Border Bees Diary

Diary of a Beekeeper in the Scottish Borders

Posts Tagged ‘Bees’

The Trouble with Queens

Posted by borderglider on August 12, 2009

Many beekeepers in the UK are having problems with queens: virgin queens fail to mate, disappear on mating flights or mate successfully, only to become drone-layers within weeks. I had a good queen-rearing season and bred 6 new queens – all of which mated successfully – and all produced fertile eggs and good brood-patterns over a number of frames. However, three of these queens were superseded (replaced) by the bees within a month – which is highly abnormal; it is however a phenomenon being seen up and down the country.  Normally, a newly mated young queen would be good for at least two years, possibly three or even four – though most beekeepers try to replace their queens annually these days. However, many beekeepers are reporting that young, apparently vigorous and fertile queens are being killed by their own workers and replaced with new queens within a matter of weeks; this is highly abnormal behaviour and indicates that something is going terribly wrong.

My own hypothesis is that we are seeing the results of bio-accumulation of neo-nicotinoid pesticides in young queens which are affecting their behaviour in sub-lethal ways.  French research by Dr Bonmatin at Montpelier University in 1998-99 revealed that the neo-nicotinoid pesticide Imidacloprid kills bees when they ingest it at levels of just 3-5 parts per billion (ppb)however, his team also found sub-lethal effects at far lower levels of contamination – a mere 0.1 ppb – an almost infinitesimally small level of poison. This independent research dramatically conflicted with that of Bayer- the manufacturers of Imidacloprid – who initially claimed that their new nerve-poison only killed bees at levels in excess of 50,000 ppb; they revised this downward to 10,000, then 5,000, then 1000 – and latterly – in the face of mounting evidence they have said that it kills bees at 50-100 ppb.  Bonmatin’s research still claims that it kills bees at 5 ppb.

Why might Pesticides be Affecting Queen Bees?

Well, a worker bee only lives for 6 weeks – and sometimes less, depending on how hard it has to work in the field. So in its short life, it only eats pollen and nectar for this limited period. However, a queen bee lives for up to two years, and while a queen larva is growing in its cell, it is fed far more food than a worker larva. So if pesticides are present in the pollen and nectar which is used to feed a developing queen-larva, it will bio-accumulate far more pesticide than a worker-larva.  The levels may still be sub-lethal but since these are neuro-toxins, they affect the nervous system and brain first – which control all complex queen-activities such: as the mating-flight, navigation to and from the hive, mating on the wing, laying eggs and so on. Moreover, the nervous system controls the production of pheromones by the queen, which affect all activities in the hive.

The queen bee regulates virtually all the activities of the hive through her production of queen-pheromones, sometimes called ‘queen substance’. In reality the ‘queen substance’ is made up of a dozen or more distinct pheromones, each of which plays a vital role in the governance of the hive.  One vital pheromone for example suppresses the urge of the worker bees to produce queen cells – and hence make new queens; as the queen gets older, she produces less and less of this substance and at the same time, the population of the hive increases to perhaps 50,000 workers – so there is less and less inhibiting chemical to go around.  When the ‘queen-cell-inhibition’ pheromone drops below a certain threshold, the workers cease to be repressed and they suddenly start to make new queen cells and new queens.

However, if the queen loses her potency in terms of any of the 20 or so pheromones which she creates and distributes in the hive, the bees will sense that ‘somethng is wrong’ and they may kill and replace her.

In addition, if the queen’s nervous system is damaged in any way that affects her behaviour, her egg-laying pattern for example – the bees will kill and replace her. There have been reports from France and from America that while bee-colonies have died by the thousands in areas where pesticides are routinely used on sunflowers, oilseed rape, almonds, apples, peas, beans and so on – there have been virtually no bee-losses in areas where such pesticides are not used: forests, heather-moorlands, offshore islands, mountain districts.

