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The Colony-Killing Mistake Backyard Beekeepers Are Making

"While experts welcome the rising national interest in beekeeping as a hobby, they warn that novices may be inadvertently putting their hives — and other hives for miles around — in danger by not keeping the bee mite population in check."

Jonathan Garaas has learned a few things in three seasons of backyard beekeeping: Bees are fascinating. They're complicated. And keeping them alive is not easy.

Every two weeks, the Fargo, N.D., attorney opens the hives to check the bees and search for varroa mites, pests that suck the bees' blood and can transmit disease. If he sees too many of the pinhead-sized parasites, he applies a chemical treatment.

Garaas has lost hives in his first two years as a novice beekeeper. But with nine hives now established near his home and a couple of University of Minnesota bee classes under his belt, he feels like he's got the hang of it, although it's still a challenge.

"You can get the book learning. You can see the YouTubes. You can be told by others," he says, but "you have to have hands-on experience. When you start putting it all together, it starts making sense."

Scientists wish every beginner beekeeper were as diligent as Garaas.

While experts welcome the rising national interest in beekeeping as a hobby, they warn that novices may be inadvertently putting their hives — and other hives for miles around — in danger by not keeping the bee mite population in check. Many hobbyists avoid mite treatments, preferring a natural approach, says Marla Spivak, a bee expert at the University of Minnesota. But that's often a deadly decision for the bees, she says.

National surveys by the Bee Informed Partnership show backyard beekeepers are taking the greatest losses nationally, and those losses are often the result of an out-of-control infestation of the varroa mite, says Spivak.

Varroa mites arrived in the United States nearly 30 years ago, and they've become a big problem in recent years.

Untreated hives can spread mites and viruses to other hives within several miles, Spivak says. Healthy bees will invade a dying hive to steal its honey. When they do, they carry the mites with them back to their hives. 

"The combination of the mite and the viruses is deadly," says Spivak.

The University of Minnesota Bee Squad, a group that provides beekeeping education and mentoring in the Twin Cities, is seeing more healthy hives become rapidly infested with mites and the viruses they carry.

Fall is an especially critical season, says Rebecca Masterman, the Bee Squad's associate program director.

"That late season reinfestation means that bees are going through winter with a lot of mite pressure and it's really hard for them to come out of that and survive," she says. "It's important enough to really try to get every backyard beekeeper in the country to at least be aware of it."

Masterman says she's also encouraging commercial beekeepers to check their bees more often for surprise mite infestations. A new online mite-monitoring project lets beekeepers anywhere in the country share data on infestations that will help researchers track the spread.

A mite control experiment this summer should provide more information about how to best treat mites in bee colonies.

Bees face other challenges beyond mites, including poor nutrition, disease and pesticides. Even veteran beekeepers say it takes more effort to keep their bees alive these days.

But the mite and virus threat to bees is something that can be controlled, says Spivak.

"I really understand why some people might not like to have to treat their bee colony for mites. It just sounds so awful. It's such a beautiful bee colony and to have to stick some kind of a treatment in there seems so unnatural," she says.

"But our bees are dying. And it's very important to help do whatever we can to keep them alive."

Source: NPR August 12, 2016 by DAN GUNDERSON

Insecticide Can Cut Bee Sperm by Nearly 40 Percent, Study Finds

A new study of male honeybees shows that two insecticides, banned in some European nations but still used in the United States, can significantly reduce the bees’ ability to reproduce.

The study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the leading biological research journal of the Royal Society, found that thiamethoxam and clothianidin, two chemicals from the neonicotinoid family of insecticides, reduce living sperm in male honeybees, called drones, by almost 40 percent.

“We’ve been able to show for the first time that neonicotinoid pesticides are capable of having an effect on the male reproductive system,” said Lars Straub, a doctoral student at the University of Bern in Switzerland and the lead author of the study.

The effects of pesticides on honeybee populations are considered one culprit among several factors causing periodic declines.

Neonicotinoids have been shown by other studies to harm the health of individual bees and the reproductive ability of female insects. The new study expanded on the dangers of the pesticides for males, finding that bees subjected to the two chemicals had 39 percent fewer living sperm on average than bees that had not been exposed.

Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland who focuses on honeybee health, said that while the new study was “well designed,” it mostly helped to corroborate work that had already been done.

