Honey bees have been domesticated since before 7,000 BC. The typical honeybee hive has up to 40,000-60,000 bees in the hive in the summer. Apis mellifera Linnaeus is the traditional species of the domestic honeybee. A healthy hive should produce 30-100+# of honey a year.
The tracheal mite, Acarapis woodi, is a major problem in many bee colonies. It is also called the Acarine tracheal mite. It was first noticed in the 1920’s in England, and then in Mexico and the US in the 1980’s. Ascaris dorsalis or A.externus is essentially the same mite, but this species is found on the outside skin of the bee versus inside the lungs; bee mites are all treated with the same product(s). If requested we have separate directions for clients treating their bees in the last summer/fall for tracheal mites, or sooner if there is a loss of bees. There is a bee strains such as the Buckfast or the VHS, which have some resistance to this mite.
Varroa destructor mites, commonly called varroa mites, are external blood sucking parasites that started to appear in the Florida in 1980’s, and now are across the U.S. The mites were first diagnosed in SE Asia in 1904. These mites are visible (1.5 mm) and can be seen on the abdomen of the bees. Adult mites have 8 legs and the similar bee louse has 6 legs. These mites can transmit diseases of concern in a bee colony. We have more information on treating for mites and lice within a bee colony.
American foulbrood is an infection of a bacillus bacteria called Paenibacillus larvae. It is a disease that kills 1-2 day old larvae. To prevent foulbrood one should treat the hive with an antibiotic mixture in the spring for 3 treatments, 10 days apart and then again in the fall once. We do recommend alternating the antibiotics to prevent foulbrood. For FDA regulations only tetracycline, tylanosin or liconmycin should be used. There is a 6+ week period where one cannot collect the honey from the treated hive due to drug residue concerns; the use of antibiotics and miticides needs to be done before or after the honey season. If the hives have been diagnosed with American foulbrood it is best to burn the hives and bees, and start all over since this bacillus type of bacteria produces spores; you cannot easily destroy the spores. Melissococcus plutonis is the European foulbrood and this bacteria has similar signs and pupa/larvae death as the American foulbrood, although we usually can determine the difference with an exam of the comb. We recommend treating these infected hives, which is a milder disease than the America variety and it has no spores. Most of the treatment for European foulbrood is directed to increase the vigor of the hive (honey flow) and requeen. USDA labeled organic honey cannot use the approved preventative treatment(s) for foulbrood, nor approved insecticides to treat bee mites. For this reason organic colonies need to be totally replaced every couple of years with a new queen and bees, usually from a commercial source that is free of any diseases. Since there is no product that will completely cure foulbrood infections you may never rid the hive of the disease, which is why some recommend starting over.
Chalkbrood is caused by a fungus, Ascophaera apis. As the name implies the larvae/pupae die and turn white. Stonebrood is caused by another type of fungus, Aspergillus. As its name implies the dead larvae are hard and also dark (as this is also the bread mold fungus). With these and many diseases and parasites a healthy hive can fight off many of these problems if exposed to in a small amount/dosage.
Nosema is a fungal disease causing intestinal problems in bees; this species is of the Microsporidia classification of fungi. Nosema apis is found across the U.S. There is also a Nosema ceranae was first diagnosed in Asia (1996) and by 2005 it was to be found in Taiwan and Spain. The disinfection and treatment for this disease is not very effective, but if it is in the area’s bees you should consider treating in the spring and/or the fall, per our directions available. Nosema bumbi is found in the bumble bee; a different microsporidia species that does not affect the honey bee. The signs of a Nosema infection is weak crawling bees in the hive, dislocated wings, queen bees and other bees dying early, and in the N. apis species there is diarrhea (dysentery) with yellow-brown streaks noticed on the outside and inside the hive. Many bees just go away and die. Bees prefer to defecate outside of their hive. Sometimes we can see the microsporidia spores on a microscopic exam yet the true actual diagnosis is by a PCR test. If diagnosed we usually recommend treating all of your hives in the aviary.