I recently read about a beekeeper called Andrew Abrahams who keeps native black bees on the remote island of Colonsay in the inner Hebrides:

http://www.colonsay.org.uk/

His bees forage on the wildflowers of the ‘Machair’ – the famed coastal flower-pastures which thrive because of the calcareous shell-sands created from billions of sea-shells ground by the Atlantic waves.  The Machair habitat is found on many West-facing shores of most of the Hebridean islands and the vast carpet of wildflowers feeds millions of insects in May, which in turn attract thousands of migrant wading birds to breed here.

Since there is no intensive, pesticide-based farming on islands like Colonsay, the bees are uncontaminated – and the varroa mite has not reached the islands either, he writes:  http://www.colonsay.org.uk/honey2.html

Industrial farming has laid waste the natural bee forage of most of Britain. Hedges uprooted, every weed sprayed, grasslands fertilised by nitrogen instead of clover. Only now at the margin, in places such as Colonsay, can a wide diversity of wildflowers still be found. Colonsay and Oronsay have varied habitats from the machair near the shore, to non intensive farmland, hedges, woodland and open heather moorland. Over 50% of all British wildflower species grow in this small area. A very mixed and varied feast for the bees!. The important nectar flows that make the bulk of the honey are sycamore and bluebell in the Spring, hawthorn, bramble and clover in the summer months and then the bell and ling heathers of the autumn. But it is the fragrant nectar of the numerous wildflowers that gives Isle of Colonsay Wildflower Honey it’s unique and special flavour. The strong aromatic oils of the wild thyme, growing on the sandy machair, are just one example.

A Queen from Over the Sea

I contacted Andrew to see if I could buy one of his Colonsay Queens to create a new colony at my Apiary in the Borders, and was lucky to find that he did have some queens for sale.  The new queen would be sent through the post in a small plastic cage, protected in bubble-wrap and accompanied by a dozen or so attendant bees, with a block of honey-candy as food for the journey

The new queen would arrive a couple of days later but I had to prepare a nucleus hive of queenless bees to receive the new queen.  This is a tricky procedure, since it involves taking bees from a hive which already has a queen and separating these bees from their mother-queen, whose pheromones are the very basis of their survival.  Each queen has its own distinct pheromone-character and each hive of bees has its own ‘family-smell’; the bees will fight and kill any strange bee which attempts to enter their hive, because it does not have the right smell. So, in order to get bees to accept a new queen, with a new smell, they first have to be made queenless, by separating them from their mother-hive for at least 24 hours.

Queenless bees realise they are queenless within an hour or so, and they display all the classic signs: all normal activity in the hive stops and the bees run about all over the front of the hive in a disordered, frantic mob – ‘roaring’ loudly all the time.  This noisy-chaos  is unlike any other sight you will ever see around a beehive, and once seen it is never forgotten.

Having left this newly-made colony queenless overnight, I introduced the queen in her cage between the frames of the hive at dusk the next day.

The effect was dramatic; within two minutes the noisy roaring died away, the frantic searching hither and thither stopped, and all the bees on the front of the hive trooped inside in an orderly manner.  As soon as the queen was introduced into the hive, signal-bees appeared on the landing board where they stuck their tails in the air and exposed the white Nasonov Gland which is normally concealed beneath their tail segment.  This exudes a ‘homing-pheromone’ which essentially signals that ‘this is home, everything is alright, come on in’.

Within minutes there was hardly a bee in sight and the Island Queen was being feted as the new mother of a new bee-colony; all that could be heard from the hive was the deep, contented hum of happy bees, which is one of the wonderful sounds of the world.

So I now  have a new queen from a pesticide-free island, heading up a new colony in my apiary.  The only problem of course is that I live in the Scottish Borders, in a centre of intensive, industrial, pesticide-laced arable farming. So the question is – ‘how long will she last?‘.

Posted in BEEKEEPING, PESTICIDES, queen rearing | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Wasp Attack on Bee Colony

Posted by borderglider on August 13, 2008

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I had a small tragedy this week when a newly created hive of bees was overwhelmed by a wasp attack:every single bee was killed, all the eggs and larvae were eaten and all the honey was stolen by the wasps. The hive had been created as a nucleus with a couple of thousand young bees – which were given a queen-cell. All went well and I was pleased to find the new queen had mated and produced two sizeable patches of brood.

