Volume XLI
March 2014
President's Frame
Wake-up Call
Did you feel it? That slight shift as the green earth started
to wake up? Not the shift of someone turning over in bed, no.
Let's hope it doesn't come like that. Just that shift in awareness,
in energy level. There is a sense of the earth being poised,
ready. We will all be startled by how quickly the snowdrops
appear now, the crocuses bringing their colorful blast of spring.
No doubt we are all tired of the snows, the shoveling, the slips
and falls. But the benefits of the blanket of snow is that
moisture and earth heat are working in amongst the roots,
waking up the myriad lives in the soil. Very soon, now, very
soon. And as soon as the mid-day temperatures are over 50, you
may see your ladies bringing in pollen from winter aconite or
skunk cabbage. What better sign of spring than pollen! The
earth is ready even if we are not. “Time and tide wait for no
Even with the ice and snow storms, hawks are back, sitting
atop the I-83 lampposts. Flocks of robins and starlings have
been flying past my house of late. The warm spate coming mid
week in late February is just what the bees have been waiting
for to get their cleansing flights. Yesterday, as the large
thermometer in the shade of the north side of the deck post
touched 50F, there was an aerial dance in front of the row of
hives as the bees, so long kept inside, were languidly flying,
facing the hive to reestablish their navigation sense and know
how to get home again.
With early spring already here, we have to be listening to
the soothsayer's advice to Julius Caesar, “Beware the Ides of
March”, a date said to be the 15th of the month. But we should
listen more closely. He passed the soothsayer on his way to the
Senate and said, “The Ides of March has come!”, implying her
prophesy was false. She replied, “Aye, Caesar, but not gone”.
Vigilance and awareness are crucial from now until you see
dandelion blooms. Only then can you rest easy, knowing the
bees can feed themselves from that point on.
This is, in fact, one of the most delicate and dangerous
times for our ladies, with hive population rising and stores
falling. Any reasonably warm time now, it is worth lifting the
outer cover to see if the bees are clustered at the hole in the
inner cover. If they are clustered around that hole, it is time for
emergency feeding. Now, not tomorrow. Get on your snow
boots once again, scrape all that snow off the top and,
particularly, away from the entrance, and take a look, what
Jerry Fisher calls “a little look-see”. You'll be glad you did.
So I'd better do it, right?
Roger Williams, 20 February, 2014
Starving Bees?
What to do when the cupboards run bare.
By T’Lee Sollenberger
Reprinted from ABJ February 2014
Beekeepers are often befuddled come early spring-a time of
golden forsythia, soft fuzzy pussy willows, nodding daffodils and
brilliant yellow dandelions-when their first colony inspections
reveal not the joyous hum of thousands of well fed overwintered
honey bees, but rather the horrors of winter starvation. Dead bees.
Lots and lots of dead bees. Golden amber honey bees with their
heads stuck deep into dark comb cells. Decaying bees crammed
together between the frames in an attempt to stay warm, all in
vain. Bottom boards overflowing with the rotting, carrion corpses
of winter bees jamming shut the bottom entrance, wet and
suffocated. Moldy combs, dampness, and stench-all the earmarks
of colony death.
Sometimes, the demise of a colony is not starvation, but from
other causes, some manageable by the beekeeper during the late
summer and fall, (like treating for Varroa mites, Nosema or
replacing contaminated old foundation). Some not. Far more
often, I hear about starved bees within inches of their honey, an
avoidable situation had the beekeeper monitored his colonies
throughout the winter and given the bees a helping hand when
So, why does this happen? What should the beekeeper be
doing during the midwinter and early spring to keep his bees from
starving? Not sitting around the fireplace with a glass of wine
reading a beekeeping catalogue, I assure you.
So, what should be in place before going into winter?
GIVE 'EM SHELTER. L.L. Langstroth advocated, "Great
care should be taken to shelter hives from the piecing winds,
which in Winter so powerfully exhaust the animal heat of the
bees." This can be anything from a hedge row, brush pile or a
windbreak like snow fencing, hay bales or an erected shelter.
Other options include using a root cellar, basement, garage or
climate controlled building, (if you can afford the cost), but
darkness must be absolute; air circulation continuous, humidity
around 50-75% and an ambient air temperature between 39- 4l0F.
For most of us, letting the bees do all this by themselves is
the best option, but a little assist from the beekeeper can certainly
help them achieve the ideal wintering conditions.
WRAP 'EM UP with light weight tar paper, bubble wrap
insulation or other rot proof material. How much you wrap
depends on your location, the seasonal severity of your weather
and the colony's exposure to the elements.
As shown in photo I, I use a three-sided arrangement of silver
bubble wrap insulation, which offers some light insulating value
and acts as a wind block, without causing the colony to think it is
summer during a warm winter day. This stuff is very durable,
waterproof and reusable for a number of seasons. Note the
partially opened black capped upper entrance enjoyed by the
bees. This also serves as winter ventilation.
I wrap the most vulnerable areas on this large colony, which
was brought in from a house removal job done around Halloween.
This put the colony at a substantial disadvantage having barely
enough time to settle in, lay new brood and put up any winter
stores, (mostly provided by me), to get them through an early
winter. If needed, I could add additional wrap, but a recent
check after a massive week-long ice storm and three days
below freezing, (pretty cold for North Central Texas this early
in the season), showed the bees to be coping just fine.
FALL FEEDING & TREATMENT for Nosema, l feel
has become a necessity now that two strains of it are floating
around the USA infecting colonies. This is two-for-one, as it
also adds extra, (augmented), sugar syrup stores in the fall,
while advancing Nosema control. (Mix Fumidil® B with 2
parts sugar to I part hot water).
Honey/sugar syrup is the carbohydrate that keeps the bees
warm and strong through the tough temperature fluctuations of
winter. Each gallon of 2: 1 sugar syrup equates to 7# of useable
carbohydrates, convertible energy when processed by the bees.
If there is a honey flow going on, the bees may refuse to eat the
augmented sugar syrup. Not to worry. Keep monitoring their
progress, until you reach your goal.
What goal? How much honey and pollen do the bees need
to successfully overwinter? This is where things get a wee bit
There are many opinions and research on this subject, but
depending on your area, here are some suggestions: Northern
regions 80-90# honey; temperate regions 40-60#; southern
regions, (think Florida), 15-30#.
In my area, I err on
the high side of 40- 50#
per strong colony. In
mild winters, when the
bees may be able to
forage on dandelion and
wild mustards, I can get
away with less, but my
always specify which
winter will be mild. This
poundage translates thus:
honey/sugar syrup and
pollen surrounding the
brood cluster in the
brood box, (usually the
bees have moved into the
second box by late fall),
a fully capped honey
super above the brood
nest and half a super of
partially capped above
Pollen stores are
ascertain as they may be
capped off by honey in
primarily supplies the proteins for brood rearing, which begins
at the height of winter, usually in mid-January, (which many
beekeepers fail to realize).
Make sure to remove the queen excluder in the fall to
allow your queen to move upward into the warmer well stocked
honey supers throughout the winter. One year I forgot and
froze-out several colonies in one out yard. Costly that!
Ideally, a last Varroa mite treatment should be done in late
summer after pulling honey. This also helps with Tracheal
mites, especially if the miticide contains thymol. Knocking
The Hive Tool
back mites just before winter will help with the quality of early
brood rearing and the survival of the colony.
MERGING. Langstroth notes, "If the stocks are to be
wintered in the open air, they should all be made populous, and
rich in stores, even if to do it requires the number of colonies to
be reduced one-half, or more." Merging using a double screened
board is an important management tool for overwintering as it is
not unusual to lose 50% of colony strength in a harsh winter, (see
my article in ABJ, March 2012, Making & Using a Double
Screened Division Board:
Requeening Without Finding the Queen, Combining &
Overwintering Methods). Weak colonies do not have the girl
power to gather sufficient winter stores or to generate enough heat
to survive. Merging is the best option here.