Since 2006 a Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) was notice in some hives and cause a major loss of bees from a hive. This CCD can be due to a complex interaction of all the above/below mentioned bee die offs. There is a need for lab testing and an attempt to diagnosis the underlying problem. Some may call it the honey beehive collapse syndrome. Normally one expects a minimum of 5 to 15% of the bees in a hive to die in a regular winter, and up to a 25% loss can still be normal. The use of cell phones (wireless signals), car windshields and other traumatic deaths is not the cause of this loss. In 2007 bee colony die offs were attributed to a virus in the Middle East. Israeli Acute Paralysis Disease (IAPD) is thought to occur in colonies that undergo more stress than average. Travel/moving, the varroa mites, etc all are stresses to a bee. In the winter of 2008 1/3 of the bees in the United States were lost. In 2008 the use of neonicotinoids was considered to be part of the problem with the loss of these bees. These nicotine derived pesticides we only use in some flea products in veterinary medicine (imidacloprid, nitenpyram), yet there are some common yard, crop and pesticide sprays that have these and other neonicotinoids. If there are no dead bees in the hive, no adult bees and only the queen and immature bees then pesticides may be the cause for that hive’s death loss. In 2010 the theory then changed to the insect iridescent virus and the Nosema ceranae fungus together causing the deaths. With the Nosema cause of CCD the bees develop a blue-green to purplish abdomen. There are 10x+ viruses which can also contribute to the colony collapse; some are listed below. In 2013 the theory then turned to a tobacco ringspost; an RNA virus that affects the bees and is transmitted by Varroa mite. A 2015 study determined that if a hive has less than 1000 bees then this honey bee hive will die off during the winter naturally because there was not enough critical mass (numbers) to keep the hive alive. If there is not enough honey then a colony can also have a major die off during the winter.
Apocephalus borealis is a fly that lays eggs inside a bee, the bee then dies and rice size pupae from this parasitizing fly emerge and then pupate into adult flies in 3-4 weeks; this parasite was first noticed in the NW U.S. in 2008. The bee infected with Apocephalies is called a “zombie bee (or zombee)” since many may leave their hive at night and are attracted to lights. If one finds such dead bees they can place them into a zip lock bag and monitor for a couple weeks to see if it is actually the Acocephalus which will then emerge. It is believed this parasitizing fly is also part of the colony collapse disorder.
Other parasites of concern are the small hive beetle (Aethina tumida) which can be found inside the hive. There is also a wax moth (Galleria mellonella) which may come into the hive to eat the wax and cause a hive destruction to occur. Normally in healthy hive the bees will take care of beetles or moths. This wax moth is not able to overwinter in Colorado.
One of the viruses which affect bees is the apis iredescent virus and its association with the Colony Collapse Disorder; it is mentioned above. There are other diseases of concern. The Deformed Wing Virus is of the iflaviridae family. This virus can also be carried by the Varroa mite, and per its name the honey bee wings are deformed with this virus. The Kakuga virus and the Egypt bee virus also can cause similar signs and are of the iflavirus family. There are many other viruses that are also not easy to diagnose. Of the Cripaviridae family there is the chronic bee paralysis virus in which the bees cannot fly, wings may be dislocated, the bees have bloated abdomens and/or they may also be dark and almost hairless. The Dicistroviridae virus family can have yet other viruses which can affect bees; the acute bee paralysis virus, black queen cell virus, an Israel acute paralysis virus and the Kashmir bee virus. The Varroa mite can also carries/transfers the acute bee paralysis virus. The Black queen virus can be seen with the Nosema infections. There is also a Cloudy wing virus that the Varroa mite may also carry. A picorna-like virus, Perina nuda is also called the Sacbrood virus (previously classified as Morator). There are even other viruses that may affect bees, but as with any viral disease there is no treatment except for the bees own immune system to fight the infection. For these viral diseases the attempt is to preventatively treat for the mites which transfer the disease(s).
The insecticide use of nicotinic product sprays containing acetamiprid, clothianidin, cycloxaprid, imidacloprid, nitenpyram, nithiazine, thiacloprid or thiamethoxam should not be used on your property at this time. The nicotinic sprays are plant systemic insecticides which can cause a loss in the bee population; they last a long time in the environment. If one has to spray for flies, gnats, etc on your premises for other animals or problems then do it early in the morning or late in the evening when the bees are in their hive; use Sevin (carbaryl) as it degrades quickly in the sun. We have more information on using systemic products for gnats and biting insects causing problems in livestock, poultry and pets; the pour-on/spot-on products that we advise, and these products do not cause deaths in bees if properly used.
The African bee (Apis mellifera scutellata) was imported into South America in the mid 1950’s as a honey bee for study, since it thrives more in a tropical area than the traditional European honeybee. These bees escaped the study area and within a few years they arrived in the US in 1990. This African bees will not survive in freezing weather. Colorado is such a state where the Africanized bees cannot overwinter, yet our area hives commercially may be transported out to many areas in the country, and after these hives return from being used in January to pollinize the almond trees in California, etc example they can return with some of these bees. Some producers do allow the Africanized bees to be in their hives as they are more resistant to some diseases found in the United States; they also are a more aggressive bee if provoked. Killer bees are the African bee as FYI. Since these bees do not overwinter well in our area, the aggressive hives should be requeened in the fall. The Cape Honey bee is a different Apis species that is native to the southern part of Africa. Bumble bees are of a completely different species (Bombus); they are not as good at pollinating crops and producing honey compared to the Apis species of bees. There are also many other species of insects which pollinate flowers, but not as efficiently or reliably as the honeybee.