I saw the hive last weekend and all was well – though there were some wasps around. When I went to inspect this weekend I found a large pile of dead bees on the mesh floor – no living bees in the hive at all. There were a few dead wasps as well. The most striking thing was the hundreds of bee-wings scattered on the varroa inspection tray – and on closer examination I could see legs, heads, thoraxes by the hundreds.

Bee colony massacred by wasps
wasps and bees lie among hundreds of dis-membered bee wings

I did not realise that wasps physically dis-member bees – biting off wings, legs and heads; possibly they do this to carry away the bee’s abdomens which they may use to feed their own larvae. Wasps are predators of other insects and feed their own young on insect prey. In return their own larvae excrete a sugar-rich fluid which the adult wasps feed on.

Wasps and bees lie among hundreds of dis-membered bee wings
Wasps and bees lie among hundreds of dis-membered bee wings

DIY WASP TRAPS
I made 6 new wasp traps today and placed them in a ‘cordon sanitaire’ around the hives; there were dozens of wasps inside the traps within 15 minutes – so the local wasp population is evidently really high this year.
I have created a web page showing how to make wasp traps out of 2 litre plastic milk containers – at zero cost in less than 5 minutes. To download the design for the wasp trap please click below:
***************

Posted in BEEKEEPING, Pests and Diseases | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

LOS ANGELES TIMES: BUZZZZZZ-KILL

Posted by borderglider on August 6, 2008

http://www.latimes.com/news/science/la-oe-meyerhoff30-2008jul30,0,2821586.story

by Al Meyerhof, Los Angeles Times, July 30th 2008

The loss of billions of bees raises questions about our pesticide controls.

By Al Meyerhoff
LOS ANGELES TIMES July 30, 2008

“It’s likely that most people have never heard of Gaucho. And no, it’s not a South American cowboy. I’m talking about a pesticide.There is increasing reason to believe that Gaucho and other members of a family of highly toxic chemicals — neonicotinoids — may be responsible for the deaths of billions of honeybees worldwide. Some scientists believe that these pesticides, which are applied to seeds, travel systemically through the plant and leave residues that contaminate the pollen, resulting in bee death or paralysis. The French refer to the effect as “mad bee disease” and in 1999 were the first to ban the use of these chemicals, which are currently only marketed by Bayer (the aspirin people) under the trade names Gaucho and Poncho. Germany followed suit this year, and its agricultural research institute said it concluded that the poisoning of the bees was because of the rub-off of the pesticide clothianidin (that’s Pancho) from corn seeds.

So why did the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2002 grant an “emergency” exemption allowing increased use of Gaucho — typically invoked during a major infestation — when only a few beetles were found in blueberries? Why did the agency also grant a “conditional” registration for its close relative, Pancho, allowing the chemical on the market with only partial testing? And why is the agency, hiding behind a curtain of “trade secrets,” still refusing to disclose whether the additional tests required of companies in such cases were conducted and, if so, with what results?

Therein lies a tale. Most pesticides, we’re told, are safe. So we add about 5 billion pounds a year of these deadly chemicals to our world, enough to encircle the planet if it were packaged in 100-pound sacks. Sure, they are regulated — but badly — under the antiquated Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. This law allows a chemical on the market unless it’s proved to pose “an unreasonable risk,” far too weak a standard.

Gerard Eyries, a Bayer marketing manager, said in connection with the French action that “imidacloprid [that’s Gaucho] left a small residue in nectar and pollen, but there was no evidence of a link with the drop in the bee population.” Bayer also blamed seed makers and suggested that there may be “nonchemical causes” for this massive bee kill. But Bayer may not be entirely objective here. In 2006, Gaucho sales topped $746 million.

