bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Monday, April 30, 2007

CCD's silver lining

Since CCD hit the news, Toni (a regular reader) is noticing how many people have become more honeybee-aware. Her friends keep pointing out interesting bee news. Like the friend who sent her this link about how honeybees have helped to develop a model for allocating web hosting resources

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My apiaries

I have four apiaries (just one or two colonies in each), so I thought you'd like to see where they are. They are in little gaps in the woodland in the right of centre of both pictures.


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Coming out to face the day

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How on earth do bees walk with feet like that?

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It's big boys' hive time again -- and it's only April! The hive on the right has been snelgroved and has two entrances -- one at the side of large box on top.

A few bees in the second picture are confused. The picture is taken from the back of the hives and shows that the six or seven bees on the right clustered up the side of the box have gone to the wrong hive. It's the one on the left which has the side entrance. It makes you wonder just how many bees drift from hive to hive by mistake.


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Calling back the troops

Either a virgin queen left on a mating flight today or she left with a swarm.
Here's the hub-bub at the entrance to the nucleus hive. And below are workers calling in the troops in the aftermath sending their nasinov marker pheromones into the air.

I had a similar incident last year, but this season's is two months earlier. We've had an extraordinary spring with average April temperatures 3C above the monthly average.


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Friday, April 27, 2007


It's early days yet, but there may be a new role for propolis (the sticky substance, not the blog) as a food preserver. In experimental conditions, it's been found that propolis may inhibit the development of the dreaded e-coli. It could be used in ground beef.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

On the trail of the cause of CCD

Following the news release (reported below) announcing that CCD may be caused by a virus and a parasite comes the -- ahem -- clarification:
But the results are “highly preliminary” and are from only a few hives from Le Grand in Merced County, UCSF biochemist Joe DeRisi said. “We don't want to give anybody the impression that this thing has been solved.”
Nonetheless things are looking interesting. Researchers are using
a powerful combination of a “virus chip” — a microarray with DNA samples of most known viruses and fungi — and “shotgun” sequencing, which identifies telltale DNA from random samples of the biological sample.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Cavalry coming over the CCD hill?

The Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, “the US Army's principal research and development center for chemical and biological defense technology, engineering and services” and the University of California claim to have found both a virus and a parasite that are “likely behind” CCD:
Using a new technology called the Integrated Virus Detection System (IVDS), which was designed for military use to rapidly screen samples for pathogens, ECBC scientists last week isolated the presence of viral and parasitic pathogens that may be contributing to the honeybee loss. Confirmation testing was conducted over the weekend by scientists at the University of California San Francisco. ECBC scientists presented the results of their studies yesterday to a United States Department of Agriculture working group, hastily convened to determine next steps.
But no mention yet of the virus or parasite.


Queenless wonders

Because I had too many colonies, I gave one away at the weekend. I have Langstroth hives, but the recipient has British National hives (the most common in Britain). So we did a shook swarm -- shaking the bees onto new National foundation -- and tried to ensure that they would take to their new box by adding a frame of National brood. I think all went well at the recipient's end.

However, I had a surprise here. I brought the now useless brood frames back home from the out apiary with the intention of melting them down in my solar wax extractor. But this evening I noticed that there were a few bees milling about the entrance of the old box. A few too many to be robbers. So I checked inside and found one frame heavy with bees. But just one frame and the bees were insufficient to be a newly arrived swarm.

Then it dawned on me: these were ready-to emerge bees from the old colony and they are trying their damnedest to continue as if nothing had happened. I haven't spotted any queen cells yet, but I'll inspect properly tomorrow.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

CCD finger-pointing at imidacloprid

The search for the cause of CCD continues and there is some finger-pointing at the neonicotinoid group of chemicals, particularly imidacloprid, a seed treatment commonly used in Europe and the United States, as a possible cause, says the New York Times and others. Imidacloprid is a systemic treatment that finds its way in minute traces into pollen, and, I think, nectar.

