The Biology of Honey Bees: Pheromones

 

Groups are two are more people, animals, plants or organisms that interact with one another and collectively, have a sense of unity. One of the most profound observations of a group are honey bees. Honey bee colonies function as a highly intricate and intelligent group, but like all groups, they must communicate in order to really function as a group. Look at it this way, a colony consists of over 10,000 individuals. If these individuals did not communicate, the bees would likely perform random tasks, have too many foragers or nurses, the colony could not defend itself because only a few members would know of the danger, worker would defy queens and lay their own eggs, and foragers may have trouble finding their way home from a flight. These are many examples of why honey bees communicate, and why the colony would most likely fail without some semblance of communication.

 

While honey bees can communicate through other avenues, honey bees primarily communicate through pheromones. Pheromones are effective for a few reasons:

 

  1. Pheromones can be release by one individual, and spread to every member of the colony in a fast and consistent manner.
  2. Pheromones are chemicals, so they can change the behavior and/or physical characteristics of other bees. I go into more detail below.
  3. Pheromones can come in different types, properties, and characteristics, so bees can easily distinguish the differences.
  4. Pheromones seem to be the easiest form of communication for bees because they live in a small, high dense area. Thus, audible or other forms of communication may be less effective.

 

 

Honey bees primarily use pheromones as their method of communication. Pheromones are chemical signals released into the environment the can change the behavior and physiology of other colony members. I have included a list below:

 

Queen Mandibular

Queens release a pheromone called the Queen Mandibular Pheromone (QMP). This pheromone physically suppresses worker ovary development and attracts drones to mating sites. QMP is a great example of how a pheromone can both alter the physical and behavior characteristics of other colony members.

Picture1.png
Honey bee queen. The queen releases a pheromone called the Queen Mandibular Pheromone, which suppresses egg laying behavior. 

 

Alarm

Honey bees have two major alarm pheromones. Alarm pheromones often causes significant behavioral changes to exposed honey bees. For examples, alarm pheromones often make bees defensive and begin running to the colony entrance.

 

Brood Recognition

Larvae and pupae emit pheromones that actually cause physiological changes in worker bees! If worker bees are exposed to the brood pheromones, then their reproductive ovary development is inhibited and they cannot reproduce. This is why broodless and queenless colonies produce laying workers, because workers can now develop ovaries and begin laying unfertilized eggs.

 

Picture1.png
Capped and uncapped brood can release physiological and behavioral altering pheromones.

Drone

Drone, male honey bees, can also produce pheromones that impact the behavior of other males. Drones produce a pheromone called the Drone pheromone, a very original name! Ha Drones release this pheromone during mating flights, and it attracts other drones to the area. Effectively, the pheromone changes the behavior of other drones, and attracts them to the mating congregation area.

Picture1.png
Drone, male honey bees, can also release pheromones. Their pheromones typically attract other drones to mating congregation areas. 

 

Dufours Gland

The dufours gland releases pheromones within the vaginal cavity of queen honey bees. When queens oviposit eggs, the dufour gland covers the egg with a pheromone, which make these eggs more attractive to nursing bees. Thus, these nurse bees are more likely to care for these pheromone laden eggs. If these eggs do not contain the dufour’s gland pheromone, such as when laying workers produce eggs, than the nurse bees effectively take less care of these bees.

 

Egg marking

The egg marking pheromone is very similar to the pheromone described in the dufours gland section. The egg marking pheromone distinguishes eggs laid by the queens and worker, and effectively make queen laid eggs more attractive than worker laid eggs.

Picture1.png
This picture shows a queen laying an egg. When the queen lays an egg, she covers the egg with a pheromone to make it more attractive. 

