Category Archives: World of Apiculture

Beekeeping around the globe: pollination, honey, bee and queen breeding outfits, and hobby beekeepers too

Beekeepers are Worried: Dan Rather Reports

Unexplained honey bee die-offs in recent years, filed under Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), have been the focus of considerable research but very few solid answers. Now, according to the folks at the investigative news program Dan Rather Reports, the situation is worse than at first thought: “the whole food chain is at risk.”

Where is the finger pointing this time?
Systemic pesticides, self-regulation by the chemical industry, and a flawed process for testing and registration of products by the EPA…
Continue reading Beekeepers are Worried: Dan Rather Reports

Project RoboBee: Can a Robot Learn the Bees’ Waggle Dance?

Can a robot bee learn to do the “waggle dance” well enough to fool honeybees into following its directions?

At the Free University of Berlin, researchers are working on a mechanical bee they hope will be able to communicate with real bees about the location and quality of a food source. The implications for pollination services are enormous — if the robot bee can master the complex “waggle dance” language of bees, could it encourage a colony to work a field of canola rather than, say, more attractive wildflower forage in another direction?

What an idea! But it’s a steep learning curve for the scientists and their robot bee, according to Rebecca J. Rosen’s article in The Atlantic online:

So far, the dancing robotic bee has not been able to successfully communicate the location of a new food source, according to a new paper in PLoS ONE. The scientists list a couple of possible reasons: For starters, the robot can’t seem to get enough other bees to pay attention to its dance for long enough, perhaps because of a lack of buzzing wings (whose role in the waggle dance is unknown), sufficient body heat, or legs for creating vibrations in the honey comb. It’s also possible that chemicals on robot are off-putting to the other bees.

Read more:
The Atlantic, 20 August 2011: Attack of the Robobees! A Mechanical Bee Tests Its Wings.

Photo credit:
Chittka L: Dances as Windows into Insect Perception. PLoS Biol 2/7/2004: e216.

Four New Viruses Found in US Honey Bees

A new study of health honey bees by researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) has found four new viruses in bees,  six species each of bacteria and fungi, four types of mites, and a parasitic fly called a phorid, which had not been seen in honey bees outside California.

The 10-month study followed 20 colonies in a commercial beekeeping operation of more than 70,000 hives as they were transported across United States for crop pollination. The goal was to answer one basic question: what viruses and bacteria exist in a normal colony throughout the year? — establishing a baseline for further research into Colony Collapse Disorder.

Colony Collapse Disorder, unlike other traditional causes of honeybee losses, is characterized by colonies with capped brood and queen which have been abandoned by the workers. Food stores (honey and pollen) in the affected hives are not immediately robbed out by other bees, and hive pests such as wax moth and small hive beetle are slow to move in.

The causes are still unknown, although recent research has pointed to a combination of stressors such as long-distance transportation, varroa mite infestations, and fungi or viruses, as most likely culprits.

While this study did not identify the cause of CCD, it did offer a measurement of the normal levels of pathogens.

“We brought a quantitative view of what real migrating populations look like in terms of disease,” said senior author Dr. Joseph DeRisi. “You can’t begin to understand colony die-off without understanding what normal is.”

For more information, see:

Beekeeper Responds to Health Canada “Anti-Honey Campaign”

In this submitted article, New Brunswick beekeeper Richard Duplain responds to recent warnings from Health Canada about  infant botulism as an effect of toxins in honey, as well as an implied connection between honey and allergies due to pollen.

Health Canada advises against using Honey

Letter to the Editor or Commentary

Recently Health Canada embarked on a campaign it feels could protect infant children from clostridium botulinum in honey. Clostridium or C botulinum is a nerve toxin that in certain circumstances can cause severe paralytic illness. Beekeepers across Canada believe the campaign will only hurt their diminutive yet flourishing industry.

Beekeepers across Canada feel Health Canada has stung them where bee veils don’t extend.

First we had colony collapse to deal with and now we have common sense collapse in Ottawa. Beekeepers across Canada feel Health Canada has stung them where bee veils don’t extend.

Imagery and text in the campaign suggests honey is not a suitable product for consumers of all ages. It creates a sense of alarm in the consumer’s mind and goes on to inflame the until proven otherwise concocted notion by mentioning recalls and allergy alerts. Beekeepers are worried this will result in a drop in demand for nature’s perfect food and irreparable harm to the Canadian honey industry.

