Gowry's painting of Icarus fallingOne imagines that after his initial, frantic flapping developed into deliberate, controlled flight Icarus was surely feeling rather confident at the moment just before the beeswax started to soften and the feathers to drop away. We too had our brief period of confidence when, after years of frozen deadouts, all three hives survived last winter, which we credit largely to finally managing varroa, especially applying an autumnal oxalic acid drizzle. With our freshly acquired knowledge and skill this season was going to be a change from our usual winter moaning over whether or not we would have any bees at all come springtime. Perhaps not.

We had tried to be timely this year with the oxalic treatment, beginning with Dorcas of the alarming mite counts, who took her medicine as calmly as last year. But when we continued to Clarissa she let us know that she was not receiving visitors, however well-intentioned, so we retreated to deal with stings, intending to try again another day. Whereupon the weather turned far too cold to be wetting bees and remained so as we applied the insulation to the hives, still hoping for a few warm days when we could treat the remaining two hives.

The hoped-for few warm days finally arrived last week and we returned with a fresh batch of oxalic syrup, this time planning to start with reliably even-tempered Beatrix and leave the stinging Clarissans last. But misfortune struck soon after we moved the follower board. The first top bar had two, large, partial combs that had not been merged into one and each was attached to a side of the hive. We had barely begun to cut away one attachment with the sharp end of the hive tool as we routinely do when a crack shot across the top of the comb and it suddenly dropped. Switching to a serrated knife we sometimes use, we tried to cut the other attachment but at once the second comb cracked free as well. At a loss for proceeding, we propped up the fallen combs to be next year’s problem, closed the hive, and abandoned our oxalic plans for the season.

So two hives did not get their oxalic treatment and the one that did had high mite counts before the expected autumnal rise. Once again we shall be fretting through winter. And muttering quiet blasphemies against Apollo.



Oh, had we but seen this video a few days earlier, in time for Halloween!

A three-minute thesis competition is a contest for PhD students in which they condense their thesis into a three minute presentation comprehensible to an intelligent audience lacking any background in the research area. Doctoral candidate Samuel Ramsey was the winner in such a competition at the University of Maryland and will go on to the worldwide competition. Congratulations, soon-to-be-Doctor Ramsey!

To present his findings even more briefly than the video, we have been assuming that varroa mites chiefly live on bee hemolyph but actually feed mainly upon the tissues in the bee’s abdomen known as fat body, a name that does not do justice to its nine important functions. Denied this food source and fed on only hemolyph the varroa do not live as long nor reproduce as well. So with a slightly strained metaphor we have been trying to stake vampires when we need a silver bullet for werewolves.

So it’s werewolves not vampires. And it’s Istanbul not Constantinople.

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.

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.