor

The colony was clearly doomed. They showed no sign of trying to replace the queen, without which the future was bleak. I needed to rescue something from the situation. The choice depended on my interpretation of what had gone wrong. The options were:

  1. Queen failure, plain and simple
  2. Laying workers in a colony with a failed queen still present (an unusual situation)
  3. A new, recently mated, queen was also present with the old queen (supercedure)

A thorough inspection of the colony failed to find another queen or any evidence of a recently vacated queen cell. Frankly this didn’t take long, the colony was simply too small to ‘hide’ either of these. Option 3 could therefore be discounted. The presence of another queen would be really important if I was considering requeening the colony or uniting it with a queenright hive – both these are likely to go badly if there was a queen still present.

There was no drone brood at all in the colony and the laying pattern was clustered as would be expected from eggs laid by a queen. Option 2 could therefore almost certainly be discounted. Fortunately again as it’s difficult to requeen a colony containing laying workers. As another aside, I can’t remember seeing a colony with laying workers that also contained a (failed) queen.

That left the most likely explanation for the multiple eggs (and the undersized colony) was the simple failure of the queen. For whatever reason, she was laying at a much lower rate than usual and had started laying multiple eggs in cells. Of the three possibilities, this is the most straightforward. Occam’s razor (William of Ockham, ~1287-1347) is the problem-solving principle that states that the simplest explanation is probably the correct one.

Better late than never

The queen was removed from the colony and it was united over newspaper on top of a strong hive in the same apiary. Two days later the Varroa board underneath the colony was covered in shredded paper indicating that the colonies were united successfully.

Successful uniting ...

Successful uniting …

Which is what I should have done in mid-autumn last year.

Better late than never  😉

A few days later I rearranged the colony, placing the two frames of brood into the bottom brood box and putting a clearer board underneath the top brood box. The resulting single colony, now a bit stronger, will be well-placed for the summer nectar flow and the nine frames of drawn comb vacated by the colony will be reused making up nucs for overwintering.

† Interestingly, I’ve never seen several larvae developing in cells after the multiple eggs hatch. Either the excess eggs or larvae must be removed by workers. I presume this means that the workers can’t count eggs, but may be able to count larvae – not literally of course, but by the amount of pheromones produced presumably. If they could count eggs they’d remove the excess and leave only one, making the identification of laying workers (or a recently mated misfiring queen) much more difficult. Something to be thankful for perhaps? They can, of course, identify the origin of eggs – this process is the basis of worker policing which was touched on in discussion of Apis mellifera capensis, and is of relevance to those using grafting for queen rearing.


The title of this post is a corruption of The Autumn of the Patriarch, a book by the Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez, written in 1975. The book is about the God-like power and status of a dictator, the General, and the awe in which he is held by the people. Of course, this isn’t the situation in matriarchal honey bee colonies, the structure of which is determined as much – if not more – by the workers, the brood and the circulating pheromones.

Take one for the team

You know it makes sense

You know it makes sense

… would have been a much better title for an interesting recent paper on the impact of Varroa on honey bee colonies. More specifically, the snappily titled “Social apoptosis in honey bee super organisms” (Page et al., 2016 Scientific Reports 6: 27210 doi:10.1038/srep27210) attempts to answer how and why the natural host of Varroa, the Eastern honey bee (Apis cerana), copes with mite infestation whereas ‘our’ bees (Apis mellifera), the Western honey bee, succumbs within 2-3 years without mite-control? The paper is Open Access so you don’t need to pay to read it and you can find it here.

Only the good damaged die young 

The authors demonstrate that A. cerana mite-associated pupae die before they emerge, whereas those of A. mellifera do not. As a consequence of this the mite levels are unable to build up to damaging levels in the colony. Essentially the pupae on which the mites feed die very quickly, meaning the mite also dies. They determined this by uncapping and examining age-matched pupae one day before natural emergence (see below) in Varroa-infested or uninfested colonies. Varroa-associated pupae (upper row in the image below) had all died during pupation.