The Canadian Honey Council, the umbrella organization representing thousands of beekeepers across the country took the issue to both the department and minister but to no avail. As a result, the CHC initiated a letter writing campaign in a bid to put an end to Health Canada’s anti-honey campaign.

Most recent statistics put the number of honey producing beekeepers in Canada in 2009 at 6,728. There were 575,676 honey producing bee hives and they produced 64 million pounds or 29,000 tonnes of honey worth more than $100 million.

In New Brunswick the same year there were 180 beekeepers with 2,700 colonies that produced 189,000 pounds or 86 tonnes of honey worth $378,000.

Together Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick contributed 874,000 lbs or 397 tonnes of honey worth $1,748,000 to the Canadian economy.

Displaying a honey bear bottle with a circle and slash through it with no valid explanation portrays Canadian honey consumers as naive and producers as uneducated incompetent members of society, few in number and an easy target as scapegoats for a department’s capricious nature.

According to the government department less than five per cent of Canadian honey contains small amounts of C botulinum spores. However, even small amounts can cause infant botulism in a baby, which is why health professionals advise against giving honey to children under one year old.

Neither the Minister of Health nor Health Canada provides any supporting evidence to buttress the false contentions asserted or suggested in the campaign.

Health Canada says infant botulism is caused by a food-poisoning bacterium called C botulinum. When swallowed, spores of this bacterium grow and produce poison in an infant’s intestines. C botulinum spores can be found in soil and dust. Honey is the only food linked to infant botulism in Canada.

Neither the Minister of Health nor Health Canada provides any supporting evidence to buttress the false contentions asserted or suggested in the campaign.

There are two primary types of honey on the Canadian market. The first and best is raw unpasteurized honey and the second is low-quality pasteurized honey. To understand the pasteurizing process is to understand how C botulinum spores can survive in some honey.

Normally honey destroys bacteria by drawing fluids from them by osmotic force and through its acidity. Strained or unstrained raw honey contains an enzyme – glucose oxidase which catalyses a reaction that produces hydrogen peroxide.

Hydrogen peroxide kills bacteria. Doctors and hospitals around the world are using honey dilutions as an effective antimicrobial and antibacterial agent. However, this enzyme is destroyed by heat like that used in the pasteurizing process. The very destruction of this enzyme may allow bacterial like C botulinum to flourish. Also killed in the pasteurizing process is up to 50 per cent of the honey’s original vitamin content.

A cursory reading of modern and historical texts shows us that for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years raw honey was fed to infants. Honey helped the child digest calcium and retain magnesium.

More than 30 years ago the Scientific Board of the California Medical Association said the safety of honey for older persons with normal intestinal physiology remains unquestioned.

Health Canada implies a connection between honey and allergies. Honey is made by honeybees after gathering nectar. The nectar undergoes certain changes in the bee’s hypopharyngeal glands. There enzymes convert the sucrose in the nectar to the simple easily assimilated sugars glucose and fructose. A fermentation period follows and what we know as honey with more than 80 vitamins and minerals and trace amounts of bee pollen is the result.

There are two types of pollen, anemophile or wind carried and the heavier entomophile. Anemophile pollens are the ones directly related to pollen allergies. Honey bees collect the heavier entomophile pollens. They do not cause allergic reactions and in fact are used to treat a number of allergy conditions.

Canadian beekeepers want to see the research studies… Until such time as this evidence is produced, we respectfully request the current anti-honey campaign be discontinued.

Canadian beekeepers want to see the research studies that Health Canada says less than five per cent of Canadian honey contains small amounts of C botulinum spores. We want to see the research evidence that honey is not a healthy food for seniors and babies and we want to see the research evidence that honey is the only food linked to infant botulism in Canada. Until such time as this evidence is produced, we respectfully request the current anti-honey campaign be discontinued.

Richard Duplain
70 Mary Ellen Drive, Hanwell, N.B. E3E 2G4

If you’d like to weigh in on this discussion, we’ve opened a thread in “The Buzz” section of the Bee Talk Forum for the topic – or you’re welcome to respond in the comments section on this post, below.

From Chemicals to Air Pollution, New Report Points to Multiple Threats to Bees

More than a dozen factors, ranging from declines in flowering plants and the use of memory-damaging insecticides to the world-wide spread of pests and air pollution, may be behind the emerging decline of bee colonies across many parts of the globe.

In North America, losses of honey bee colonies since 2004 have left the continent with fewer managed pollinators than at any time in the past 50 years.