Merging should be done in early fall. It is difficult to merge
in mid to late winter and have the colony survive, but if desperate
circumstances dictate ... well, it is probably worth the risk. I
prefer not to open my colonies, if the temperature is below 60°F,
but if there's a darn good reason, then they may be opened at no
less than 45°F. Keep in mind you risk damaging any brood and
chilling your bees at this temperature.
Another method of fixing weak colonies is requeening in late
summer. This usually keeps the colony strong enough to avoid
merging situations as a young productive queen will produce
more winter bees increasing colony vigor in time for
overwintering. No guarantee that the new queen will be better
than the old queen, but usually, the colony will remain queenright
into the spring flow all things being equal. (Does that really ever
happen in beekeeping?).
Langstroth made the realization through trials, tribulations and
observations, that bees needed fresh water, usually by mid-winter
to help them liquefy crystallized honey deep inside the
honeycomb cells and to support early brood rearing. This is not to
be confused with metabolic water produced, as Langstroth put it,
by "the breath of bees."
To provide fresh water inside the bee hive in winter place a
sponge inside a plastic food storage bag and add water to the top
edge of the sponge. Press all the air out of the bag and seal. The
baggie is laid across the top bars, (photo 2). A small "X" is cut in
the center of the baggie over the sponge to allow the bees access
to the water without flooding the hive. The water allows the bees
March 2014
to process any carbohydrates existing or supplied by the
beekeeper into immediately usable food.
Additionally, Langstroth discovered the importance of
ventilating metabolic water in winter. As bees breathe, eat and
digest carbohydrates,
water is the waste
condenses on the
interior and inside
top of the hive. As
Langstroth observed
in January 30, 1857,
"In a hive ... which
ventilation, the vapor
or breath of bees,
which had frozen in
it, having melted in
consequence of a
sudden thaw, both
combs and bees were
condition." The bees
had become too cold
and wet to forage on
their honey stores and hence starved to death.
To avoid this problem, provide an upper entrance by
drilling a small hole, (3/4-1"), in a honey super above the brood
nest, (see black capped upper entrance in photo 1). A
telescoping outer cover with a notched inner cover will also
give adequate ventilation or as Langstroth suggests, "its roof
should be slightly elevated, to allow the escape of moisture." A
small chunk of wood under the cover works well here.
Although it seems contradictory, fresh water must be
provided inside a hive even though the bees produce metabolic
water. It is imperative that the bees remain warm and dry in
order to break their winter cluster to utilize the fresh water to
process the crystallized honey or any beekeeper supplied
Which brings me to the crux of the matter, what to do
when the bee's reserves run dry?
sugar based feeds, high in carbohydrates, but low in protein,
that can be placed on the bees to save them from eminent death.
Unfortunately, it doesn't always work. If the colony is
significantly weakened and cold, the bees may not be able to
break cluster to eat the emergency rations.
In the following rations, fresh water must be provided, (see
above method), to aid the bees in digesting the carbohydrates,
except when sugar syrup is being offered.
A Winter Patty, (available through Dadant), containing
97% carbohydrates and 3% protein, is one of the easiest and
best emergency rations available without stimulating early
brood rearing. Depending on the strength of the colony, one or
two patties is placed directly over the brood nest above the
clustering bees. A I 1/2" rim shim, (photo 2), is needed to keep
from squashing the patty and attending bees between the brood
box and honey super.
Once started on this feeding regimen, the winter patty must
be replaced as the bees consume it; after all, this is an
emergency ration only to be used until naturally occurring
pollen and nectar are available.
The Hive Tool
It is important to note that some beekeepers have had
problems with Small Hive Beetles snacking on winter patties
along with the bees. To avoid a build-up of beetles in warmer
weather, remove the remains of winter patties as soon as the bees
are no longer eating them.
Fondant is another emergency ration that can be whipped up
in the kitchen and placed on a candy board-an inner cover with a
l" rim shim attached to give space between the fondant and the
clustering bees, (photo 5).
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
I 1/2 cups boiling water
Add boiling water to the sugar in a 1 1 /2 qt. sauce pan. Stir
well. Heat until just starting to boil. Add cream of tartar by
tapping the measuring spoon against the sauce pan. Stir well.
Allow the mixture to boil without further stirring until it reaches
238°F, (soft ball stage on a candy thermometer, photo 3). Remove
from heat. Pour syrup onto a cold plate or into a frozen bowl.
Cool to touch, (your finger will leave an imprint). Then beat with
electric mixer until it turns creamy white, (photo 4). Pour onto a
candy board, (photo 5); allow to harden. Invert the candy board
and place over the brood nest cluster.
Photo 4. Use a hand held electric mixer to beat the cooled fondant
until it turns white.
Photo 5. Pour the finished fondant onto the candy board-an inner
cover with rim shim attached. Once the fondant hardens, the candy
board is inverted over the brood nest. A water baggie should be
underneath the candy board to aid the bees in digesting the candy
into useable carbohydrates.
March 2014
If desired or a candy board is not available, the fondant
sustain your bees until proper forage is available!
may be poured into silicone, glass or metal molds. Unmold
when hard. Use a rim shim and place the molded fondant
Honey bees need five major items for winter survival: shelter,
directly on the top bars near the cluster. Replace the honey
ventilation, water, carbohydrates and protein. Additionally, they
super above the candy board or rim shim and close up the
must be queen-right and disease free.
colony like usual.
Even if you think all these things have been supplied in the
fall, it is crucial to do mid-winter checkups as the weather permits
Granulated sugar may also be poured onto a candy board
as emergency rations and placed directly over the cluster. In
to examine the bees' food supply and its proximity to the brood
this case, the candy board is not inverted. The inclusion of
nest. Remember, the brood cluster should be constantly in contact
water at the time of feeding is paramount to the success of this
with their food frames both laterally and vertically or starvation
method. Many beekeepers report that the bees remove
may occur despite having the food physically available. A winter
granulated sugar rather than eat it, which is obviously
checkup allows the beekeeper to move honey and pollen frames
next to the brood cluster. He may also replenish dwindling
supplies or augment additional carbohydrates as needed.
Marshmallows, another emergency ration suggested by
In all regions, the queen will start her egg laying marathon by
Jerry Hayes, author of The Classroom, are placed over the
mid-January. She will normally confine her egg laying to the midbrood cluster. A rim shim must be used to avoid smashing the
section of the boxes, constantly moving upward as the honey and
marshmallows into hard lumps. Replace super and cover as
pollen are consumed and open cells become available, (at least
that has been my observation). The temperature in the middle of
Queen candy made from powdered sugar, honey and
the brood nest will be increased from 57°F to about 94°F, all
enough water to form a stiff but slightly tacky dough is yet
generated by vibrating winter bees in the brood cluster. This
another quick emergency ration. The candy can be formed into
causes a sharp increase in food consumption, not only to keep the
discs or ropes. Like the marshmallows, use a rim shim and lay
cluster and developing brood warm, but to feed the larvae as well.
the candy directly over the top bars near the brood cluster or
This is also when fresh water and ventilation needs are at their
place on a candy board.
Sugar syrup, (2: 1 ), can also be fed, but avoid offering it
The need for early brood production by the bees is simple
in a division board feeder until the nighttime temperature
economics-the colony is replacing its worn out winter bees with
remains above 50°F. This trough-type feeder replaces one or
new spring foragers necessary for hive expansion. This is done
two frames and is placed next to the brood nest to take
five to six weeks, i.e. mid-January in most regions before natural
advantage of the colony's heat. Make sure to stuff a float of
pollen and nectar become available. This is the most crucial time
some kind inside the feeder. This helps the bees climb out if
for colony examinations and supplementary feeding to keep this
they fall into the cold syrup. The object here is to save the bees
momentum going.
not drown them with kindness.