Infested (above) and control (below) A. cerana pupae

Infested (above) and control (below) A. cerana pupae

In an extension to this study the authors showed that puncturing pupae with a sterile glass needle and then re-sealing the cell (you can do this with gelatin) also results in the pupae dying. The needle used had the same diameter as the chelicerae of the Varroa mite, so this treatment recapitulated the physical damage caused by the mite. Since the needle was sterile it was unlikely that the pupae were dying from exposure to the viruses (or other pathogens) transmitted by the Varroa mite. Instead, it seems that the Eastern honey bee has evolved mechanisms of “self-sacrifice” in response to wounding that result in the death of damaged pupae before the infesting mite has had a chance to multiply. Clever.

Social apoptosis

Apoptosis is the term used by cell biologists to describe a series of events that are also called programmed cell death seen, for example, in virus-infected cells. If a cell detects that it is virus infected, a cascade of signalling events result in it undergoing apoptosis (it dies), so preventing the infecting virus from replicating properly and spreading to neighbouring cells in the organism. Social apoptosis is a similar process, the death of an infected – or infested – member of the superorganism, the honey bee colony.

Immunity is a term meaning ‘having resistance to’, for example immunity to measles due to prior vaccination or infection. Generally, immunity is a reflection of strength of the recipient or exposed to the ‘abuse’ caused by the infectious agent. In contrast, the mechanism described for A. cerana is the opposite of this, instead being a form of immunity through weakness or susceptibility.

A. cerana has additional resistance mechanisms that help it combat Varroa infestation including enhanced grooming, removal of mites from unsealed brood, entombing multiply mite-associated drone brood (it’s not clear to me whether this is the same mechanism as the social apoptosis reported here), increased hygienic behaviour and shorter developmental cycles. These will have evolved over the millennia that the mite and bee have associated.

Any chance A. mellifera will evolve a similar mechanism?

Possibly, but I’m not holding my breath. There are already hygienic strains of A. mellifera – for example, VSH bees developed by the USDA group at Baton Rouge. These typically uncap and discard Varroa-associated pupae. This isn’t the same process as the social apoptosis reported here in A. cerana. The latter pupae die prematurely, thereby preventing mite reproduction. While we’re on the subject of Varroa and genetic resistance – do VSH A. mellifera strains open and discard mite-associated pupae … a) early enough to prevent significant levels of mite replication, and b) without releasing progeny mites from the cells they were raised in? I’m aware of the rates at which they clear out Varroa infested cells, but not either the timing of these events or the fate of any Varroa released at the same time.

It’s difficult to imagine a practical strategy to select for A. mellifera honey bee pupae that are more sensitive to Varroa infestation … our bees are currently too robust.

Billy Joel wrote Only the good die young which appeared on his 1977 album The Stranger. “[Not] so much anti-Catholic as pro-lust” Joel explained when it was censored, inevitably ensuring its chart success. The song has more to do with the birds and the bees …  😉


Keep your distance

A recent paper by Nolan and Delaplane (Apidologie 10.1007/s13592-016-0443-9) provides further evidence that drifting/robbing between colonies is an important contributor to Varroa transmission. In the study they established multiple pairs of essentially Varroa-free colonies 0, 10 or 100 metres apart and then spiked one of the pair with a known number of Varroa. They then monitored mite build-up in the paired colonies over several months. By comparison of the relative mite increases in colonies separated by different distances they showed that the more closely spaced, the more likely they were to acquire more Varroa, presumably through robbing or drifting.

This isn’t rocket science. However, it’s a nicely-conducted study and emphasises the importance of colony spacing on the transmission of phoretic mites between infested and uninfested colonies – through the normal colony activities such as robbing and drifting – as a primary cause of deformed wing virus (DWV) disease spread in the honey bee population. The paper only studies mite levels, but the association with DWV transmission is well established and unequivocal.

Related studies on the influence of colony/apiary separation

The introduction to the paper provides a good overview of the prior literature on the impact of drifting on disease and Varroa transmission, some of which has already been discussed here. However, some of these studies have not previously been mentioned and deserve an airing, for example:

  • Sakofski et al., (1990) showed that there was no difference in mite migration between colonies in closely-spaced rows from those located up to 10m apart.
  • Frey and Rosenkranz (2014) showed that high-density colonies (>300 within flight range [2.5 km] of the sentinel colonies) experienced approaching 4-fold greater inbound mite migration than when located in areas containing a low-density of treated colonies. Over a 3.5 month period the difference was 462 +/- 74 vs. 126 +/- 16 mites. This would have a very significant impact if allowed to subsequently replicate in the recipient colonies.
  • Frey et al., (2011) previously investigated mite transfer between colonies located 1m to 1500m apart. Strikingly, in this study (which was conducted during a dearth of nectar) mite transmission was effectively distance-independent, with the recipient colonies acquiring 85 – 444 mites over a 2 month period.