  

Foraging

The foraging pheromone is one of the most important pheromones in the colony because this pheromone controls the number of nurses and foragers in the colony. The colony needs to have a certain number of nurse bees to care for brood and convert nectar to honey, but also a certain number of foragers to collect pollen, nectar, resin, and water. If the colony has too many nurses or foragers, the colony may effectively fail. Because of this, the foraging pheromone is very important. The foraging pheromone is released by older foragers, and inhibits “maturation” of nurse bees. As nurse bees get older, the characteristics and traits they have for brood care regresses. A great example of this is the nurse bees glands. Their glands for brood food shrivels and deteriorates as they mature. Without highly functioning glands, nurse bees cannot properly care for brood, and thus, they mature to become foragers. The foraging pheromone is a fountain of youth for the nurse bees because it physically alters and slows down this maturation process. Because of this, nurse bees can continue tending brood for a longer period of time. 

Nasonov

The Nasonov pheromone may be the most commonly known pheromone because it is the most visible. Beekeepers often notice bees release this pheromone at the hive entrance, as the bees stick their abdomen in the air to release the chemical. This chemical helps recruit and orient bees to the colony. Without the pheromone, foragers are shown to have a difficult time finding their colony when returning from foraging flights. The nasonov pheromone also orients swarming to their future home. When scout bees find a new home, they will release the nasonov pheromone around the area. When the colony swarms, they are immediately attracted to the new home, and can then easily orient to the new area.

Not all pheromones are alike, however. Honey bees use small and low volatile pheromonal signals. In short, these pheromones are not strong and only effect individuals in a small area. If the pheromonal odor was strong, then the pheromones may effect unintended individuals. Because honey bees live in a small and dense area, low volatile pheromones are a necessity. Thus, the goal of honey bee pheromones is to communicate between colony members, not necessarily with ALL colony members in a hive. Other organisms use pheromones with the goal of effecting and communicating all members of a group. These pheromones have a strong odor and are highly volatile.

Some pheromones are non-volatile, which means they do not become vapor and spread throughout the group. Honey bees use a non-volatile pheromone to distinguish nest members with non-nest members. Each colony has a specific mixture of oils called hydrocarbons and these hydrocarbons are similar to DNA because each colony has a specific mixture. When colony members interact, they spread these hydrocarbons to other members of the colony, so each member has the same mixture. But, the bees can use these hydrocarbons to determine whether or not the individual is a nest mate or not. For example, robbing bees have different mixture of hydrocarbons, so they are not easily accepted. For bees to become accepted to a foreign colony, other colony members must spread the right mixture of hydrocarbons to them.

I hope you enjoyed

Cheers!
Garett Slater

The Keys to Moving Honey Bees

 

meadow-1379570_1920.jpg
Honey bee colonies ready to be moved! Photo Courtesy of Tama66 pixabay

Beekeepers move bees for many reasons, either for necessity or to improve colony health. Beekeepers move bees for 3 major reasons:

  1. To improve forage for honey bees
  2. To avoid a pesticide spray or exposure
  3. To move newly split colonies to a new location

These are to just name a few, but regardless of the reasons, moving bees is often inevitable for beekeepers. I have moved bees for many different reasons, but I worked for a commercial operation. As a commercial operation, we annually moved bees across the country for pollination services and back to North Dakota for honey production. Moving bees on a commercial scale is often easier than for hobbyists because these large-scale beekeepers move entire pallets of bees (4 colonies per pallet) onto a truck and ship them to these areas. This requires little lifting or effort. However, hobbyists do not have the luxury of a flatbed truck, forklift or other useful moving equipment. This makes moving bees harder and more time consuming.

Beekeepers can agree that moving bees is an uneventful event, but if done wrong, beekeepers can have a negative experience. Beekeeping should be a fun and enjoyable hobby, so I do not want moving bees to deter the experience! While moving bees can take time and effort, it is relatively easy if done right.

 

When to move bees?

Beekeepers have 2 major goals when moving honey bee colonies: 1) move the entire colony without leaving bees behind and 2)reduce colony stress as much as possible. Beekeepers can achieve these goals by only moving bees during low activity periods. These low activity periods include:

  • Temperatures below 50 deg. F
  • Evenings or early mornings
  • Cool and rainy weather

Most beekeepers move bees during the evenings because most bees are back in the colony and there is more time to make adjustments if things go wrong. Beekeepers can move bees during the morning, but then these beekeepers have less time to make adjustments before temperatures increase honey bee activity. If anything goes wrong, then a large mess could arise. Thus, I recommend moving bees in the evenings until experience is gained. Beekeepers can move bees during cold and rainy weather, but ensure temperatures are below 50 deg. F. It not, then moving colonies can be more difficult and messier than intended.

