State Apiarist Andy Joseph
Hopefully ALL your bees have done as well this winter as what I’ve been hearing. Losses should be well below what Iowans have experienced these last several years. I’m seeing lots of strong colonies with several frames of brood and both pollen & nectar being hauled in. The trees are looking great too. A big topic of discussion lately has been, “How has this mild winter affected bees, mosquitoes, crop pests, etc.?” I don’t know that I have a real good answer since so many of the variables are still to come pertaining to our honey crop and colony health. One thing is certain right now: most of us have lots of bees ready to get to work. With further cooperation from weather and temperature, it could be a great year. How’s that for optimism?
With this many frames of brood at this point in the spring, expect swarming to be an issue. Don’t sit back and let your bees leave to go hang from a tree somewhere. Swarming isn’t great for any beekeeper (loss of honey crop, potential problems with requeening…), but it’s especially a concern for all our urban beekeepers. Please do everything you can to reduce the swarming urges of your bees this season. Your non-beekeeping neighbors will often be afraid of the bees likely viewing the swarm as a dangerous threat to their family and pets – and they’ll likely see this as being “all YOUR fault”. Reversing hive bodies, splitting colonies, giving the bees new foundation to build on, and supering up earlier-rather-than-later, all can help reduce the likelihood of swarms. Inspect the hives frequently and always keep an eye out for queen cells! Take quick action when you see them. The bees don’t wait for the new queens to emerge as adults; they’ll typically swarm not long after the queen cells are capped.
I’d like to give a huge thank you to the IHPA members for sending me to the Apiary Inspectors of America / American Bee Research Conference (AIA / ABRC) meeting this year! It was a great experience and very educational. Two solid days of the meeting were spent listening to a series of 15 minute research presentations from university and USDA researchers from all over the US and Canada and elsewhere. The keynote presenter was Karl Crailsheim from Graz, Austria. He gave the opening presentation each morning summarizing highlights of decades of his work on bee behavior and physiology. He, much like Marla Spivak, has that creative approach to experimentation – a knack for boiling down really complex studies into beautifully “simple (-seeming)” experiments. It was a real treat to meet him.
Thirty two pages of my notes from the meeting are now (or hopefully will be soon) up on the IHPA webpage as a pdf. These notes are in my terrible handwriting, complete with scratching, misspellings, incomplete thoughts, and probably at least some misinformation, but maybe they’d be interesting to some of you. Feel free to call or email me with any questions if you read through the notes. Fortunately, I can read most of my own handwriting.
There was a lot of discussion about Nosema. There’s so much unknown / not well-understood about N. ceranae. The lion’s share of the Nosema work is at a very “basic” science level, not at an “applied” focus with recommendations to beekeepers regarding what we should be doing to help our bees against the fungus. This is the way it goes, certainly, but I’m also maybe a little cynical wondering if some of this work isn’t directly towards developing molecular techniques rather than helping the industry. The same seems true for some of the bee virus and genomic work being done. I honestly don’t have any particular researcher in mind with that statement, just maybe a generalized pessimistic feeling. Just writing that may get me in trouble… I just personally want to see the heavy science trickle down to practical management recommendations for beekeepers, and maybe I’m a little impatient. Any deeper understanding is a good thing though. One interesting study presented here is that N. ceranae makes a young bee physiologically old. It can disrupt the normal amounts (titers) of certain hormones in the adult bees which affect their tasks and duties as worker bees. Infected bees may abandon in-hive tasks for foraging at a significantly younger age, throwing off the “balance” of the colony responsibilities, and wearing out their bodies resulting in death at a younger age than non-infected bees. Another interesting Nosema-related study found treatment with Fumagillin only “somewhat” allowed more hives to survive. Rivera found it does create heavier frames of stores and more frames of bees compared to syrup feeding without Fumagillin, but in his study this didn’t directly result in significant increase in winter survival.
There was a lot of interesting work presented regarding pesticides. Work is being done in several separate labs looking at different classes of pesticides – neonicotinoids, pyrethroids, etc. and how they interact with our bees. Getting some details on the effects of these chemicals on our bees is a very good thing. What ways are the bees exposed? How much of these substances are secreted in pollen and nectar of a given plant species? How much / fast do they build up in comb? In Honey? How do bees deal with exposure? What are sub-lethal effects of exposure on an individual bee level and at the colony level? Effects on queens? Getting these answers seems like a very good, important first step. Then with further understanding and facts, attack finding a solution to a problem.
One study was presented investigating the adjuvants used in / with pesticides. Dr. Mullen found an average of 39 different pesticides per US comb sample and a total of 131 different pesticides found in combs overall. So, there’s no question whether these things are getting into the hives. Despite this, inert ingredients and adjuvants are often overlooked. For the pesticides in use, there are over 2000 adjuvants (surfactants, stickers, wetters, antifoams, etc. So, he asked two questions: Are adjuvants harmful to bees? (Answer: some, yes.) And, if so, are some worse than others? (Answer: yes) He found some have an impact on honey bee learning on their own – not considering any effects of the active ingredients. And some adjuvants intensify the effects of the active ingredient – and this “intensifying effect” may or may not have been considered or measured by the chemical producers. Wow.
Dr. Spivak and several of her grad students gave presentations of their work. We’ve heard much of this here in IA between their visits to the IHPA annual meetings and the recent CIBA meeting. I am such a fan of their lab’s work. She has grad students focusing on many different aspects of bee health… Keith Delaplane summarized a long look at sub-lethal effects of commonly used hive chemicals -- coumaphos, fluvalinate, cu naphthenate, etc. Interestingly, he did find complete mite resistance to coumaphos (think Checkmite+) , and a lot of resistance to fluvalinate (think Apistan and another…), though he did say he found Apistan to “work somewhat”. Regarding Checkmite, Apistan, and Cu Naphthenate, he found NO EFFECT on bee numbers, frames of honey, brood viability, foraging rate, bee learning, and queen mandibular pheromone! He found no significant effect on queen cell construction though maybe something negative going on with the wood preservative. I found this really interesting. The real-world question, of course, is, “Is the cure worse than the pest?” It seems he finds the chemicals, though not ideal, to be a positive addition to the colonies. And basically an unsurprising final conclusion is that the Varroa are worse on the bees than the treatments.
In addition to getting to listen to all these research presentations (and many, many more), I’m now serving on the board of the Apiary Inspectors of America and am heading a committee on “bee health”. I’m very happy to take on this extra work and am selfishly hoping it’ll help my case when next year’s meeting rolls around and I’m looking to the IA Dept of Ag for travel support… Thank you again for sending me. See you. Have a great spring.