Bees can be attracted to lemon smelling products, such as lemon grass and some perfumes, lotions, etc. The bee pheromone has a lemon like smell. The danger pheromone for bees has a banana smell. When bees are exposed to this pheromone they go into an attack mode. Smoke will naturally make a bee engorge itself to live through the oncoming forest fire, and as a result the bees are more docile; this is why hives are smoked for a couple minutes before working with the bees.
Each beekeeper has a different needs and environment, as well as the hives they like to use. The standard Langstroth brood box will have 10 frames, which each frame can hold 5,000-7,0000 cells (medium to deep frame). A queen bee can lay 1,000-3,000 eggs a day. Normally a hive will end up with 2-3 supers, or 4 if there is a very good flow of honey; there are brood boxes/supers and honey supers. A full super can weigh up to 90#. For overwintering the average bee hive should have 7-8 frames left; anything less than 5-6 frames is not enough bees to survive the winter. Strive for 5,000+ bees for the winter, which is down from 30,000-50,000 bees during the summer. A single hive should weigh 70# and a double hive should weigh 100# or more. The average double hive can weigh up to 150# after being readied for winter. To ensure enough energy is available use a 70% sugar syrup. Pollen should be left as this is a source of protein. Some colonies in our mountainous, windy, non-protected location areas can be wrapped in 15# roofing felt for the winter; the average colony in our area does not need to be wrapped.
If possible the queen bee will leave the nest with some male drones and some other bees to form a swarm somewhere else and start a new hive. The swarm is only a collecting spot and is not the future hive. A beekeeper can trim the wings of a queen in the hive to keep her from leaving; usually she is also marked to identify her and/or if a new queen takes over a hive. If a queen is preparing to leave naturally there is a large droplet like honey comb cell where the new queen(s) will develop. The first queen to exit will naturally sting and kill all of the other queen babies; the queen is the only bee to not have a barb on her stinger, and thus she can live after stinging another. Once cold weather hits all of the drones are pushed out into the cold; they are not needed anymore. It is this time of the year that we recommend that a beekeeper collect and bring in some bees for mite/Nosema testing as one of the procedures to qualify for a Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD); for testing we need 20-50x adult bees or drones. We have directions on how to collect, package and send in the mail if it is more convenient for you. Instead of bee testing then a farm visit and examination is also possible within our routine call distance area to qualify for a VFD. An examination of part of the comb can also be considered in the summer if things do not look right. We have more directions on treating bee diseases and other problems.
Manuka honey is from an area in New Zealand; it is from bee hives that pollinate the red tea tree (Leptospermum) and supposedly this honey has antibacterial properties due to the methylglyoxal compound from that tee tree. This honey is sold for wound treatments in herbal medicine stores. Other specific sales of clover, canola or the 300+ other types of honey are due to the type of flower mostly being pollinated. There is no nutritional difference in the various honeys being sold, nor is there any nutritional difference if it is raw or processed. Honey is made from nectar and not directly from pollen; less than 0.4% of honey is pollen. The National Honey Board has more information if you are interested. Royal Jelly is the white compound in a hive that is associated with the queen. It is sold in health food stores. The propylus is the covering that a wild hive puts into the inside of the cavity of a tree. This protective coating keeps the hive from rotting and destroying their tree home. Propylus supposedly has many antibacterial, antifungal, etc properties and is also sold in some stores. The wax of a hive is of a similar composition as the honey. When a worker bee returns if there is no comb set up for the honey, she has to wait and while she is waiting the honey inside her turns into the wax, and thus she then is able to provide the wax for a new comb. In this “nectar stomach” where the honey is stored she has no access to it nutritionally herself. A bee may be full of pollen/nectar in her honey sac and yet if she is by herself she will not survive; at times another bee may have to feed her (and vice versa). The abdominal scopal hairs/scopal sac is where some species of bees carry their pollen and in honey bees it is usually the pollen basket (corbicula) on her legs is where she carries the pollen.
Before you consider bringing in any hives or queens you should check into the zoning requirements for the city and the county you are in. We highly recommend that you visit such sites as the Integrated Bee Management site from Colorado State University, the Pennsylvania, Florida and other state universities, plus the Great Plains Growers Conference.org site for pictures.