Something is killing the bees, though. Some scientists suspect a virus; others mites, even cellphones. (Bees are not known to use phones, though, having their own communications system — a dance called the “waggle.”)

Here in the U.S., the bee kill is a big problem. Domesticated bees were brought to the U.S. on the Mayflower. Today, they contribute at least $15 billion to the nation’s agricultural economy. For example, California’s $2-billion-a-year almond crop is completely dependent on honeybees from about 1.5 million hives for pollination. This year, more than 2.4 million bee colonies — 36% of the total — were lost in the U.S., according to the Apiary Inspectors of America. Some colonies collapsed in two days.

Part of the problem is how we farm. Rather than rotating crops, farmers grow the same one each year. This “monoculture” creates a breeding ground for pests. Farmers then use chemicals that kill not only the target organism but other life forms as well — like honeybees. That this approach may now be coming back to bite big-production agriculture is not without some irony. For decades the agriculture industry has been its beneficiary — with farmworkers, consumers and local communities the victims. But, actually, we’re all in trouble.

No independent government testing is required before a pesticide is registered for use. Large gaps in basic scientific knowledge about pesticides remain, including their environmental “fate” (where they end up) and their toxicity to humans and to wildlife. A problem pesticide may be removed from the market only after a long process and full trial — something that should be done before. The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 improved control of residues in our food. That didn’t help the bees.

Rachel Carson was vilified by an industry smear nearly 50 years ago, after the release of her book, “Silent Spring.” “If we were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson,” said American Cyanamid, the maker of DDT, “we would return to the Dark Ages … insects, vermin and disease would once again inherit the Earth.” But, as Carson so eloquently put it in a CBS documentary in 1964: “Man’s attitude toward nature is today critically important simply because we now have acquired a fateful power to alter and destroy nature. But man is part of nature, and his war is inevitably a war against himself.”

Al Meyerhoff, an environmental attorney in Los Angeles, is a former director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s public health program.

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Germany bans chemicals linked to honeybee devastation

Posted by borderglider on May 23, 2008

From Today’s Guardian – May 23rd 2008

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/may/23/wildlife.endangeredspecies

Germany has banned a family of pesticides that are blamed for the deaths of millions of honeybees. The German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) has suspended the registration for eight pesticide seed treatment products used in rapeseed oil and sweetcorn.

The move follows reports from German beekeepers in the Baden-Württemberg region that two thirds of their bees died earlier this month following the application of a pesticide called clothianidin.

“It’s a real bee emergency,” said Manfred Hederer, president of the German Professional Beekeepers’ Association. “50-60% of the bees have died on average and some beekeepers have lost all their hives.”

Tests on dead bees showed that 99% of those examined had a build-up of clothianidin. The chemical, produced by Bayer CropScience, a subsidiary of the German chemical giant Bayer, is sold in Europe under the trade name Poncho. It was applied to the seeds of sweetcorn planted along the Rhine this spring. The seeds are treated in advance of being planted or are sprayed while in the field.

The company says an application error by the seed company which failed to use the glue-like substance that sticks the pesticide to the seed, led to the chemical getting into the air.

Bayer spokesman Dr Julian Little told the BBC’s Farming Today that misapplication is highly unusual. “It is an extremely rare event and has not been seen anywhere else in Europe,” he said.

Clothianidin, like the other neonicotinoid pesticides that have been temporarily suspended in Germany, is a systemic chemical that works its way through a plant and attacks the nervous system of any insect it comes into contact with. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency it is “highly toxic” to honeybees.

This is not the first time that Bayer, one of the world’s leading pesticide manufacturers with sales of €5.8bn (£4.6bn) in 2007, has been blamed for killing honeybees.

In the United States, a group of beekeepers from North Dakota is taking the company to court after losing thousands of honeybee colonies in 1995, during a period when oilseed rape in the area was treated with imidacloprid. A third of honeybees were killed by what has since been dubbed colony collapse disorder.

