CSI on My Dead NUCS

I started the winter with 2 NUCS (and 5 hives) – but the NUCs were dead by the end of December.   Last week, I took the dead hives apart to clean them as well as to do some Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) to try to determine why the hives died.

When I opened up the NUC, I found plenty of  capped stores (honey and sugar water) so I know they didn’t starve.  What I also found on the bottom board was some chewed wax along with a bunch of black specs. The chewed wax was most likely from the wax cappings the bees chewed to access the stored honey.   The black specs, while too small to ID with the naked eye (at least in my case). I suspected they might be Varroa Mites – one of the three biggest challenges to bee health (the other two being monoculture & pesticides/insecticides).

I collected samples, looked at them under my digital microscope, and confirmed my suspicions  – both NUCs most likely died due to the weaknesses from varroa mite infestation.   The sample I collected had ~20 mites in it:

Varroa Mites collected from dead NUCs
This gives you an idea how small the mites are – the gray stick at the right is mechanical pencil lead.

As you can see from these pictures the mites are very small compared to the bee – or even a piece of mechanical pencil lead.

As I mentioned above, Varroa Mites are one of the three biggest threats to honeybee health.  They are blamed for the major decline in our feral honeybee colonies.  These parasites  not only weaken the bee from sucking their blood,  but they are also  a “vector” for other diseases. The combination of the holes a mite creates in the bee’s exoskeleton along with being in a weakened state makes them susceptible to other viruses & diseases – especially ones carried by the mites such as deformed wing virus. These “other” virus & diseases is what most often kills the bees & colony.

Varroa mites are found in all hives through the US (and all countries in the world except Australia), It isn’t a question of   IF you have mites, it is a question of what level of mite activity do you have.   We cannot eradicate mites from the hive but must control them to a level where the colony can remain healthy.  Many  beekeepers use a combination of Integrated Pest Management methods and treatments to control the mites.   Unfortunately, the mites have already developed resistance to some of the treatments.

Even if you do everything you can to control the mites, sometimes, events are out of your control – the latest buzz words for a mite infestation is “varroa bom”.  One example is when you have a colony that is healthy, but they start robbing stores from one that has a heavy varroa load (a “varroa bom colony”).  Your bees now bring home mites, causing a heavy infestation in your hive.

My guess is that my NUCs  raided the hive of my “bees in the tree” after they died in early fall.  (this swarm that took up residence in one of my maple trees, but died in the fall).  I don’t know why the bee in the tree died but probably from Varroa since they couldn’t be treated.

Managing varroa mites in your colonies and developing varroa resistant bees is one of the biggest areas of honeybee research.  I don’t think they’ll find a silver bullet to solve all of the issues, but I’m sure as we learn more, we’ll be able to manage the colonies so we have fewer losses.

#hiveLoss  #VarroaMites

 

 

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“Banking” queen bees

One of the things I love about beekeeping is that I’m always learning something new!  The  latest is about “queen banking”, and while the first thing you may have pictured was me going into my local bank branch with a tiara on – nope that isn’t what it means!

I started the winter with 5 hives & 2 Nucs.  I lost the two Nucs in late Dec & one of the hives in early February.  In Mid-march the other 4 hives were still alive – 2 were very strong & 2 were alive – but weak.   Unfortunately,   the last 2 weeks of March were unseasonably cold & rainy… and the two weak hives perished – one the third week of March & the other a week or so later.

When the weather got a little nicer, I opened the cover of one of these recently deceased hives to see if I could figure out why it died.. I pulled a frame, and there was the queen bee + 4 other attendants with her. My first thought was – “oh that’s too bad, they must have froze because there weren’t many bees around”.  I proceeded to nudge the queen with my finger & she started walking around!

Knowing that she wouldn’t survive in the hive by herself (queens required attendants to keep her warm & feed her), I scooped her up along with the other 4 or 5 bees and put them in a tupperware container  with some sugar water in a dish, put a screen over it, and placed the container in a dark area. of the house   Checking on her an hour or so later, she was starting to move around well & looked like she would survive!   Next I had to figure out what I was going to do with her  – if it were later in the year, I’d pull some frames of brood from the strong hive & start a new colony with her, but April is too early to do that since they are just starting to raise brood.  I know I can’t add her to one of the existing colonies because the queen that is already  in the colony will try to kill her.  So the  $10,000 question  – how do I keep the queen alive until I can split one of the other colonies?

I called one of my beekeeping mentors, Allen Lindahl, and he said – “oh just bank her” to which I responded “what? I’ve never heard of that!”  I learned that banking queens is a common practice among beekeepers who raise queens – it is a way to keep them alive & healthy while waiting to go into a hive.   What you do is, first put a queen excluder into a strong hive (  A queen excluder is a metal grate with openings big enough to allow worker bees to pass through but not a queen). Next,  put the queen  you want to save & her attendants into a queen cage, and place it on top of the queen excluder.     The “banked” queen will be protected from the other queen by the queen excluder & the cage, but the worker bees in the colony will feed the “banked” queen so she will survive.

I figured – what do I have to lose, she’ll die if I leave her in the tupperware container or put her in a hive to early – so I “banked” her in the stronger of the two surviving hives about 1.5 weeks ago.  I checked on her just the other day & she looks great!.. She is running around her little queen cage wanting to get out, she is very fat – meaning she is ready to start laying eggs… so now all I need is to wait another couple weeks to be able to pull a frame or two of bees & brood so I can put her in a NUC to start a new hive!

Stay tuned!

#queenBanking

 

 

New Toys for Christmas

Hope everyone had a great holiday!  I certainly did.

I got a fun new “toy” for Christmas  – a digital microscope  (think of a web cam that can magnify!)..  I’ve only played with it a bit so far.. but I think it is going to be great!

Here’s a few examples of what you can do with it.

I first looked at a ladybug as it crawled around.  The Microscope lets you take a video.  Check this out  –


Later in the day, I was down at the hives & found a couple dead bees.. so I looked at them with the microscope.  I’m impressed at the quality of the magnification!

Here’s a picture of the bee – the tools allow you to annotate the picture:

Bee closeup
close up of one of my bees

Next I zoomed in even more  – This one is of the Thorax.. you can even see how it is “hinged”.

honeybee thorax

Here’s a close up of honeybee legs… you can even see the individual hairs!

honeybee legs
It is amazing how hairy this bee is!

I’m definitely going to use some of these new pictures in my “bee talks”..  and maybe even bring the microscope with me to look at things “live”.

So stay tuned for more pictures from my new toy.. suggestions of what I should look at next are gladly welcome!

 

 

TED talk showing a honeybee being born

Last year, there was a TED (Technology, Education & Design)  talk by a person who raised honeybees in his backyard and figured out a way to video what happens in the cell from an egg to the birth of the bee. He also talks about varroa mites (one of the honey bee’s biggest challenge) and the current research on varroa resistant bees.

It’s a pretty amazing video:

https://www.ted.com/talks/anand_varma_a_thrilling_look_at_the_first_21_days_of_a_bee_s_life?language=en