In the late 1990s, French beekeepers blamed Gaucho, a brand name for imidacloprid, for disorienting and indirectly causing bee colony deaths. The chemical was banned for use with sunflowers and later maize. Apparently, Bayer's internal research says the chemical is harmless to bees, but independent French researchers disagree.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Honeybees still rising on the political agenda

Even US Presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton, has called on the US agriculture department (USDA) to respond to the concerns about nationwide honeybee losses.

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Unmellow yellow


The British countryside is distinctly yellow this spring. It's not because of the dry weather, but because of a substantial increase in the cultivation of oil seed rape (OSR or canola). According to The Guardian, production has gone up 17% this year -- a huge single-year increase that is not expected to decline anytime soon. Thirty years ago, the crop was barely known in Britain. Apparently Germany is now buying up lots of British OSR for biofuel production.

Beekeepers tend to groan or cheer about oil seed rape. For commercial beefarming in the UK, the huge nectar yields it gives is probably essential to maintaining a viable business. For hobbyists, it tends to be somewhat less popular. Spring-flowering rape crystallises rapidly and frequently in the comb. A few cold nights on the hive and the honey goes solid. It also seeds the next crop, field beans, and ensures that it won't remain liquid long either. You can guess which camp I'm in.

calculated (in 1996) that insect pollination (not just by honeybees) contributes about 10% of OSR's market value in the UK.

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Bee vase

Libertiny's “slow prototyping”.

With a Little Help of the Bees by Tomas Gabzdil Libertiny of Studio Libertiny is part of Droog’s Smart Deco 2 show in Milan.

As I understand it, Libertiny shaped foundation into a vase and let 40,000 bees go to work on it for one week.

Thanks to Ivan for pointing this out.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Why I like bees

Today my bees foiled me (again). Two colonies are super-strong for so early in the year. Last weekend, one colony was putting eggs in queen cells. None of the cells yet contained royal jelly, so there was always the possibility that the queen cells might be aborted before they really started.

Since then it has been excellent nectar-gathering weather, so I expected that they might want to swarm before the coming weekend. The books say that a queen cell is sealed eight days after the egg is laid. So today is the fifth, or possibly eighth day after the eggs were laid. And, you guessed it, when I looked, some cells were sealed. Worker eggs were still evident and the bees were calm, so the queen was almost certainly still at home. So, time for a split.

Well, I couldn't find the queen despite three comb scans, so I used the tried-and-tested method of ensuring that the queen was in one brood box, adding another and separating them by a queen excluder. I intended tomorrow to separate the boxes.

One hour later, a swarm appeared about fifty metres from the hive. How could a clipped queen fly so far?

Update: I should have known! After a few hours the swarm went home. Obviously they realised that mummy hadn't come with them. It took a long time for them to find out though!

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Bees and mobile phone research uncovered and er ...

At last, someone has uncovered the research that led to the press frenzy on mobile phones and bees. An enterprising soul on Bee_L has managed to get links to two papers on the web (in German and in English). He is distinctly underwhelmed.

The studies (a pilot study and a follow-up) were actually about electromagnetic fields, especially DECT phones, on the learning ability of bees. It said nothing about CCD, the methodology seems dodgy and and and ... but you can read them for yourself.

Or there is a very good report (in English)in Spiegel Online.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Bees and hares

Now that the Day of the Mobile Phones Kills Bees has gone (with headlines in nearly every British national newspaper, but without anyone yet managing to find the research or even quote the researcher), should Propolis start another hare running? Please vote for one of the following and I'll dig up some under publicised academic somewhere to support the thesis:

CCD caused by bees copying reality TV shows -- they vote each other out of their hive until crisis point is reached.

CCD caused by bees' distress over ongoing British monarchy crisis.

CCD caused by smoker bans in western world.

Feel free to offer your own theories.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

How the media works Part One

The British press has grabbed on to the speculation that mobile phone radiation might be the cause of CCD by affecting bees' navigation. Tabloids and broadheets have joined in: The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail and The Sun.

The Sun of course overlooks the speculation part: “Mobile phones have wiped out millions of bees, scientists warned last night.”

