Seeming queenless is her one weakness.

Dorcas has been confusing us since June when we posted about finding her apparently queenless and broodless but calmly carrying on. Since then we have been able to check on her only infrequently either because we were giving a potential queen time to develop and start laying or because we simply lacked time during spells of suitable weather. When we did check we ever saw neither hoped-for sign of a laying queen nor dreaded evidence of laying worker.

We were able to more frequently observe her entrances and never saw anything amiss there. Traffic was lighter than at Clarissa or booming Beatrix but regular. No robbers. Just foragers going forth and returning, even some optimists heavily laden with pollen. And their numbers did not seem to increase but neither did they diminish. We did once see orientation flights but the timing was such that it could have been from the transplanted comb.

This last Sunday we finally had time and weather to inspect all three hives, beginning with devious Dorcas, the conundrum of the season, to find that she had a queen-in-hiding laying for all she was worth when we were no longer looking. Brood! Capped worker brood! Larvae! Dripping with nurse bees! And that is quite enough use of the exclamation point but we were inexpressibly relieved and elated. At least until we performed a sugar roll and measured thirty-four(34) mites in the sample! Oh, blast. Another exclamation point. You will forgive us when we point out that this measurement means over eleven(11) mites per hundred bees, which Bee Informed Partnership says is a level indicating “Loss of colony likely. Intervention is essential to decrease the threat of horizontal transmission (spread) of mites to neighboring colonies.” We immediately applied Mite Away Quick Strips(formic acid). She will surely need a second dose in a week and we must not be tardy. If weather will not permit time for another sugar roll then we shall simply raise the roof long enough to apply a second treatment and check mite levels again at a later date.

With such a high mite count in Dorcas we expected the worst for Clarissa and Beatrix but counted only a single mite in the former’s sample and none at all in the latter. Almost unbelievable good news. But bees may yet drift between hives so we shall have to remain vigilant against hitchhikers from Dorcas.

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Where did the last two weeks go? On the eighth we visited the hives again to follow up on our first mite treatment.

Clarissa – We removed the old MiteAway Quick Strips and performed another sugar roll. The mite count was 7 (down from 16) for 21/3 mites per hundred bees. Not strictly high enough to treat but as we started with such a high count and are going into autumn we applied a second dose of strips.

Unrelated to mites, we spied a pair of bees energetically attacking a wax moth larva on the floor. We assisted by chopping it in twain with a hive tool after which the attackers lost interest. Apparently bees are sticklers for respecting job descriptions and killing intruders is very different from hauling out rubbish even when that includes dead intruders.

Dorcas – She continues to confuse us. No eggs or larvae. No queen spotted but no laying workers either. The brood frames we had transferred showed capped cells and we noticed a queen cell torn open at the side.

Beatrix – We left this hive alone.

Annabelle – Still sitting in the woodshop with only minimal progress towards redeploying her.

And that is the late report. We should have visited them again a week after that but life, weather, the usual. The same things that will probably keep us from inspecting them again as soon as we should.

Plate spinningA number of still ongoing, non-apicentric distractions have been for too many weeks leaving us unable to do more with the bees than glance at hive traffic, fret over queens, listen to the buzzing in passing, fret over varroa, walk past them working flowers, generally fret, and uselessly wish them well. Finally last Monday we forced some time to inspect them and perform sugar rolls.

Dorcas – The queen cell was gone but there was no sign of a queen or the combs of brood we had been expecting. We did find a very few drone cells, which raised the spectre of laying workers, but could simply have been uncapped when we last looked at the cells. Was there a queen slow to be about her business and we failed to see her? We decided to look for a suitable brood frame from another hive to transfer and see if they try to make yet another queen.

Beatrix – She has definitely recovered from her European foulbrood and is again bursting with bees. So much so, that she had started building comb on the other side of the follower board! This is the first time we have seen that. We spotted the queen and felt very proud of ourselves! Unfortunately, she was on one of the two brood frames we wished to transfer to Dorcas. Delicately prodding her majesty with the tip of a gloved hand we tried dropping her into the measuring cup of the sugar roll kit to then gently deposit her on the floor. We were successful in dislodging her but she deployed her wings and glided down on her own. Fervently hoping we had not injured her, we transferred the two brood frames.

We next proceeded to perform a sugar roll, somehow having a harder than usual time filling the cup. With brood breaks from both swarming and the EFB we were not expecting much varroa and, indeed, counted 6 in the sample for 2 mites per hundred bees, borderline treatment level.

Clarissa – We had forgotten how close she is to having full comb on all her bars. One honeycomb was not quite cross-combed yet but had an odd two layer structure that promised future trouble. We stole harvested it.