In the more southern climes, beekeepers think their bees are
A larger plastic storage bag and sponge method used for
keeping up with the dietary needs of this expansion because many
bee watering may also be tried for dispensing sugar syrup. (See
early flowering plants and trees are available to the bees
above). My only caveat would be not to make the access hole
throughout late winter. In reality, the bees are most likely
so large that the bees can climb into the baggie itself and get
outstripping their food reserves. The early nectar and pollen
sources are only able to keep the bees at or below the status quo.
Other dispensing systems for sugar syrup are gravity
There is no net gain on brood rearing and often the queen will
feeders, (an inverted jar with numerous punch holes in the lid),
slow down egg laying and workers may even cannibalize
placed on the top bars, directly over the brood nest. A deep box
developing larvae to sustain themselves.
surrounds the feeder and then the inner and outer covers are
Results. No expansion; starvation imminent. This is why so
replaced. Insulating the jar is necessary.
many colonies are lost unnecessarily before the spring flow.
Setting the feeder over the opening on an inner cover is a
Winter examination is a task every beekeeper must perform not
possible strategy during winter to allow bee feeding and proper
once, not twice, but at least every two weeks, ifthe weather will
insulation of the feeder provided the cluster is in the center of
allow, from mid-winter to spring flow or lose his colonies to
the brood box where they can reach the feed. With all gravity
feeders there is possible failure and flooding of the brood
Feed often until the bees will no longer accept your offerings.
cluster due to atmospheric changes or freezing.
winter management equals strong, healthy bees ready for
Hive top feeders are not recommended unless there is no
other option. If used, then like the gravity feeder, they would
need to be heavily insulated on top. Because they disperse the
Crane, Eva. Bees and Beekeeping, Science, Practice and World
feed across a large surface area, the feed often freezes,
Resources. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990.
desiccates or crystallizes. (Don't ask me how I know)! If the
Delaplane, Keith S. Honey Bees & Beekeeping, A Year in the
feeder is designed with end only access instead of middle
Life of an Apiary, 2nd edition. Athens, GA: The University of
access to the feed, the bees are unlikely to break cluster to feed
Georgia, 1996.
on it unless it is a very warm day. Finally, the feeder must be
Joe, Editor. The Hive and the Honey Bee. Hamilton, IL:
placed directly over the brood cluster, which eliminates any
& Sons, Inc. 1997.
supers, (hence storage or colony expansion space).
W. Jr. The Classroom, Beekeeping Questions and
Likewise, boardman feeders cannot be used as the bees will
Answers. Hamilton, IL: Dadant & Sons, lnc. 1998.
not leave the brood cluster to climb downstairs to eat cold or
Langstroth, L.L. A Practical Treatise on the Hive and the Honeyfrozen food at the hive entrance.
Bee. Philadelphia, MA: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1881.
Keep in mind, these are emergency rations, designed to
The Hive Tool
March 2014
Sammataro, Diana and Alphonse Avitabile.
The Beekeeper's Handbook, 4th edition. Ithaca, NY: Cornell
University Press, 2011.
Shimanuki, Hachiro, Kim Flottum and Ann Harman, Editors.
The ABC & XYZ of Bee Culture, 4lst edition. Medina, OH:
The A.I. Root Company, 2007.
Methods of Making Increase Colonies
By Larry Connor
ABJ February 2014
My first beekeeping book, Increase Essentials, was first
published in 2006. A great deal has happened since then.
Colony Collapse Disorder appeared. Many beekeepers moved
away from package bees to increase nucleus production, and
developed a wide array of amazing methods to make increase
nuclei. Many routinely winter these colonies with different
levels of success. So, as we work to produce a second edition of
Increase Essentials, we will put both new and updated
materials out to the thousands of people who have purchased
the book. For them, I hope that they will see it as an upgrade,
and for those who have not read the book, I hope it will
incentivize them to read it. In this issue we continue the
discussion about making increase nuclei.
Selecting colonies for increase production
At the first hive
inspection in late
spring, select the
colonies that are
thriving and growing
rapidly. In Florida,
southern Texas and
the Southwest, this
may be in January,
while in the northern
tier of states and
Canada this may not
happen until March
or early April in
average years. While
you may feed all your
colonies to keep them
alive, select certain
colonies you want to
"push" brood and bee
production, to make
colonies. Give them
constant sugar syrup stimulation and pollen patties or pollen
substitute. This allows the bees and the queen to produce a
large amount of brood, and this will grow your bee population.
The bees will respond to the push in February or early March in
northern states and in lower Canada.
Deciding which colonies in your apiary will be used for
increase production depends upon your objective and your
beekeeping conditions as expressed as potential nectar flows.
Here are three strategy examples:
 Every colony will be used to provide brood and bees
adequate to produce one or more increase nuclei. This is an
ideal program when all hives are about equal in strength and
you have been successful at keeping winter loss low and the
colonies are responding well to stimulative feeding. If your
The Hive Tool
colonies go to California for almond pollination, you can
remove a nucleus or two from each colony when the hives are
successfully returned to you. By doing this, you accomplish
two goals: first you will make new colonies at a point in the
colony cycle when they are producing surplus bees, and second,
removing bees and brood will seriously discourage these hives
from swarming.
 Only certain colonies will produce increase nuclei. While you
might use just the strongest colonies to make increase nuclei,
beekeepers like Vermont's Mike Palmer routinely sort out the
lower quality colonies and use only these to form increase
nuclei. These are 'C' level colonies that will require effort and
still only produce a below average honey crop. He uses only the
strongest colonies for clover honey production, following a
rigorous swarm prevention program of adding supers
and other methods. Keep your 'A' and 'B+' strength colonies for
honey production or pollination and put the rest of the hives
into making increase.
 All colonies are converted to nuclei.The most severe system of
making increase nuclei is commonly used by larger sideline and
most commercial beekeepers. All colonies are completely
dismantled at some point in the seasonal management cycle and
made into a number of new increase nuclei colonies. Each
colony receives a minimum of three frames of brood, food
frames, and left-over comb. This is an excellent time to remove
old combs and add new foundation or starter strips. Some
beekeepers set up an assembly-line production facility at the
base apiary or in the field to collect colonies, pull frames and
add queens. There are an amazing variety of methods
commercial beekeepers use to accomplish this extensive colony
manipulation. The advantages are clear-you end up with
colonies with all new queens, potentially new brood combs, and
have entirely eliminated swarming as a major management
focus, in addition to setting back the varroa mite build up in the
original colonies.
Timing increase nucleus production
Timing management manipulations is a key part of learning
beekeeping. If you have been feeding colonies, but make increase
colonies too early, you will set back both the parent colony and
the new colony. If the size of the unit is too small, it will require
additional food for energy to keep the colony warm which may
slow growth. Remember, it takes much more energy for several
small colonies to build up than one large colony. Wait until
nighttime temperatures are above freezing before you start the
production of increase nuclei. Watch nighttime low temperatures
and wait to make up nuclei increase colonies until nighttime
temperatures moderate and there is abundant food coming in.
This is late April and early May in the northern states, but every
year is slightly different. Watch the weather! Increase nuclei
made too early in the season often have spotty dark brood areas
where the brood was chilled (and killed) when the small colony
cluster drew in on a cold night and abandoned the fringes of the
brood area. While sealed brood is rather resilient to brief
exposures to cold, I have also seen entire frames of sealed brood
that were killed when left out in a strong and chilling wind before
they were added to the new hive. Such early, and somewhat
clumsy efforts, are totally counterproductive.