Bayer’s best selling pesticide, imidacloprid, sold under the name Gaucho in France, has been banned as a seed dressing for sunflowers in that country since 1999, after a third of French honeybees died following its widespread use. Five years later it was also banned as a sweetcorn treatment in France. A few months ago, the company’s application for clothianidin was rejected by French authorities.

Bayer has always maintained that imidacloprid is safe for bees if correctly applied. “Extensive internal and international scientific studies have confirmed that Gaucho does not present a hazard to bees,” said Utz Klages, a spokesman for Bayer CropScience.

Last year, Germany’s Green MEP, Hiltrud Breyer, tabled an emergency motion calling for this family of pesticides to be banned across Europe while their role in killing honeybees were thoroughly investigated. Her action follows calls for a ban from beekeeping associations and environmental organisations across Europe.

Philipp Mimkes, spokesman for the German-based Coalition Against Bayer Dangers, said: “We have been pointing out the risks of neonicotinoids for almost 10 years now. This proves without a doubt that the chemicals can come into contact with bees and kill them. These pesticides shouldn’t be on the market.”

See also:
http://www.cbgnetwork.de/2517.html
Coalition against BAYER Dangers (Germany)
www.CBGnetwork.org
CBGnetwork@aol.com
Fax: (+49) 211-333 940 Tel: (+49) 211-333 911
please send an e-mail for receiving the English newsletter Keycode BAYER free of charge.

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BAYER USES BBKA ENDORSEMENT TO SELL PESTICIDES

Posted by borderglider on May 23, 2008

Bayer -the giant multinational pesticide manufacturer is actively using the name and logo of the British Beekeeping Association to promote and sell an insecticide called ‘DECIS’. Take a look at their ‘advert’ at:

http://www.bayercropscience.co.uk/content.output/272/781/Crop%20Centre/Insecticides%20Molluscicides/Decis.mspx

ABSTRACT FROM BAYER ADVERT“target=”_blank”

“decis is endorsed by the British Bee Keepers Association when used according to the following guidelines:

  • Spray in the evening or very early morning when fewer bees are foraging.
  • Take care to prevent drift toward hives in the treated field.
  • Avoid triazole fungicide tank mixes.
  • Give local beekeepers as much notice as possible.

Bayer goes on to say that the active insecticide is DELTAMETHRIN and that . . . .

” you can be sure that all the active ingredient you spray will be insecticidal. This is coupled with a long duration of activity, rapid knockdown and short pre-harvest intervals.”

DO YOU THINK THE BBKA’S POSITION IS ACCEPTABLE, OR ILLOGICAL?

Here we have our national beekeeping organisation accepting large sums of cash from Bayer – for endorsing an insecticide as being “bee friendly”; when Bayer’s own marketing blurb stresses that this is a ‘long duration insecticide’ with rapid ‘knock down’. It is appalling that – contrary to the stated objections of many of BBKA’s membership, the excutive has allegedly been in receipt of cash payments in the order of £20,000 per annum since 2003 – for endorsing pesticides which kill bees! You couldn’t make it up! This is the equivalent of Alcoholics Anonymous taking cash from a whisky manufacturing company for endorsing their booze as being “friendly to alcoholics if consumed in the recommended dosage”.

Posted in PESTICIDES | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Dandelion Days – May 2008

Posted by borderglider on May 22, 2008

Dandelions peak in early May

Common Dandelion – Good source of Pollen

May has been dominated by dandelions on the roadsides – which provide lots of pollen and nectar for bees – though the vast yellow fields of oilseed rape (OSR) provide pollen and nectar on a totally different scale. Sadly the Oilseed Rape flowered too early for our colonies to take advantage of – my hives are stuffed with hatching bees and sealed brood – but there just aren’t enough foraging bees to ‘cash-in’ on the golden harvest of OSR. The newly emerged bees will spend at least two weeks inside the hive feeding larvae, cleaning cells and acting as ‘house bees’ – receiving nectar from foragers – before they start to go out and collect nectar themselves. However, this vast bloom of flowers is the perfect source of food for accelerating the build-up of the bee population in the hives.