Scientists are warning that without profound changes to the way human-beings manage the planet, declines in pollinators needed to feed a growing global population are likely to continue.

  • New kinds of virulent fungal pathogens—which can be deadly to bees and other key pollinating insects—are now being detected world-wide, migrating from one region to another as a result of shipments linked to globalization and rapidly growing international trade
  • Meanwhile an estimated 20,000 flowering plant species, upon which many bee species depend for food, could be lost over the coming decades unless conservation efforts are stepped up
  • Increasing use of chemicals in agriculture, including ‘systemic insecticides’ and those used to coat seeds, is being found to be damaging or toxic to bees. Some can, in combination, be even more potent to pollinators, a phenomenon known as the ‘cocktail effect’
  • Climate change, left unaddressed, may aggravate the situation, in various ways including by changing the flowering times of plants and shifting rainfall patterns. This may in turn affect the quality and quantity of nectar supplies.

Bees are early warning indicators of wider impacts on animal and plant life…

These are among the findings of a new report published March 10, 2011, by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which has brought together and analyzed the latest science on collapsing bee colonies.

The study, entitled Global Bee Colony Disorders and other Threats to Insect Pollinators, underlines that multiple factors are at work linked with the way humans are rapidly changing the conditions and the ground rules that support life on Earth. It shows humans’ large dependency on ecosystem services even for such vital sectors as food production.

It indicates that bees are early warning indicators of wider impacts on animal and plant life and that measures to boost pollinators could not only improve food security but the fate of many other economically and environmentally-important plants and animals.

The authors of the report call for farmers and landowners to be offered incentives to restore pollinator-friendly habitats, including key flowering plants including next to crop-producing fields.

More care needs to be taken in the choice, timing and application of insecticides and other chemicals. While managed hives can be moved out of harm’s way, “wild populations (of pollinators) are completely vulnerable”, says the report.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “The way humanity manages or mismanages its nature-based assets, including pollinators, will in part define our collective future in the 21st century. The fact is that of the 100 crop species that provide 90 per cent of the world’s food, over 70 are pollinated by bees”.

“Human beings have fabricated the illusion that in the 21st century they have the technological prowess to be independent of nature. Bees underline the reality that we are more, not less dependent on nature’s services in a world of close to seven billion people.”

Bees and the Green Economy

Next year nations gather again in Rio de Janeiro, 20 years after the Rio Earth Summit, to evolve international efforts to achieve sustainable development including through accelerating and scaling-up a transition to a low carbon, resource-efficient Green Economy.

Part of that transition should include investing and re-investing in the world’s nature-based services generated by forests and freshwaters to flower meadows and coral reefs.

“Rio+20 is an opportunity to move beyond narrow definitions of wealth and to bring the often invisible, multi-trillion dollar services of nature—including pollination from insects such as bees— into national and global accounts,” said Mr Steiner.

“Some countries, such as Brazil and India, have already embarked on that transformation as part of a partnership between UNEP and the World Bank. It is time to widen and embed this work across the global economy in order to tip the scales in favour of management rather than mining of the natural world and that includes the services of pollinators,” he added.

We need to get smarter about how we manage these hives, but perhaps more importantly, we need to better manage the landscape beyond…

The new report on bee colony disorders has been led by researchers Dr Peter Neumann of the Swiss Bee Research Centre and Dr Marie-Pierre Chauzat of the French Agency for Environmental and Occupational Health Safety. The team also included Dr Jeffrey Pettis of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service.

Dr Neumann said: “The transformation of the countryside and rural areas in the past half century or so has triggered a decline in wild-living bees and other pollinators. Society is increasingly investing in ‘industrial-scale’ hives and managed colonies to make up the shortfall and going so far as to truck bees around to farms and fields in order to maintain our food supplies”.

“This report underlines that a variety of factors are making these man-made colonies increasingly vulnerable to decline and collapse. We need to get smarter about how we manage these hives, but perhaps more importantly, we need to better manage the landscape beyond, in order to cost-effectively recover wild bee populations to far healthier and more sustainable levels,” he added.

Highlights from the Report

Regional Losses

Declines in managed bee colonies date back to the mid 1960s in Europe but have accelerated since 1998, especially in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom.

In North America, losses of honey bee colonies since 2004 have left the continent with fewer managed pollinators than at any time in the past 50 years.

Chinese bee keepers, who manage both western and eastern species of honey bees, have recently “faced several inexplicable and complex symptoms of colony losses in both species”.