Waiting for further development and better weather will pay
dividends. I try to use biological timing systems, based on key
plants in bloom that will contribute to buildup. I delay the
production of the very first increase nuclei until the soft maples
March 2014
are in bloom. This is the earliest I would attempt to make such
increase. Of course, there are many reasons to wait even longer,
and I suggest you wait so the parent colonies get stronger.
To think of it another way, push your colonies to the point
they will soon start building swarm cells. Then make increase
nuclei as quickly as you are able. If you are one week late, there
will be a lot of your bees hanging in the nearby trees, and that
is NOT the focus of this article.
The queen bank
Too often, the determining factor for making increase
colonies is the pre-scheduled arrival of queen bees from the
South, West or Hawaii. In the northern tier states, many
beekeepers attempt to rush the season by scheduling queens for
arrival in early April,
when environmental
conditions may or
supported full colony
growth and brood
rearing. If you find
that your queens
have arrived too
early or you cannot
delay their arrival
from the
producer, you are
wise to set up a
queen bank to store
them rather than rush
to make up nuclei
too early. A queen
bank is just like a
queen cell finisher
rearing-a queen-less
several frames of
open and sealed
over a queen excluder, situated over a strong hive containing a
highly productive queen. Surplus queens are kept in separate
cages without attendant bees on a holding frame so they receive
food. Feed this colony with sugar syrup. If you have tested and
find a high level of Nosema apis or ceranae, add medication to
the syrup. There is no point in medicating queens if there is no
Nosema in the hive-this requires frequent sampling and
examination under a high powered compound microscope.
Queen banks may be used at any time in a beekeeping
operation to store queens that are not needed today. Banks are
better than leaving queens in mailing cages on the woodshop
table, since the worker bees in a hive will better attend to their
needs than worker bees shipped in mailing cage. Banks are also
used to finish or 'ripen' sealed queen cells, to hold virgin queens,
and to store mated queens before sale or use in the operation.
By waiting until weather conditions improve, you can make
increase nuclei with safety and confidence. First-time increase
nuclei makers are advised to wait until the weather conditions are
stable for the season. This is mid May or early June in the
northern USA, and should anticipate the appearance of swarm
cells-or allow you to use swarm cells on brood frames-and reduce
the population of bees and brood in each strong hive. (Continued
in March issue.)
Check for the new book Swarm Essentials
by Steve Repasky and Larry Connor. Watch for the second
edition of Increase Essentials on this same website.
Tank Mix Troubles
By Susan Kegley
Pollinator Stewardship Council
Reprinted from Bee Culture February 2014
Pesticide label restrictions based on tests of a single
pesticide active ingredient are not likely to provide sufficient
protection for honey bees from the effects of tank mixtures.
Pesticide applications are always something beekeepers
would like their bees to avoid, but there is a general assumption
that if you keep your bees clear of insecticide applications, you're
home free. This assumption is backed up by the fact that
laboratory studies tell us that most herbicides and fungicides are
not acutely toxic to bees. However, several recent bee kill
incidents have involved application of a "tank mix" of several
herbicides or a fungicide and an herbicide that was not so benign.
The "tank mix" is an agricultural practice where multiple
pesticide products are loaded into the spray tank at once. This
could be a fungicide and an insecticide, several different
herbicides, or a mix of an insecticide and an insect growth
regulator. It almost always includes spray adjuvants that are
added to help the pesticide's active ingredients penetrate leaf
surfaces, act as de-foaming agents, reduce drift, or ensure that the
mixture of dissimilar chemicals and the carrier (usually water or
diesel oil) all stay in solution.
Tank mixing has advantages for the farmer, allowing a single
pass with the tractor where two or more would be required
otherwise, and plays a role in resistance management of pests. To
the farmer, it represents a savings in energy and time and
potentially better pest control, but for the beekeeper, it could spell
From a chemist's point of view, the tank mix is reminiscent
of doing experiments in the organic chemistry lab to find out what
happens when you mix chemical X with chemical Y and some
solvent. The end product? Well, that was the puzzle to be figured
out. Pesticide chemicals can and do react with each other, creating
new compounds that we know nothing about, in terms of toxicity
or efficacy against the target pest. In fact, little is known about
mixtures of pesticides even if they don't react with each other U.S. EPA doesn't require toxicity testing of mixtures, even for the
mixtures of active ingredients contained in a single product. U.S.
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March 2014
EPA currently only evaluates the toxicity of pesticides one at a
time, which can produce an inaccurate estimate of anticipated
adverse effects on bees. Pesticide label restrictions based on
tests of a single pesticide active ingredient are not likely to
provide sufficient protection for honey bees from the effects of
tank mixtures.
Tank mixes can be particularly deadly to bees for several
Additive effects If the bee is exposed to two chemicals
that act on the same biological pathway, the toxicity of the
mixture is the sum of the toxicity of each component. For
pesticides that react with each other to form a new compound,
the toxicity of the mixture may actually be less than the sum of
the toxicity of the component pesticides.
Synergistic effects For certain mixtures of chemicals, the
toxicity is greater than the sum of the toxicity of the two
chemicals alone. For example, a new study of mixture toxicity
to aquatic insects (which are very much like bees in their
susceptibility to pesticides) show that the toxicity of a
chlorpyrifos / imidacloprid mixture is 10- 12 times greater than
that predicted by simple additive toxicity. The fungicide
propiconazole may increase the toxicity of the insecticide
lambda-cyhalothrin to bees. In fact, tank mixes can be used to
accentuate the effectiveness of a pesticide active ingredient.
Synergistic effects can be caused by the activation of enzyme
systems that metabolize the chemicals to produce highly toxic
intermediates, by the deactivation of enzymes that metabolize
the chemicals to low-toxicity degradation products, or by the
formation of a new compound that is more toxic than the two
starting pesticides.
Surfactant effects
Surfactants are like soap - they act as emulsifiers, allowing
dissimilar substances like oils and water-soluble chemicals to
mix. They also enhance the penetration of the pesticide into the
bodies of insects, increasing the rate of absorption of the active
ingredient in exposed insects. While most surfactants aren't
acutely toxic to bees, recent work out of the Mullin and Frazier
labs at Penn State's Entomology Department shows that doses
of organosilicone surfactants of 20 micrograms per bee impair
the proboscis extension reflex in honey bees, an essential
behavior bees use to extract nectar from plants.
One more cause for concern is that tank mixing is not wellregulated. Occasionally, there is information on a pesticide
label that indicates what products can be mixed or should not
be mixed, but not often. Considering the fact that there are
16,667 currently registered pesticides on the market, about
7,000 of which are agricultural use products, the lack of
definitive label guidance from EPA or manufacturers on tank
mixing is surprising.
The Departments of Agriculture in Wisconsin and Oregon2
recommend against tank mixing because of potential adverse
effects, but some extension offices actually encourage it. The
Illinois Pesticide Applicator Training Manual (IPATM) has an
entire chapter on tank mixes and promotes the practice, noting:
The correct tank mix of two or more pesticides may save
time and labor and may reduce equipment and application
costs. In addition, such a mixture might also control a range of
pests or enhance the control of one or a few pests.
Pesticide manufacturers also recommend tank mixing as a
general strategy for resistance management. Example label
language includes statements like the following:
Because resistance development cannot be predicted, the
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use of this product should conform to resistance management
strategies established for the crop and use area. Such strategies
may include rotating and/ or tank mixing with products having
different modes of action.