Oilseed Rape (OSR) in full bloom – fifty acres of it!

POLLEN BUILDS BEES

Honey provides the bees with their daily food needs – but they can only create new bees if they can provide larvae with protein in the form of pollen. Thus -in Spring the hive usually has stores of honey – and some stores of ‘sealed-pollen’ (last season’s pollen mixed with honey as a paste – sometimes called ‘bee bread’.

However, the limiting factor on breeding more bees is the availability of pollen. So May is the crucial month here in the UK when vast swathes of wildflowers and huge crops of oilseed rape provide an ocean of pollen. The problem is that the hive needs foragers – older bees – to collect the pollen, and if the hive population is still low, there just aren’t enough pollen-foragers to do the job.

Worker With Full pollen Baskets Returning to the Hive

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Birth of The Drones and Worker Bees

Posted by borderglider on May 13, 2008

May is the month when male drones start to emerge from the cells in which they have metamorphosed from fat white larvae into flying male bees. Note the size of the drone’s eyes in the photo below – each eye forms almost a hemisphere around the head – similar to a dragonfly. It is thought that the drone needs such amazing eyesight in order to find and mate with the Queen on her mating flight – which may happen several hundred feet in the air and up to three miles from the hive.

Male bees - drones emerging from their cells
Drones Emerging from their Cells

“Hello World! Why Am I Here? What Is My Purpose?”

Worker bee merging from its cell

A Worker Bee Cuts Her Way out of Her Cell

A young worker cuts her way from her cell to join her sisters in the duties of the hive. All of the capped cells around her contain young workers about to emerge after matamorphosis; these will probably emerge within the next 24 hours since this patch of eggs will all have been laid by the Queen at the same time – up to 2,000 a day at this time of year.

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Beekeeping in the Scottish Borders

Posted by borderglider on May 11, 2008

May 11th 2008

I have kept bees for eight years now – so I am no longer ‘a beginner’ – but many local beekeepers have forty years or more experience, so I am still a long way from being an ‘expert’.  I keep the local ‘native’ bee – i,e, British Black bees – Apis Mellifera Mellifera – rather than using imported Italian, Carniolan (Slovenian) bees.

The Merry Month of May in the beehive

Nurse Bees & Sealed Worker Cells during Oilseed Rape Season

My bees went into the winter of 2007 with five hives – all in good heart and all with first-year-queens (British blacks – or ‘local stock’. The bees were treated for varroa with Apistan strips in September and after Christmas I dosed them with Oxalic Acid – to guard against varroa gaining chemical resistance. I also tacked heavy duty plastic ‘skirts’ around the hives to shed the rain and wind – using builders damp-proof-membrane – so I thought everything had been taken care of.

When I last peeked into the hives – after Christmas – there were healthy populations of bees in all five hives and plenty of winter stores to see them through the cold months. When I revisited the hives in April I was shocked to discover that one of the hives was dead and another two were queenless – with only a small population of bees surviving.

CAUSES?

The main possible causes noted by the experts seem to be:

1. Varroa parasites and viruses

2. Nosema – dysentery

3. Prolonged cold

4. Accumulation of pesticides in stored food supplies

The general picture that is emerging throughout the UK is that there have been very heavy losses in some areas – lighter losses in others. East Lothian BKA conducted a survey which revealed 10% losses on average. Morayshire BKA reported losses in the 40-50% zone and in one case 12 out of 12 hives were lost.

My own hives are all Open Mesh Floors; all were treated for Varroa (Apistan) in September and seemed in vigorous good health. They were treated with oxalic acid using 3% solution and no more than 5 mls of solution per seam of bees – in early January. The three dead or severely depleted hives were discovered in mid April and I have been nursing my two remaining queenright colonies in the hope of breeding new queens at the end of May.

British Black Queen/em>

I took this photo of my best remaining queen on May 10th. Did not see the varroa mites through the veil while inspecting the hive, but did notice them on the enlarged photo today. Very depressing.

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