“Certainly, we already know that insecticide exposure can have an effect on sperm,” he said. “What we didn’t know is that it was so immediate.”

The two neonicotinoids used in the study were banned in the European Union in 2013, but are used on an industrial scale in the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it will release risk assessments for the two chemicals, as well as another neonicotinoid, dinotefuran, in December.

 

The decline of bees has been a concern for scientists over much of the last decade. A significant amount of the global food supply is made up of plants that require pollinators like bees to survive. Any widespread threat to bees also constitutes a greater ecological threat.

Beekeepers in the United States lost 44 percent of their honeybee colonies from April 2015 to April 2016, according to an annual survey conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership, where Dr. vanEngelsdorp is a project director. The loss was 3.5 percent greater than that found from 2014 to 2015, when beekeepers lost 40.6 percent of colonies.

Mr. Straub emphasized that various stresses were working together to adversely affect the honeybees’ health.

“There are heaps of different factors that can actually affect colony health,” he said. “Pesticides alone are probably just one of the small pieces of the bigger puzzle.”

The study began in April 2015 and ended in April 2016, Mr. Straub said, although the sperm assessment of the bees had been completed by October. After reaching sexual maturity, drones that had been subjected to insecticides were dissected, and had their testes and mucous glands removed and analyzed for sperm viability.

Although the colonies used in the experiment were subjected to realistic amounts of the insecticides, the drones were raised to sexual maturity after being removed from the colonies in which they were exposed to the chemicals. Mr. Straub said that the next step would to be to investigate the effects of the pesticides on drones that were allowed to live those 14 days in the colonies.

“We now have to go on and take this information and do further field-realistic studies, and also, a main point would be to investigate these interactions that are occurring,” he said. “There’s not just one stressor. There’s multiple different stressors acting together.”

Source: The New York Times
July 28, 2016
By JONAH ENGEL BROMWICH

 

CATCH THE BUZZ – SENSORY TRAINING IN HONEY BY THE AMERICAN HONEY TASTING SOCIETY

WESTON, CONNECTICUT, July 10, 2016 — The American Honey Tasting Society (AHTS) is launching three more Honey 101: Introduction to Honey Tasting training course using the Italian methods for sensory analysis on October 22-23, 25-26 and 29-30, 2016 in Connecticut and Boston. Beekeeper and author C. Marina Marchese will be leading the course with colleague Raffaele Dall’ Olio, both members trained by the Italian National Registry of Experts in the Sensory Analysis of Honey. Theses courses are intensive, full immersion training into the sensory analysis of honey based upon the established methods taught at the Italian National Beekeeping Institute (CRA-API) in Bologna, Italy for more than 20 years. Attendees will learn the methods for tasting and evaluating honey through engaging in the olfactory and gustatory experience, how to recognize and identify the 9 basic aromas and flavor families on the honey wheel also how to write detailed tasting notes for 15 of the most important domestic and international honeys. The course will also cover the basics of honey composition, crystallization, defects, storage and handling. Seats are limited and fifteen students are required for this course to run, travel, food and accommodations are not included. C. Marina Marchese, the first American and only resident accepted into the Italian National Registry of Experts in the Sensory Analysis of Honey, formally launched the American Honey Tasting Society (AHTS) in 2013.   With the growing number people keeping honeybees and interested in the diverse flavor profiles of varietal honey, this newly launched organization fulfills a true need in America for an educational resource for beekeepers, chefs, food professionals, brewers and mead makers interested in learning the fine skills of tasting and evaluating honey in order to choose the best honey for food and beverage pairings.

The American Honey Tasting Society’s mission is to standardize the protocol for sensory training in honey and to raise the awareness of its diversity through educational courses and guided tastings. “The American Honey Tasting Society is the first organization of it’s kind in the United States that provides educational insight into the finer points of identifying the flavors in honey and matching them with their floral source and region,” says Marchese. “There are many honey enthusiasts, but there are no resources in our country that provide accurate and in-depth education or sensory training in honey which includes its color, aroma, and flavor which are determined by its nectar source, terroir and beekeeping traditions. The art of being a honey tasting expert is as complex as being a wine sommelier and both food industry professionals and those in beekeeping are seeking this knowledge and experience.”

For additional information about the sensory training courses in honey: Visit: www.americanhoneytastingsociety.com