And all because a German researcher is reported to have found that when he placed mobile phones (I don't know if it's one or more) beside a hive the bees didn't return to the hive.

About a month ago, I heard from an American suggesting HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program) as the cause.

UPDATE: I cannot trace the research paper that sparked this story -- and other people have been looking without success too. I think the original journalist needs to give their source!

Further update: journalist rumbled.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Stinging chestnuts

I've just come across an old (1994) Time article about President Viktor Yushchenko of the Ukraine. It has an odd opening paragraph:
The first thing one notices about the opposition candidate is his face, full of scars and blisters that were absent from his once youthful, handsome visage just six months ago. And though Viktor Yushchenko, 50, raises bees in his spare time, he and his supporters from western Ukraine claim that there is nothing natural about his disfigurement, which they say is the result of a poisoning attempt by his political rivals in September.
Now you'll excuse my ignorance but does the author (Daniel Eisenberg) really think that bees might have anything to do with his appearance?

Daniel seems to suffer from that old chestnut of the fixation of non-beekeepers on stinging. I bet if he interviewed Viktor one of his top questions would be: Do you get stung?


Varroa reaches Hawai'i?

Varroa may have been found on Oahu in Hawai'i -- samples from three abandoned hives are being sent for confirmation. Entomologists will survey all the Hawai'ian islands for the mites as soon as possible.

In recent years, Hawai'ian beekeepers have exported queens on the strong selling point that the island bees have few of the bee diseases prevalent elsewhere in the world.

That may leave just Australia as the only apparently varroa-free area.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Drought and flowering cycle hits Queensland

Queensland (Australia) beekeepers are concerned about the effects of their ongoing drought on honey production. Some eucalypt trees only flower every two or three years and their cycle seems to be going out of sync. One source said that even with rain, honey supplies wouldn't return to normal until 2009.


CCD grammar

The UK National Bee Unit has said there is no evidence of CCD in the UK. But the way they said it wasn't altogether convincing to this grammar nazi:

Government bee inspectors met yesterday, but Mike Brown, head of the national bee unit based in York, reported no signs of CCD in Britain. “There is no evidence in the UK right now of colony collapse disorder,” he said in a statement. “The majority of inspectors said that they can put the current mortalities in honeybee populations around the UK down to varroa or varroasis.”
Now let me get this right: no evidence ... majority of inspectors say current losses are caused by varroa ... so does that mean a minority of inspectors are saying something else?

Meantime, Cuba says it has has seen no sign of CCD.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Home my bees!

Last autumn I prepared seven colonies for winter, wanting only four colonies in spring and expecting some to die during the winter because of the various and mysterious bee ailments about.

And guess what? Yes, seven healthy colonies came through, two in such exceptional condition that I expect them to try to swarm in April. I'm now looking for new beekeepers in search of colonies.

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Chinese beekeeping causes new problem

Chinese bees objected to a road toll in Luoyang, Henan and brought traffic to a standstill for one hour.


How bad is a bee sting?

How does a bee sting rate on the pain threshold? Now we have the Schmidt Pain Sting Index. He rates it as a two on the one to four scale: worse than a fire ant at one, but less than the harvester ant and tarantula hawk at three and four respectively. Apparently a bee sting can cause you to vocalise. Me? Oh, never!

Apparently, we can thank Justin O Schmidt for helping restrain the Killer Bee stories -- or as I now learn we can call them: pollen pigs! He worked for the US Department of Agriculture where he once worked at the Tucson Carl Hayden Bee Research Center.

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Bumper crop of baby bears

The head of Mississippi beekeepers has been complaining about the increase in black bears in his area. He says they don't even want the honey -- it's the larvae they are after.

An interested party replied that yes, there must be a problem since Mississippi has a whopping population of 40 bears! And they are native. Learn to live with them.


Bumblebee spotting

Now that spring has convincingly arrived in Britain, its residents can take part in a bumblebee survey without even straying from their gardens. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust is trying to map the distribution of the 25 species of British bumblebees.