The IPATM also provides guidance on how to test for
product compatibility in tank mixes, instructing the applicator to
mix products together in a jar to watch for any reactions or
adverse effects. Really? If tank mixes are to be part of agricultural
practices, it seems that compatibility testing would be better done
in the lab by the manufacturer, with clear directions on the label
as to what products can and cannot be safely mixed. EPA could
also improve the situation by requiring the pesticide
manufacturers to conduct toxicity testing of mixtures for
pollinators, humans, and wildlife. This information would provide
a way for growers to make informed application decisions that
would better protect honey bees and other wildlife. In the
meantime, it's worth keeping your bees away from all pesticide
applications as much as possible.
LeBlanc HMK, Culp JM, Baird DJ, Alexander AC, Cessna AJ.
2012. Single Versus Combined Lethal Effects of Three
Agricultural Insecticides on Larvae of the Freshwater Insect
Chironomus dilutus. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 63:378390; doi: 10.1007 /s00244-012-9777-0.
0regon State University, 2013. How to reduce bee poisoning
from pesticides.
Ciarlo TJ, Mullin CA, Frazier JL, Schmehl DR. 2012. Learning
Impairment in Honey Bees Caused by Agricultural Spray
Adjuvants. PLoS ONE 7:e40848; doi:l0.1371/journal.
"For example, see the Bayer Crop Science label for Balance®
US EPA 2013. Pesticide Product Information System. US
University of Wisconsin, 2013. Aphid Management
Recommendations 2013.
Illinois Pesticide Applicator Training Manual 39- 7, Private
Applicator, 1999.
Bayer Crop Science, label for Absolute® 500 SC, EPA Reg No.
Winners & Losers In Todays Enviroment
Where Do Honey Bees Fall?
By Jim Tew
Reprinted from Bee Culture February 2014
I'm not qualified
I don't have the training and/or the academic background to
write the following article. Population dynamics, societal shifts,
epidemiology, disease etiology, outbreak investigation, disease
surveillance and screening, bio-monitoring, statistics, social
sciences and exposure assessment are some of the areas beyond
my pay grade. The only attribute I have to offer is that I have
lived 65 years. I have seen cycles come and go. I know what my
world once looked like and I know it does not look as it once did.
March 2014
A North Carolina farm in the late 1930s. Photo from:
I caught the tail end of something
In my early life, many roads were unpaved. A kid could
ride on the tailgate of a pickup truck and knew enough not to
fall off. Yards were swept clean. In fact, grass in the yard was
unacceptable. A "short" Coca Cola cost 5¢ and came in a bottle
that had to be returned. Cracker Jacks™ had real prizes that
could readily be swallowed by kids who should have known
better. A Western Flyer bicycle was your gateway to the world.
The "rolling store" came by the farm one day per week and
crop dusters landed in the road to reload. There were no general
herbicides but there were some other serious insecticides that
were readily available. Even a kid could buy them. All chickens
were free range and I personally knew the cow that provided
my raw milk. This is a quick, somewhat dirty written snapshot
of my early world in the 1950s and it was the world in which
U.S. beekeeping attained its highest numbers at around 5.7
million colonies. That world is gone and with it, about 50% of
our bee colonies; but our bee numbers were already declining
before Africanized honey bees, neonicotinoids, predaceous
mites, and Colony Collapse Disorder (whatever that was ... ).
The answer remains elusive
No one has been able to show clear reasons why honey
bees are in trouble. Clearly, it's more than a sin gle reason. In
academic worlds outside mine, it has frequently been said that
honey bees are an environmental indicator species. This has
been defined as "a species whose presence, absence, or relative
well-being in a given environment is indicative of the health of
its ecosystem as a whole1." As passionate bee people, we have a
myopic view of bee health. Clearly something is wrong with
our bees, but even if we did not have all our present problems,
bee colonies would (seemingly) still be declining. Should not
the proper question be more along the lines of what's up with
the general health of our environment? It's a bit like realizing
that our "mine canary" is unhealthy so we begin aggressively
studying canary diseases. We need to be finding out what's
wrong within the mineshaft. Upon correcting that, the canary
should improve.
Things change - then quickly begin to look normal
Gasoline prices, airport security, mobile phones, and
automobiles with air conditioners are some disassociated
examples of things that have experienced radical changes in
the past decades. Things change and then those changes
quickly become the new normal. Today's normalcy would
certainly not be normal in the 1950s. I have written time and
again about the use of herbicides to clean our lawns,
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roadsides, playgrounds, farm fields, airfields, and access areas.
Indeed, in Ohio, only about 10 years ago, our springtime lawns
were beacons of yellow dandelions. Not now. My point is not
that honey bees do not have access to that Spring food resource,
but that we have successfully removed that plant and many
others in the process of de-weeding our world. If we could
restore our bee colony numbers to the peak 5. 7 million, are
there presently enough environmental resources to support
them? I don't know but I suspect there is not (See my first
As simple as fence rows
Ostensibly, fences were to keep farm animals restrained
and delineated property boundaries. But from my youthful
perspective, that's where the quail, pheasants and rabbits hid.
Blue birds nested in rotting fence posts cavities that
woodpeckers hollowed out. It was an artificial ecosystem that
worked well at the time. That simple farming procedure fencing - has undergone significant changes. Modern fencing is
just that - fencing. It is no longer a haven.
Some of the non-honey bee losers
The plight of the blue bird is well known. I have several
bird boxes set out but it is a struggle to keep other birds out and
to fend raccoons and the neighbor's cats. I do try. Rattlesnakes who wants them? But I never thought they would essentially
disappear from our Alabama farm. My grandmother's primary
lecture was to watch for snakes, but I have not seen one in
nearly 40 years. It's a' bit like being told to watch for sharks in
In the early 1980s, I went to the monarch butterfly
wintering site in the volcanic mountains of central Mexico.
Apparently, that stunning population is now 1/1 S'h of what it
was when I was there. I saw not a single monarch in my yard
this past year. Bats with white nose disease are losers. Many
species of amphibians are in dire straits. Stocks of both trophy
fish and food fish are stressed. Most of us have increased
difficulty trying to find supplies of wholesome oysters and
small Maine shrimp. I had to cut down my only Ash tree thanks
to the intrusion of the Emerald Ash Borer. Ash trees
everywhere are losers. White pines in the Pacific Northwest are
under attack. Losers seem to be everywhere.
Virginia fence row, 1930s.
The sting of Bob White quail
But I am particularly stung by the precipitous decline of the
March 2014
Bob White quail population - particularly in the Southeastern
U.S. That bright, piercing "BOB WHITE" would ring across the
country side on those halcyon days now long gone2• It was
Spring time and all things were good and always would be - or
so it seemed all those years ago. Many times, I have climbed
over a fence only to have a dozen half-chicken-sized birds
explode from their covey right at my feet. The confusion that
explosion caused was clearly a defensive procedure that usually
worked well on me. My relationship with these wild birds was
exhilarating. I didn't think about them or worry about their
numbers. They were just always there. Now, they are not.
There is an unexpected comparison between quail populations
and honey bee populations.
Quail populations
peaked early in the
1900s3. In 1950s and
period to which I am
already begun to
decline at about 2%
per year. At the time,
I thought they were
abundant. In the early
1970s, the decline
accelerated to more
like to more like 10%
per year. Now, in
most areas, there is
Alabama fence row, 2012.
essentially not a
remaining hunting population. During the great blizzard of
1977, quail populations died in Ohio and were subsequently
caught in the general quail decline across the region. They have
never made a meaningful comeback in Ohio.
I incorrectly thought that coyotes and armadillos (two of
the present ecological winners) were the cause of the quails'
decline, but apparently the real reason is drastically modified
farming practices. Fire ants certainly have not helped. But quail
numbers were only as high as they were in the 1900s because
pioneers had earlier cleared so much land into small acre age
plots. Before that, quail numbers were lower, but no one knows
how much lower. I have no way of knowing, but I wonder if the
quail population today is approximately what the population
was within old growth forests.
