Our February guest speaker was Jennifer Lund, the Maine State Apiarist.
She shared exactly what we need to know when we lose a hive of bees. Jennifer collects and uses data to inform her practice and her presentation was very interesting comprehensive! I’ve only hit the highlights!
First some facts.
According to Jennifer, only 20% of beekeepers report their losses in survey. Her survey showed decline in hive loss from 53% in 2016-17, to 43.4% for the 2017-18 season. 65.6% reported no summer loss, while 26.4% reported no winter loss.
As State inspector, Jennifer travels all over Maine and reports that 25% of hive deaths are due to queen loss, 70% due to varroa mites and viruses transmitted by varroa, and 5% everything else (foulbrood, nosema, vertebrates, insects and pests).
What should you do when you discover you have a dead hive?
As soon as you notice a hive is dead, close it immediately. Not only does this prevent robbing and disease, but it preserves evidence in the hive to discover during a later autopsy. Jennifer says the time of year of the hive death is important. Deaths in summer are largely due to issues with the queen, brood or food issues. Fall deaths are almost always attributed to varroa and associated viruses. Causes of winter death are starvation, excessive moisture, extreme fluctuation in temperature, and, of course Varroa destructor!
It’s spring or summer and your hive just died. Before diving into the hive, check the ground outside the hive for dead bees. Look closely. Are there any deformed bees signs of pests? Contrary to what many people think, Jennifer says that pesticide application kill is rare in Maine. Inside the hive, you are looking for signs of starvation, pests, disease, as well as adequate stores. Carefully look for the queen in any dead bees. Inspect the cells for brood or eggs. Do you notice any emergency queen cups or cells? Look at the brood. Healthy brood is uniform in appearance with few interruptions in pattern and are pearly white. The cappings of healthy brood are convex and are not perforated or greasy. There also should be no offensive odor. If your brood does not look healthy, further inspection is required!
A huge problem during fall months for hives is robbing! Signs of robbing are jagged edges on the comb, fighting, and bee parts on the bottom board. While robbing is a serious issue, varroa is the biggest problem facing honey bees today. It is the #1 cause of fall/winter hive deaths in Maine. Jennifer explained the phoretic and reproductive phases of the mite life cycle. There are over 20 known viruses associated with varroa. “Mite bombs” can happen very quickly in the fall as the hive gets smaller and eventually the bees leave and integrate into other hives, thus spreading destruction.
During winter months, less than adequate ventilation will cause moisture to collect on the inner cover and can drip down into the hive. While bees can tolerate cold temperatures, they cannot handle too much moisture. Make sure your entrance is not blocked by snow and there is plenty of ventilation. When inspecting a hive that died over the winter, note signs of excessive moisture including white or green mold. Is there a dead cluster devoid of honey? Are the bees separated from the honey? Stains and disentery can be signs of fungus or other diseases. If dead bees are ripped apart, there may have been a mouse in the hive. If you are unsure of why your hive died, and are concerned, you can ask Jennifer to come and inspect. You can clean and reuse any equipment unless there is American foulbrood, where all equipment must be burned.
Jennifer says that only 64.2% of beekeepers in the state of Maine report monitoring their hives for mites! She advocates the use of an alcohol wash to get a more accurate mite count. Beekeepers should check for mites first thing in the spring, then every month after that until October. In 300 bees (½ cup), 9 mites, or 3%, is the magic number that indicates treatment is required. A count of 15 mites is a dead hive, you just don’t know it yet.
State laws for beekeepers
• Register your hives with the state of Maine (for bee disease prevention)
• Must be registered with the State to sell bees or used equipment (if you are buying used equipment ask for inspection results)
• American foulbrood is a reportable disease. Let Jennifer know.
We would like to thank our guest, Jennifer Lund, for her very informative presentation. Loved her bee potty humor!
The Maine State Bureau of Agriculture provides Apiary Program information at: https://www.maine.gov/dacf/php/apiary/
By: Julie Hundley
Photography: Beth Goodwin