We had thought that we were done with our laying worker saga and so with punning on Song of Fire and Ice for our titles. Alas, not so. Clarissa nee Angharad, our swarm caught in joyful wonder, has succumbed to the white wrigglers and we are sickened by the loss and the manner of it.

It had seemed that our turbulent transfer of frames from nuc to hive had ended successfully with the bees settling down in their new home and foragers steadily departing and returning. We thought it best to leave them in peace for a spell but then recently noticed the traffic lessen to almost nonexistence. Last Wednesday(2018-Aug-22) we opened her for a look and found crawling horror. Be glad we have no pictures to share. Tiny, white, writhing wax moth larvae were carpeted atop the frames. Inside we saw a pool of fermenting honey and water with drowned bees and more wax moth larvae. Working through the sickening mess, we saw fallen comb after fallen comb and yet more wax moth larvae.

With dejection, disgust, and determination we collected all the comb into a trash bag for discarding, cutting free what had not fallen, and piled up the hastily scraped frames for a proper cleaning later. The hive interior, after all entrances were opened, was washed out with a garden hose, causing a flood of worms to flow out the entrance holes. When done we inverted the hive on the stand as we typically do for a deadout awaiting cleaning and repopulation. The frames have by now gotten a more complete scraping and bath in an oxalic solution.

We are not certain what happened. Something had caused major comb fall. The frames are foundationless and unwired but so are all our top bars in the other hives that did not suffer. However it occurred, we think the dispirited bees thereafter absconded and the wax moth took over. And it is, of course, somehow our fault.

The one bright spot is that in Dorcas, whom we examined first, we discovered the queen, capped worker brood, and uncapped larvae. Of eggs, as usual, we know not. It seems as if Dorcas is once more up to her tricks of last year and gone on a brood break. If she does this in response to nectar dearth, that may be a valuable behavior. But she needs to build up before the cold season. One comb of worker brood between two of drone is not impressive. Perhaps the recent, long-awaited rains and the goldenrod, which has begun yellowing, will give her encouragement.

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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?