I have not found anyone who expects the high quail
population to return. Too much has changed. So I must ask - is
it realistic to think that bee colony numbers could ever be
expected to reach the 1950 high numbers? So long as pesticides
and Varroa are here, our bee herd is going to be restricted.
Quail are not near extinction but their numbers are probably
lowered forever. Comparably, honey bees are not near
extinction, but their numbers are also probably lowered forever.
As with quail, too much has changed for bee colonies to be
expected to come roaring back.
Ecosystem dynamics
We have seen it time and time again. If changes are made
in our ecosystem, sometimes those changes have unintended
consequences. At the outset, the class of chlorinated
hydrocarbon pesticides seemed too good to be true. We know
how that ended. We just about eliminated our national symbol the bald eagle. Flooding and soil erosion are frequent issues in
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parts of the U.S. We got all those old growth forests cut down. If
fact, in the 1600s our fore-parents casually introduced the honey
bee to the virginal early American ecosystem. That could never
happen today. As I write, the polar caps are receding at record
rates. If global warming predictions are accurate, will future bee
populations thrive due to longer blooming seasons or will some
areas become so dry that they become useless to bee foragers?
That is how it has always been - good times and bad times sometimes good and sometimes very bad. Right now, honey bees
are in the struggling category - between good and bad.
Some present day winners
In all my early years, roaming the forests of Southeast
Alabama, I never once - not a single time - saw a deer. There
were essentially none to be seen. Recall the high population of
quail in the 1900s. At the same time, there was a dramatic decline
in deer populations due to overhunting and the screw worm fly.
The screw worm eradication program finally pushed the pesky fly
out in the late 1950s and hunting restrictions were implemented.
Since then, the deer herd has been steadily recovering. In the mid1940s, there were an estimated 4,000,000 deer in the U.S 4•
Today, the herd is around 32,000,000 or about an 800% increase
since the 1940s. Presently there are more deer in the U.S. than
when Columbus sailed here in the 1400s.
Alligators have recovered cur rently showing a 400%
increase. Turkeys and Canadian Geese are now common. Beaver,
raccoons and wild pigs have shown significant recovery to the
point of becoming pests. Even gray wolf populations are looking
better. Starlings, House Sparrows, Kudzu and Autumn Olive are
on the winning list - not necessarily desirable in our view - but
these organisms are winning. And right now, Varroa is a big
winner in the bee world.
I get about 2000 words
Editors Kim and Kathy allocate me about 2000 words per
month to talk to you. My comments here can only serve as an
introduction (or a rant) to the broader world in which we and our
bees live. It's not just bees that are besieged. Many other species
are losing while others are in a good place.
Also, it is important for me to clearly say that my comments
are not an indictment of any industry or any philosophy.
Herbicides are here for the foreseeable future. Modern production
agriculture cannot be expected to go backwards. Our human U.S.
population is growing. More space and food production will be
required. Generally, our quality of life remains high. I am trying
not to rigidly compare today's beekeeping to yesterday's
At a recent Idaho Honey Industry Association meeting,
George Hanson, noted bee industry leader, casually said that over
time, honey production per colony seems to be declining. If that is
true (and I sense that it is), I can't say why. Reduced floral
sources? Over populating? Decreased genetic vigor? Beekeeper
incompetence? We have correctly picked out the most logical
suspects - pests and pesticides - as being our primary villains.
They probably are much of the cause, but we have other more
insidious issues that are more difficult to decipher. Beekeepers
and their bees are part of a much bigger and constantly evolving
environmental picture.
I thoroughly enjoyed my early outdoor life, but I like my
present life much better. I really like the computer on which I am
presently typing, the iPhone in my pocket, the pickup that is
parked just outside my shop, my DVR recorder and the
worldwide-web. I hope I never see another rotary-dial, party line
phone again. I just really wish my bees would stop dying so
March 2014
easily. It hasn't always been that way.
Dr. James E. Tew, State Specialist, Beekeeping, The
Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Auburn University;
[email protected]
[email protected]
From: The National Honey Bee Advisory Board
Effects on non target organisms not understood
The National Honey Bee Advisory Board and beekeeping
industry has greatly benefited from independent scientific
input. Beekeepers and farmers hope, and yet have concerns
about RNA technology, as described in the recent New York
Times article, “Genetic weapon against insects raises hope and
fear in farming,” Link Above (1-27-14). We agree with the
findings of the EPA Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP)
concerning RNAi technology that “not all aspects of the fate of
dsRNA in the environment and potential effects on nontarget
organisms are necessarily understood.”
EPA asked this panel of scientists to provide them with
their expertise concerning this new pesticide technology. The
scientists stated in their White Paper of Sept. 30, 2013, “Better
understanding of the mechanisms influencing uptake,
particularly if they can be extrapolated to other organisms,
would reduce uncertainty in exposure assumptions and help to
focus risk assessments on the most appropriate organisms.”
The SAP includes scientists working in entomological
fields to human studies from acclaimed universities across the
United States.
Daniel Schlenk, Ph.D.
Professor of Aquatic Ecotoxicology
Department of Environmental Sciences
University of California, Riverside
Riverside, CA
K. Barry Delclos, Ph.D.
Division of Biochem. Tox (HFT-110), FDA
National Center for Toxicol. Research
3900 NCTR Road
Jefferson, AR
Marion F. Ehrich, Ph.D.
Co-director, Laboratory for Neurotoxicity Studies
Professor, Pharmacology and Toxicology
Department of Biomedical Sciences & Pathobiology
Viginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine
Blacksburg, VA
Stephen Klaine, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
Director, Institute of Environmental Toxicology
Clemson University
Clemson, SC
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James McManaman, Ph.D.
Departments of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Physiology and
Universoty of Colorado
Aurora, CO
Prakash Nagarkatti, Ph.D.
Vice President for Research
Carolina Distinguished Professor
Pathology, Micobiology and Immunology
202 Osborne Administration Building
University of S.C.
Columbia, SC
Martha S. Sandy, Ph.D.
Senior Toxicologist and Chief
Cancer Toxicology and Epidemiology Section
Reproductive and Cancer Hazard Assessment Branch
Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment
California Environmental Protection Agency
Oakland, CA
The FIFRA SAP concluded in their report, “The new
categories of dsRNA products, however, will present additional
hazard and risk assessment challenges due to their unique modes
of action and other toxicological endpoints that cannot be
measured using the traditional testing paradigm.”
The EPA welcomed public comment concerning the White
Paper and the National Honey Bee Advisory Board was pleased
to provide input. Honey bees, as the Scientific Advisory Panel
stated, could be greatly impacted by the RNAi pesticide
technology. They expressed their concerns that “not all aspects of
the fate of dsRNA in the environment and potential effects on
nontarget organisms are necessarily understood.” They advised
that it is unclear how RNAi technology can translocate
throughout the environment, but possible transmission may
include dust from degraded plant material, soil, plant pollen taken
to bee hives, and even mammals consuming the plants and
depositing the digested food far from the initial treatment area.
The nontarget exposure opportunities present many concerns. For
honey bees specifically, “The factors influencing the possibility
of exposure by this pathway (e.g. longevity of dsRNA once
consumed, concentration resulting within the herbivorous insect)
are not known.”
The National Honey Bee Advisory Board supports the
findings of these noted researchers. We agree with EPA’s
Scientific Advisory Panel, that “the unique nature of dsRNA and
RNAI raise several issues of concern with respect to the typical
data set submitted for nontarget effects:”
“1) The potential influence of latent effects on results of
nontarget testing.” “Some studies, such as nontarget insect
studies, are carried out for sufficient time to observe effects on
reproduction, and latent effects would more likely be observed.”