A quarter of beekeepers in Japan “have recently been confronted with sudden losses of their bee colonies”.

In Africa, beekeepers along the Egyptian Nile have been reporting signs of ‘colony collapse disorder’ although to date there are no other confirmed reports from the rest of the continent.

Multiple Factors

Habitat degradation, including the loss of flowering plant species that provide food for bees, is among the key factors behind the decline of wild-living pollinators.

  • An Anglo-Dutch study has found that since the 1980s, there has been a 70 per cent drop in key wild flowers among, for example, the mint, pea and perennial herb families.

Parasites and Pests, such as the well known Varroa mite which feeds on bee fluids, are also a factor.

Other parasites include the small hive beetle, which damages honeycombs, stored honey and pollen. Endemic to sub-Saharan Africa, it has spread to North America and Australia and “is now anticipated to arrive in Europe”.

  • Bees may also be suffering from competition by ‘alien species’ such as the Africanised bee in the United States and the Asian hornet which feed on European honey bees. The hornet has now colonized nearly half of France since 2004.

Air pollution may be interfering with the ability of bees to find flowering plants and thus food.

  • Scents that could travel over 800 metres in the 1800s now reach less than 200 metres from a plant

Electromagnetic fields from sources such as power lines might also be changing bee behaviour. Bees are sensitive as they have small abdominal crystals that contain lead.

Herbicides and pesticides may be reducing the availability of wild flowers and plants needed for food and for the larval stages of some pollinators.

  • Other impacts include poisoning of pollinators and the weakening of honey bees’ immune systems
  • Laboratory studies have found that some insecticides and fungicides can act together to be 1,000 times more toxic to bees

Some insecticides, including those applied to seeds and which can migrate to the entire plant as it grows, and others used to treat cats, fish, birds and rabbits, may also be taking their toll.

  • Studies have shown that such chemicals can affect the sense of direction, memory and brain metabolism in bees

The management of hives may also be adding to the problem.

Some of the treatments against pests may actually be harmful to bees and a growing habit of re-using equipment and food from dead colonies might be spreading disease and chemicals to new hives.

Transporting bees from one farm to another in order to provide pollination services increasingly unavailable from nature could be an additional factor. In the United States, trucks carrying up to 20 million bees are common and each year over two million colonies travel across the continent.

  • Mortality rates, following transportation, can be as much as 10 per cent of a colony

The full report, Global Bee Colony Disorders and other Threats to Insect Pollinators, can be downloaded at:


Varroa Mites Blamed for Winter Bee Losses in Canada

Here’s a good reason for beekeepers to treat all bee colonies for mites, whether or not you’ve seen visible evidence of infestation: “Varroa destructor is the main culprit for the death and reduced populations of overwintered honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies in Ontario, Canada,” says a report from the University of Guelph and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, published in the July-August 2010 issue of the bee science journal Apidologie:

The relative effect of parasite levels, bee population size, and food reserves on winter mortality and post winter populations of honey bee colonies was estimated. More than 400 colonies were monitored throughout three seasons in Ontario, Canada. Most of the colonies were infested with varroa mites during the fall (75.7%), but only 27.9% and 6.1% tested positive to nosema disease and tracheal mites, respectively. Winter colony mortality was 27.2%, and when examined as a fraction of all morbidity factors, fall varroa mite infestations were the leading cause of colony mortality (associated to > 85% of colony deaths), followed by fall bee populations and food reserves. Varroa-infested colonies, with weak populations and low food reserves in the fall, significantly decreased spring colony populations, whereas varroa infestations and Nosema infections in the spring, significantly decreased bee populations by early summer. Overall, results suggest that varroa mites could be the main culprit for the death and reduced populations of overwintered honey bee colonies in northern climates.

Beekeepers who don’t bother to treat for Varroa in their over-wintering colonies may be greatly increasing the risk of finding weak hives or dead-outs in spring. While low numbers of bees going into the winter and a shortage of food reserves are also key factors contributing to the problem, this report finds that Varroa mites are likely to be the main reason why Canada has been seeing high losses of over-wintered honeybees in recent years.

Varroa destructor is the main culprit for the death and reduced populations of overwintered honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies in Ontario, Canada
Ernesto Guzmán-Novoa, Leslie Eccles, Yireli Calvete, Janine Mcgowan, Paul G. Kelly and Adriana Correa-Benítez
Apidologie 41 (4) 443-450 (2010)
DOI: 10.1051/apido/2009076