The brood pattern looked good but there were a few uncapped cells with large larvae, perhaps eleven days old, visible. Evidence of hygienic behavior? Again having a hard time collecting the sample, the sugar roll result was a frightening count of 16 for over 5 mites per hundred bees! Having pessimistically ordered MiteAway Quick Strips (formic acid) earlier in the season, we were able to immediately fetch it and apply a full dose. We accidentally opened a second package and applied it to Beatrix just not to waste it.

Annabelle – She is yet unrepaired, sitting in the woodshop. Seeing Beatrix once again so full suggests that we should rush Annabelle back into service and perform a split. But then we have already just stolen brood from Beatrix. Should we be raiding her again soon? And the old saying is that “A swarm in July ain’t worth a fly.” suggesting that our split would not have time enough to build up before winter. Having used up our capacity for decisive action we again fret ourselves into circles.

Not much to this post. Last Saturday we sugar rolled our initial mite load measurements for the season and found them agreeably low. If we see a repeat of last year, they will stay low until a jump in autumn frightens us. We will, of course, be checking regularly.

Mites per Hundred Bees
Hive May 27
Beatrix 0.67
Clarissa 0.0
Dorcas 0.67

In other news, Dorcas has largely taken the hint and is building straight, new comb on the empty bars we had provided although she could not resist one small perpendicular foray, which we discouraged sharply with a hive tool. And Beatrix is muddling along, having not yet recovered her full strength. We imagine Clarissa may be feeling pleased with herself.

DevilAngelIt does not do to anthropomorphize the inhuman but at times certain comparisons seem unavoidable. We have already likened the stinging Clarissans1 to ungrateful, petulant children biting the hand that cleans their teeth. Now we can liken them to delinquent hellspawn who torment their parents but behave angelically for non-family.

Last Tuesday Dr. Meghan Milbrath took time from her busy schedule to inspect Clarissa for us, hoping to diagnose her ill temper. She insisted that, apart from our removing roof and eke, she should be the only one to handle the hive so she could get unsullied feedback from her actions. And the little wretches were good as gold. A few times she pointed out a few bees engaged in guarding behavior, that is, paying her attention. She demonstrated how they tracked the movements of her finger and how the merest puff of smoke made them decide there was more urgent business within the hive. Upon reaching the frames of brood she very deftly and gently filled a scoop of bees for a sugar roll directly from the comb rather than dumping its occupants into the bucket and scooping from that. Results in the last column below.

Mites per Hundred Bees
Hive Jun 29 Aug 01 Aug 21 Aug 31
Beatrix 1.0 ? 1.2 ?
Clarissa 0.3 ? ? 0.3
Dorcas 0.0 2.0 ? ?

 

The mite count was definitely below our threshold of three mites per hundred bees so one could argue that there was no need to treat. On the other hand these thresholds are not rigorous and our part of Michigan tends to report high mite counts. Also we might find our own counts higher in a few weeks when it will be too late to treat. Dr. Milbrath told us that there is no one right answer in our situation. Were we breeders of bees then Clarissa might well be a colony to leave untreated but as we just wish to have a little more overwintering success treating was reasonable to knock the mites even further back. In the end we applied one MiteAway Quick Strip (formic acid) from our stash in the freezer. The packet was still cool when we applied it so the bees did not respond with the usual immediate displeasure and we had plenty of time get away before it warmed up. A new technique discovered! Beatrix and Dorcas will receive their medicine in a few days as we find time.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Dr. Milbrath found and pointed out the queen, still slightly marked after all this time and laying away. She also saw eggs. We ancients took her word for it.
  • We were dismayed to see a few wax moth larvae between the bars but Dr. Milbrath was undisturbed. Wherever there is wax out of reach of the bees the wax moth will be found. A strong hive will keep the pests out of its comb.
  • We saw a bee taking advantage of the open top to airlift a bee larva to exile and death. We had observed such hygienic behavior when the queen was in Beatrix.
  • Since it did not involve touching the hive we were allowed to handle the jar of sugar-coated bees and in our excitement nearly forgot the critical step of letting the jar sit in the shade for two minutes between being rolled and shaken. Dr. Milbrath caught us and we proceeded correctly.

    She then told us of a recent comparison of the sugar roll with the alcohol wash. The methods are similar but the wash kills the sampled bees although, as its fans point out, it produces a very accurate mite count. These fans also claim that sugar rolls undercount the mites. They are correct in their latter assertion only if one does not let the jar rest as we almost did not. Given that pause the sugar roll is just as accurate.


1Stinging Clarissans! A medieval order of flagellants who really hate being disturbed at their devotions? Or just a rock band name?