“2) The appropriate life stage for testing.” “However, given
the range of possible unexpected effects, it is conceivable that an
effect could occur in the field that would not be observed in the
“3) The possibility of chronic effects.” “Suppression of genes
without overt signs of toxicity may be considered insignificant
following a single exposure; however, long-term exposure and
continuous or repeated knockdown could result in chronic
The SAP’s White Paper sums up their concerns succinctly,
exclaiming EPA “has not, to date, assessed the hazards or risks of
March 2014
dsRNA applied directly to the environment as components of
end-use products intended for pest control under Section 3 of
FIFRA.” The “screening level assessments currently used for
traditional chemical pesticides may not be applicable due to the
unique modes of action of dsRNA active ingredients.”
The FIFRA SAP and the National Honey Bee Advisory
Board (NHBAB) acknowledge EPA’s goal is to “ensure that
unreasonable effects do not occur to nontarget populations.”
RNA/DNA/RNAi/gene studies which made it clear this new
technology “will present additional hazard and risk assessment
challenges due to their unique modes of action and other
toxicological endpoints that cannot be measured using the
traditional testing paradigm.” The NHBAB agrees with the
EPA’s Scientific Advisory Panel and the review of research by
Lundgren and Duan (2013) observing “that the current tiered
hazard assessment approach used by the Agency, is
inappropriate to address the following unique hazards
potentially posed by dsRNA products:
Off target gene silencing
Silencing the target gene in unintended organisms
Immune stimulation
Saturation of the RNAi machinery in cells.”
The NHBAB agrees with the FIFRA SAP “that accurate,
standardized methods for measuring and assessing the
aforementioned hazards will be necessary to conduct robust
nontarget species risk assessments on dsRNA products.”
However, we express our concern that EPA granted an
experimental use permit in 2013 for a 20,000 acre field study of
RNAi corn to study the Snf7 gene directed at the corn root
worm before “standardized methods for measuring and
assessing the aforementioned hazards” were developed. The
FIFRA Scientific Advisory Panel White Paper appears to have
been ignored when EPA approved a field test, without
applicable testing protocols for this technology. EPA’s goal is
to “ensure that unreasonable effects do not occur to nontarget
populations.” This experimental use permit puts nontarget
organisms at risk. The Scientific Advisory Panel White Paper
defined some of those risks:
“. . .double stranded RNA (dsRNA) was 10 times or more
potent in its effect on gene expression.”
“Why some miRNAs trigger transitivity and some do not is
not well understood at this time.”
“. . . the silencing of a gene targeted in one cell can lead to
the silencing of a second gene in a distinct cell type.”
“Although the details of the RNAi pathways and their
outcomes may differ among organisms, what is clear is that the
influence of small RNAs on growth, development, defense and
even transient heritability of traits is substantial.”
“It is unclear at this point whether a dsRNA PIP also
would be incidentally present in root exudates, guttation
droplets, or nectar, providing additional on-field sources of
nontarget exposure.”
While RNAi technology may be a useful tool,
“uncertainties clearly exist with respect to a complete
understanding of all current and future applications of this
technology.” “ . . . The current testing paradigm for nontarget
species characterizations, which emphasized limited dose
testing and use of mortality as an endpoint, likely will not be
adequate to assess adverse effects resulting from off-target gene
silencing, silencing of the target gene in unintended organisms,
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immune stimulation, and saturation of the RNAi machinery in
This RNAi technology is thought to be a possible control of
Varroa, an insidious pest of honey bees. However, as the Varroa
is basically a virus-filled-syringe in the guise of an arachnid,
using RNAi upon Varroa or in bees to get at Varroa will subject
honey bees to unknown gene silencing. As the FIFRA SAP
committee succinctly stated RNAI “uncertainties clearly exist
with respect to a complete understanding of all current and future
applications of this technology.” RNAi technology must be
researched fully to protect bees, to protect human health, and to
protect the environment.
The National Honey Bee Advisory Board supports the
findings of the EPA Scientific Advisory Panel, and expresses
concern the EPA would ignore the recommendations of their own
panel of scientific experts. The experimental use permit for RNAi
technology on 20,000 acres clearly violates EPA’s mandate to
“ensure that unreasonable effects do not occur to nontarget
Contact: National Honey Bee Advisory Board
Single Gene Separates
Queen From Workers
Jan 29, 2014
Scientists have identified how a single gene in honey bees
separates the queens from the workers.
A team of scientists from Michigan State University and
Wayne State University unraveled the gene's inner workings and
published the results in the current issue of Biology Letters. The
gene, which is responsible for leg and wing development, plays a
crucial role in the evolution of bees' ability to carry pollen.
"This gene is critical in making the hind legs of workers
distinct so they have the physical features necessary to carry
pollen," said Zachary Huang, MSU entomologist. "Other studies
have shed some light on this gene's role in this realm, but our
team examined in great detail how the modifications take place."
The gene in question is Ultrabithorax, or Ubx. Specifically,
the gene allows workers to develop a smooth spot on their hind
legs that hosts their pollen baskets. On another part of their legs,
the gene promotes the formation of 11 neatly spaced bristles, a
section known as the "pollen comb."
The gene also promotes the development of a pollen press, a
protrusion also found on hind legs, that helps pack and transport
pollen back to the hive.
While workers have these distinct features, queens do not.
The research team was able to confirm this by isolating and
silencing Ubx, the target gene. This made the pollen baskets,
specialized leg features used to collect and transport pollen,
completely disappear. It also inhibited the growth of pollen combs
and reduced the size of pollen presses.
In bumble bees, which are in the same family as honey bees,
queens have pollen baskets similar to workers. In this species,
Ubx played a similar role in modifying hind legs because the gene
is more highly expressed in hind legs compared to front and mid
Besides honey bees, which aren't native to North America,
there are more than 300 species of other bees in Michigan alone.
These include solitary leaf cutter bees, communal sweat bees and
social bumble bees.
March 2014
from Florida - and the results were not promising5. Amanda Ellis
and her co-workers dusted the top bars of brood combs every two
weeks from April until the following February and found no
difference in colony strength or mite populations between dusted
colonies and nondusted controls. When I read these results, I was
ready to write off powdered sugar once and for all, but that was
not to be.
"The pollen baskets are much less elaborate or completely
absent in bees that are less socially complex," Huang said. "We
conclude that the evolution of pollen baskets is a major
innovation among social insects and is tied directly to morecomplex social behaviours."
Future research by Huang may pursue investigating how
bees could be improved to become better pollinators. While this
won't provide a solution to bee colony collapse disorder, it
could provide an option for improving the shrinking population
of bees' pollen-collecting capacity.
The Rise and Fall of the Dust-ructor
By Keith Delaplane
Reprinted from ABJ February 2014
It was an idea whose time had come. Varroa mites were
raging as the front-runner of beekeeping problems; the
synthetic chemicals used to control them were coming under
scrutiny as problems in their own right, and non-chemical
alternative remedies were looking smarter and better all the
time. And what could be a safer alternative than powdered
The idea of treating bees (and mites) with finely ground
dusts such as wheat flour or confectioner's sugar had been
around a while, the idea being that dust impedes temperature
sensing organs on the mite's forelegs that it uses to locate bee
hosts, or impairs the mite's ability to keep its grip on the bee, or
induces a grooming response from bees that dislodges mites .
Moreover, once a mite is dislodged and falls onto a dusty hive
floor, it may have trouble moving around and eventually die of
starvation. A handful of early studies suggested a degree of
efficacy in dislodging mites with dust, either for diagnostic
purposes or outright control, but these references were for the
most part bidden away in non-English literature or obscure
conference proceedings. But by the early 2000s there were new
studies giving the matter more exposure in mainstream
journals. Mite dislodging rates between 77%3 to more than 90%
were being reported, and American beekeepers and bee
scientists were taking notice. But no one can pretend that it was
a revolution taking place. For starters, there was no consensus
on such details as mode of delivery, quantity of dust, timing
and intervals of treatment, or even the basic question whether
dusting worked.
