Dec 4 2010

Best paper yet on Colony Collapse Disorder

Without any additions, clarifications, or critiques, I can freely endorse the linked article as the most balanced and comprehensive article I’ve seen on the subject of CCD:

Bees in Crisis: A comprehensive situation report: 

While this article specifically concerns honeybees, it is of great interest to those concerned about wild bee species as well. Honeybees have more research and more protectors, and may well serve as indicators as to what is happening with wild bees.

Dec 4 2010

New guide available on increasing native bee benefits

Native bee benefits:  How to increase native bee pollination on your farm

Written by:  Neal Williams, Bryn Mawr College, (610-526-5091,
and Rachael Winfree, Rutgers University (732-932-8315,

Can be downloaded from:

The pamphlet is a very informative one, with some really good photos as well, and I commend the authors on providing a good new resource for pollination management.

While I heartily endorse much of the pamphlet as very valuable, there are a couple misleading points,  and one glaring error that I’d like to point out as a critique. Perhaps the authors need to consider this for an update.

1. Much is made of colony collapse disorder in honeybees. This is similar to past unexplained die-offs that have occasionally occured in beekeeping history, only this one was at a larger scale. Much of this loss seems to have run its course, and the bees were easily and quickly replaced, except in cases of beekeeper bankruptcy. At any rate the beekeeping industry, with some research help, is on the way to solutions to CCD.

What is not made clear is that wild bees are not so quickly and easily replaced; thus are of much more concern. And with this, we go back to the biggest problem for all bees, which beekeepers have been trying to solve for a couple generations, and have been unable to get any significant help.

The problem is pesticide misuse – violation of the pesticide label directions – that continue to occur. In most cases wild bees and feral honeybees have no legal protection; lip service is given to protecting managed honeybees, but most “protection” involves advising pesticide users to evade the pesticide directions, by notification of beekeepers.

A pesticide user is the one who makes the choice to use a pesticide, and he is responsible for its safe use, yet these notification schemes allow him to dump the trouble and expense for protecting the bees onto others who are not benefited and have no way to recoup the costs.

Pesticide misuse is the greatest single danger to all bee species. Wild bee advocates and beekeepers need to be working together to get enforcement of label directions – which generally forbid applications in conditions where they are a threat to foraging bees. (And the labels only say “bees,” yet the pesticide cops tend to interpret this clear direction as only applying to honeybees.)

2. Several times the pamphlet mentions “attracting bees.” This is a flawed mindset. When populations are thin, bees can’t be attracted, or if they are attracted in small numbers, they tend to go to the rich food sources planted to attract them, rather than to the crops that need pollination.

What is needed is another mindset – pollination managers need to have an overall view that strives to restore stable normal populations of bees by giving them habitat, including nesting sites, continuous forage, and pesticide protection. The pamplet does explain this, but undoes it to a certain extent, by frequent reference to “attracting bees.” When pollinator populations return to normal, competition for forage will ensure that ALL blossoms get the required visitation.

3. Carpenter bees are NOT good blueberry pollinators. They are notorious nectar thieves with flowers with a deep corrolla, such as blueberries. Then they leave a slit in the side of the corrolla, enabling other bees to happily steal the nectar as well, without contacting the sexual organs of the flower.

Carpenter bees are excellent pollinators of fruits with open-faced flowers, such as blackberries, apples, plums, peaches; and of flowers designed for a large bee, such as passionflower.

Mar 30 2010

Spring check a little too late

Our “survivor” bees were looking a bit swarmy Saturday, so I made preparations to open them, but some other responsibilities kept me from the job. Sunday afternoon was rainy, and by Monday morning, as we were getting ready to open them, a swarm issued from the hive.

Swarm Leaving

A swarm takes off from a hive

Swarm in air

The bees follow the odor of the queen.

It was too late to prevent the swarm; it may have been anyway, because once the bees have made up their mind, it’s pretty hard to change it. The good part of it was that I think they will go into a stack of bee equipment I have, since the scouts were all over it Saturday. We left them perched high in a tree for the time being. Only the young and foolhardy climb to capture swarms.

Opening the hive, I found queen cells the swarm had left behind. I expected several, but only found three. I moved the hive to a new spot and made up a nuc with two cells and three frames of brood, making sure they had plenty of young worker bees as well.

Ripe queen cell

A queen cell ready to hatch

A smaller nuc was made and placed on the site of the old hive, thinking it would pick up extra field force and get all the boost it would need. Normally I would have split such a good hive three ways, but having lost the swarm, I decided not to push my luck.

Bee brood in the frame

A frame of healthy bee brood

Looking at the bees on the frame; they looked healthy – fuzzy and clean looking, with a sweet smell. Sick bees usually look shiny or greasy, often have deformed wings, and smell “off” or sour.

There was plenty of sealed brood. Young brood was missing; however this is the normal pattern when the bees are swarmy. The bees shut down the queen from egg laying to make her slim down enough to fly.

I poked around in burr comb, looking at drone larvae where any varroa mites would be found, if there were varroa. This hive has not been treated for varroa (or disease) in three years. It originally was a swarm captured from the wild in an area where it is doubtful there were any kept bees. So it is survivor stock – able to live without treatment for the vampire mites.

Honeybee drone pupae

Honeybee drone pupae

It likely has been several years without any treatment whatsoever.

After extensive searching of many clean drone pupae, I finally did find one mite. This tells me that their survival is not from lack of exposure, but that they have some mechanism that is able to cope with the mites, and the various pathogens they carry.

Varroa mite

Only one mite was found on a drone pupa; obviously the bees are keeping mites at a low level.

I also saw two hive beetles – another potentially serious pest.

However, the hive was strong enough so they seem to be able to cope with this pest as well.

These bees have never evidenced any sign of Colony Collapse Disorder, despite being kept near migratory beekeepers. By selecting survivor stock, and not treating for any bee pest or disease we believe we are breeding a better bee. The bees are monitored and evidence of problems will be handled on a case by case basis.