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February Bee Notes

A story about disguise 

Once upon a time there was a bee who discovered that wasps didn’t know how to make honey. She thought she would go and tell them, but a wise bee said to her, “wasps do not like bees, and they will not listen to you if you approach them directly since they are convinced that bees are opposed to wasps”. The bee thought about the problem for a long time and then realised that if he covered himself up with yellow pollen he would look so much like a wasp that they would accept her as one of them.

Now, disguised as a wasp who had made this great discovery the bee started to teach the wasps about making honey. The wasps were delighted and worked hard under her direction. Then there was a pause for rest and the wasps noticed that in the heat of the activity the disguise had worn off the bee and they recognised her. With one accord they fell on her and stung her to death as an interloper and ancient enemy: and the half-made honey was abandoned…for was it not the work of an alien?

 

The bees have had a gentle winter so far and have managed to get out most days. On mild days they are working on the heather which is still flowering here. If the bees have had a gentle winter it means the varroa have too. There is a new study comparing the ability of two strains of bees to defend themselves against varroa by grooming – this is where bees brush mites from themselves or brush mites from their nestmates. It has been known for some time that different strains of bee differ in their resistance to varroa. In particular Africanized bees appear more resistant than European strains. Scientists have found that this resistance is partly due to grooming behaviour. This may be a step forward in the fight against varroa and finding bees resistant to varroa.

I am getting frames ready for the new season – scraping off excess wax and cleaning them up, ready for new foundation. I am also scorching brood boxes and supers to try and ensure no disease survives in them.

 

Another Pest

There is news that the dreaded Asian Hornet has reached England and Wales. This is a new threat to the bees. We have no native hornets though the wasp is a close relative. It arrived in Europe from China in 2004. It was first spotted in France and has since spread to Spain (2011), Portugal and Italy and male hornets were observed flying in Belgium in 2011/12. It has now been found in the UK. The worrying thing is that one to two thirds of its diet consists of bees. They have already devastated colonies of bees on the continent. They attack the colony by picking off individual bees as they return to the hive. When the colony is weakened a group of them attack and devour the bees and any stores that remain.

It is predominantly black and brown with brown abdominal segments that are brokered with a fine yellow band. Only the fourth segment is almost entirely yellow/orange. Its legs are brown with yellow ends and the head is black with orange-red face. The queen is about 30mm long and the workers about 25mm and their legs are yellow. They make nests in trees and structures such as garden sheds and garages. The nests have also been found closer to the ground and in basements. They avoid pure conifer stands and seem to prefer oak, poplars and acacia trees.

They are active from April-November. In April the queen emerges from hibernation and the colony builds up to average population of 6000 individuals. They begin preying on bee colonies once the brood require animal protein. Drones are produced later in the season and queens mated in September. Possible routes of it to Ireland include imported wood and wood products, flowers, in soil, freight containers and transport vehicles.

What To Do?

Remember they do sting!

In France, traps work well,  especially in Spring and Autumn. They use a mixture of dark beer, strawberry syrup and orange liqueur wine – others use set mixtures of wine, sugar and water. At the height of the season you can add high protein foods such as fish. Notes on building a trap from two plastic litre bottles can be found at the National Bee Unit guidance notes on monitoring for Asian Hornets.

The ApiShiled trap. It is a modified base for the hive with a decoy entrance into a trap as well as the normal entrance for the bees – it works because the invaders choose to enter by the decoy entrance rather than face guard bees – this can also be used for robber bees, and wasps. It works by ‘teaching’ the colony to use the front entry and then opening the decoy entrance at the side which fools the predators and traps them below the real floor.

Watch out for it. If it arrives it will have potentially dramatic consequences for changing the structure of insect communities and adding further pressure on our already beleaguered honey bee population. If you find one report to the National Biodiversity Data Centre  with a photo. You can kill it by placing in a freezer overnight.

 

THE THREE ‘F’s

  1. Forage – essential to have pollen source available all year round – need up to 200 pounds per year! 10-12mg per bee. Winter flowering heather useful plant.
  1. Feed – whenever needed. As thick as possible 2 kilos to 1 litre or 3 kilos to 2 litres. Apiinvert or ambrosia is the best type of sugar. Check for it online. Put fondant over cluster in Feb – leave in plastic container or cover with cling film to prevent it drying out. Can cut 2.5 kilo bag in to 3 or 4. Can spray with warm water to melt. Warm moisture from cluster will also help to soften.
  1. Frames – only use premium wax. Economy wax is a mixture of waxes. Glue together – tacks corrode and frames can come apart. Evostick weather proof glue. Glue top bar and uprights and also the bottom bar opposite the piece you remove, and tack as well.

 

Dead Hives

If you find a dead hive in the apiary and it is very possible during the winter, it is best to remove it immediately and scrape off all dead brood. You can fumigate the brood box using 80% glacial acetic acid (100 ml per brood box). You can put acetic acid glacial in a bowl and soak it up with a cloth and place on brood box.

 

Biology Lesson

And now for a biology lesson! I marvel at the number of glands this small creature has in its body – we should be familiar with at least some of these, especially the Nasonov, wax and sting glands.

Hypopharyngeal glands: One on each side of head. Found in young bees and used to produce brood food and royal jelly.

Nasonov gland: Found on the abdomen and releases a pheromone or ‘come join us’ scent. This attracts bees to a swarm, marks a water source and foraging sources as well as the hive entrance. It is also used to call the queen back after mating and stragglers back into their hive.

Wax glands: Four pairs found on abdomen. Produce wax for capping cells and making cells.

Tarsal glands (Arnhart): Six of them on each leg. Produce oily substance which leaves a footprint odour on flowers visited.

Sting scent gland: Found in the sting chamber in abdomen. Puts bees into attack mode and provokes stinging.

Sting alkaline gland or Dufour gland: Produces alkaline liquid which lubricates the sting mechanism and neutralises excess acid.

Sting acid gland or venom gland: Produces venom

Mandibular glands: Two each side of head above the mandibles. In young bees, they produce 10 hyroxydec -2-enoic acid the principal fatty acid of brood food and royal jelly. In older worker bees, they produce 2-heptonaone – alarm pheromone to warn intruders. 2 -hepatanone is also an anaesthetic delivered on biting.

Post cerebral glands behind the brain and thoracic glands – two of them in thorax: Together form salivary glands and they produce a liquid to lubricate food in the proboscis and the pharynx. It also contains invertase to convert sucrose to glucose and fructose.

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