A convincing field-scale study finally came out in 2009
The Hive Tool
The Dust-ructor is a shop vac with a hose modified to
pass through a PVC chamber accommodating 120 g
powdered sugar.
My intrepid staffers Brett Nolan, Ohad Afik, and Jennifer
Berry weren't quite as pessimistic as I and reasoned that several
questions remained unresolved. To begin, they argued that (I) the
efficacy of dusting had not been adequately tested in the context
of a brood-free period (bee colonies in Florida are rarely broodfree), and it was exactly a brood-free period when one could
expect maximum control when the whole mite population was on
adult bees and vulnerable to dislodgement. They also argued that
(2) more than one delivery method should be tested - especially
one that could work at a commercial scale, and finally, they
thought that (3) more than one treatment interval should be tested.
In short - they dreamed up a whole new experiment6, and who
was I to resist such youthful initiative?
But before we could do any work, we had to come up with
something about that point #2 - dust delivery at a commercial
scale. Brett and Jennifer had an idea about a forced-air device that
would blow sugar dust into the hive entrance, avoiding the need
to open and manipulate individual colonies. Realizing the vision
ultimately involved a shop vac, a few PVC plumbing parts, and
several trips to the home improvement store. Beta testing and
refinements led to a contraption with the likeness of a vacuum
cleaner. The shop vac hose was modified to pass through a PVC
chamber which accommodates 120 g powdered sugar (Figures 12). The device could deliver dust to hive interiors when applied
either in the hive entrance or through the bottom if the hive was
fitted with a bottom screen (Fig. 3). And with a final flair of
panache it was named the Dust-ructor in a nod to the scientific
name of its target, the mite Varroa destructor. Excitement was in
the air.
In rapid succession we put together 64 single-story
Langstroth colonies, divided them between two apiary sites, and
assigned each colony one of 8 treatment combinations: (I)
beginning powdered sugar treatment in January (broodless) or in
March 2014
March (brood increasing), (2) applying treatment every other
month for 9 days ( 4 treatments 3 days apart) or applying one
treatment every 2 weeks, and (3) applying powdered sugar with
a sifter on frame top bars then brushing it down between frames
or blowing powdered sugar in the hive entrance with the Dustructor. The experiment ran from January to the following
October, and we regularly took measurements of colony
strength and mite levels. A parallel apiary of 8 colonies was set
up and run as a nontreated control group.
UGA Bee Lab personnel Brett Nolan and Charlie Gwyn
run the Dustructor through one of its many beta tests.
Our first question was simply whether powdered sugar
works. Our treatment numbers in multiples of 8 let us perform
essentially 8 independent comparisons between treated colonies
and non-treated. In only 2 of these 8 independent comparisons
did powdered sugar significantly reduce colony mite levels.
Not exciting.
Our next step was to
look at the balanced 64colony experiment to see
whether we could detect
any effects from the date
of initiating treatment,
mode of application, and
treatment intervals. In
one month (October),
mite levels were lower in
treatment had begun the
previous January instead
of March, suggesting
that powdered sugar
Blowing powdered sugar into a treatment is started early
hive through the bottom screen. to exploit a winter
brood-free period. In
another month (May), colony bee populations were higher in
colonies treated with the Dust-ructor, suggesting that applying
powdered sugar with forced air at the entrance was less
disruptive to bees than exposing and dusting frame top bars.
When it comes to the most important thing - colony
survival - things weren't very promising. Among the 8 nontreated control colonies, three (38%) were still alive by
The Hive Tool
October. Average survival among treated colonies was virtually
the same at 39%.
In summary, we found:
'Powdered sugar reduced mite levels in only 25% of
independent tests.
'Efficacy may be better if treatment begins early during a
brood-free period. 'Dusting with forced air at the entrance may be
less disruptive to bees than manually dusting and brushing frame
tops. 'Powdered sugar did not improve colony survival rates.
In short, the rising star of the Dust-ructor was plateaued.
But I have belabored this non-remarkable experiment
because I think it captures a lot of the state of modern bee health
science and the kinds of beekeeping practices we'll be seeing in
the future. Powdered sugar seems to fall under that category of
remedies that "won't hurt and might help." It appears to be
relatively harmless to bees4• In my opinion, powdered sugar joins
bottom screens, drone brood trapping, and genetic honey bee
resistance on the list of "soft" remedies for Varroa mites practices that individually cannot be expected to keep this serious
parasite at bay, but when used together might do the trick. Who
knows? The Dust-ructor may still have its place in the world. But
bee health can no longer be understood as a linear chain of one
cause > one effect > one cure - that "cure" (more often than not)
being an antibiotic or acutely toxic synthetic miticide. Bee health
management will become more knowledge based and less
chemical-based, and research like this is where it comes from.
References cited in Fakhimzadeh 200 I.
PhD dissertation, Univ. Helsinki, Dept. Appl. Biol. Publication
no. 3
Macedo et al. 2002. J. Apic. Res. 41: 3-7
Aliano and Ellis 2005. J. Apic. Res. 44: 54-57
Fakhimzadeh 200 I. J. Apic. Res. 40: 105-109
Ellis et al. 2009. J. Apic. Res. 48: 72- 76
Berry et al. 2012. J. Apic. Res. 51: 367- 368
Recipe Corner
Spiced Rubbed Salmon on a Cedar Plank (serves four)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds fresh salmon filets with skin on
2 cedar planks
Honey for drizzling
Soak the planks in water for one to two hours before starting.
Preheat your grill to 350 to 375 degrees, medium-low heat. In
a small bowl combine all the rub ingredients. Rub the salmon
with a moderate amount of the prepared rub and set aside.
Place the planks on the grill and heat for a few minutes.
Using tongs turn over the planks and place one piece of salmon
on each plank. Close the lid and cook for 13 to 18 minutes
depending on thickness of the salmon. You are looking for an
internal temp of 135 degrees. You can also judge by touch and
sight. It will be flaky, opaque and fairly firm to the touch.
Drizzle with honey and devour immediately.
March 2014
Roger Williams, President
Ted Gattino,V. Pres.
Arnie Breidenbaugh, Secretary
Mary Gamper, Treasurer
Jerry Fischer, State Bee Insp.
Oregon Ridge Nature Center
Lloyd Snyder, Editor
Editors E-Mail - [email protected]
The Hive Tool is always looking for articles
to print. Please submit articles that you
have written or items that you have found
elsewhere to the Editors email address
above or contact the editor for more
CMBA Nuc Program is sold out of nucs.
Check out the CMBA website
Lloyd Snyder – Editor
4747 Norrisville Road
White Hall, MD 21161
Honey Bee Night - February 27, 2014 7:00 PM ait
Oregon Ridge Nature Center Q&A on keeping
bees. All are welcome. This will be the LAST
REGISTRATION DATE for the Short Course
General Meeting – March 4, 2014 – 7:00 PM at
Oregon Ridge Nature Center. Our speaker is
Charlie Brandts, Beekeeper, 1600 Pennsylvania
Ave. Washington DC. Talking about the White
House bees.
Short Course – Oregon Ridge Nature Center
March 13, March 20, March 27, April 3, April 10
7:15 PM to 9 PM- April 12 9 AM to 3 PM. See the
attached flyer for more details.
CMBA Snow Cancellation Policy
In case of snow or ice on the meeting
date, listen to WBAL radio before 7:00 PM. If
Baltimore County's snow emergency plan is in
effect at 6:00 PM, then the meeting is
automatically canceled.