Frey and Rosenkranz (2014) Mite invasion ...

Frey and Rosenkranz (2014) Mite invasion …

What can we conclude from these studies?

  1. Closely-spaced colonies – for example, the sort of distances used to separate colonies in an apiary – should really be viewed as a single location as far as mite infestation is concerned. A single heavily-infested colony in an apiary will quickly act as a source of mites to all other colonies.
  2. High densities of beekeepers – assuming the usual range in both the timing and vigour with which Varroa control is practised – is probably detrimental to maintaining low mite levels in your own bees.
  3. Significant mite transmission occurs over distances of at least 1.5 km … not just between hives in a single apiary. How many colonies are there within 1.5 km of your own apiary? Even if you are careful about controlling mite levels, what about all the beekeepers around you?
  4. Colonies wth uncontrolled levels of mite infestation, abandoned colonies (or swarms that occupy abandoned hives) and feral colonies located at least 1.5 km away are potential sources from which your carefully-maintained hives get re-infested …

Recent experience with high and low density beekeeping

One mile radius ...

One mile radius …

I’ve moved in the last year from the Midlands to Fife. Beebase and my involvement with local beekeepers suggest that these represent areas of high and low colony-density respectively. For comparison, Beebase indicates that there were over 230 apiaries within 10 km of my home apiary in the Midlands and that there are currently 20 within a similar range in Fife. In the Midlands I was aware of at least 25 colonies (in several different apiaries) within a mile of one of my apiaries. Furthermore, apiaries might contain lots of hives … one of those previously within 10 km of my home apiary was our association apiary which held up to 30 colonies from ~15 beekeepers. In contrast, the closest beekeeper to my current home apiary is almost 3km away … though I acknowledge there may well be hives “under the radar” belonging to beekeepers that are not members of the local association or have not bothered to registered on Beebase (why not?). It’s far too early to be definitive but mite levels in my colonies have been reassuringly low this season. This includes uncapping hundreds of drone pupae – the preferred site for Varroa to replicate – without detecting a single mite. I’d like to think this was due to timely and effective Varroa control, but it is undoubtedly helped because my neighbours are further away … and perhaps better at controlling the mite levels in their own colonies.

This study provides further compelling evidence of the importance of either keeping colonies isolated (which may not be possible) and ensuring that all colonies in the same and adjacent apiaries are coordinately treated during efforts to control mite numbers.

Gaffer tape apiary

Gaffer tape apiary …

Save the bees, save humanity

I’ve used this poster in talks a couple of times to make a distinction between colony collapse disorder (CCD) in the US and colony losses due to disease in the UK.

Save the bees ...

Save the bees …

It’s a rather striking poster … although it carries the website address www.nrdc.com (which appears to belong to the National Realty and Development Corp.), the logo and the subject are much more likely to be associated with the Natural Resources Defense Council (www.nrdc.org). Whatever … the message is clear, without bees there will be pollination shortages for many important and valuable fruit and vegetable crops. The term CCD, a still incompletely understood phenomenon where hives are abandoned by workers, was first used in 2006 in the USA and similar types of colony losses have been reported in a number of European countries, though not in the UK. Prior to 2006 there were a range of other names given to apparently similar phenomena – spring dwindle, May disease, fall dwindle disease [PDF] etc.

The ‘Save humanity’ statement possibly refers to the the apocryphal quote attributed to Albert Einstein “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live” … though it’s highly unlikely Einstein ever actually said this. It’s also a rather questionable statement. Certainly honey bees provide important pollination services, but so do many other insects (and not just insects). There are certain crops for which honey bees are important – such as almonds – at least on the scale they grow them in California. However, on a visit-by-visit basis, honey bees can be relatively poor pollinators. For examples, solitary bees such as Osmia sp. are much more efficient pollinators of apples. The inefficiency of honey bees is more than compensated though by their numbers and our ability to move hives to crops that need pollinating.

So, if honey bees are so important, why does the picture above show a wasp?  😉