One last thing to note about moving bees during the evenings and morning. If beekeepers move bees in complete darkness, which is often the case during evenings and mornings, then beekeepers should be aware of the possible dangers. It is often easy to lose balance, drop a colony, lose equipment during darkness, so be prepared and aware of the surroundings!

What to wear?

“Always be prepared” is a motto beekeepers should abide by. Beekeeping can be painful and injurious if not properly protected. Unlike beekeeping during daylight hours, honey bees crawl during in mornings, evenings and rainy conditions. These small crawlers will find openings and crevices, which may results in unpleasant stings. I believe these night time or rainy stings seem worse, but this may be just me! Anyway, beekeepers should be aware of this and be prepared by using proper beekeeping attire, such as a bee suit, veil, gloves, heavy socks, and boots. Beekeepers should also consider elasticized cuffs to mitigate crawlers into unwanted areas. Beekeepers may bring friends or inexperienced beekeepers to help move colonies, which is great! Always have a helping hand because nothing is worse than getting injured in the bee yard. However, these helping beekeepers may be inexperienced, which may increase a chance for an incidence. Because of this, keep these beekeepers well protected and informed about the moving process. You want these people to help again, right? (unless this is some pity revenge, then I think you need help..) So make it a good experience for everyone.

General guidelines for moving bees?

Moving bees differ depending upon distance, but there are general guidelines for moving colonies.

Ensure bottom board is attached to rest of the colony

The beekeeper needs to secure the colony before moving, which means the bottom board needs to be attached to the bottom brood boxt. This can be done a few different ways:

  • Bottom board is banded or strapped to the brood boxes
  • The bottom board is cleated
  • The bottom board is stapled to the bottom brood boxes (2″ staples are preferred)

Oftentimes, the colony is stuck together because of propolis. However, if colonies begin breaking apart when they are moved, then disaster could ensue. It is often a great management practice to attach bottom board, or even strap the entire colony together. If staples will be used to attached the bottom board, do so several days in advance of the move.

IMG_6588.jpg

Handle with care

Honey bees are living organisms that can be easily stressed. Because of this, handle the colonies with care! Beekeepers must reduce stress as much as possible for honey bee colonies so they do not suffer long term. Beekeepers should practice good management technique before moving colonies. For example, beekeepers should practice smooth and slow movements over quick and jerking movements. Smooth movements reduce stress, keep the propolis seal attached, and ensures an enjoyable moving experience. Remember, always handle with care!

Use a smoker!

Beekeepers should never be afraid to use a smoker because smoke keeps bees calm during a stressful situation. I often push new beekeepers to use more smoke when they help me move colonies. I do this because new beekeepers often perceive smoke as bad. Smoking colonies does more good than harm, so use generously, especially if bees become roughed up.

42198407232_14c53f83b0_o (1) (1).jpg
Always use a smoker!

Close all entrances

Beekeepers can close all colony entrances, which makes sure bees are kept within the colony. Beekeepers can use entrance reducers, grass, duct tape, corks, or really an material to close entrances. While closing entrances is not always necessary, especially when moving colonies long distances, closing entrances can be a great management practice for new beekeepers. Closing entrances reduces crawling bees, makes moving bees easier, and limits bees left behind. All positives in my book!

Bind colonies within vehicle

Beekeepers and personnel need to ensure colonies are properly binded to the vehicles. If not, the beekeepers risks losing equipment, but more importantly, their bees. Also,  most regions and States have thorough transportation policies, and many require equipment and bees to be properly binded to the vehicles. Bind to avoid a fine.

Keep bees close together during transportation

Beekeepers should also keeps bees close together when moving, which improves the transportation process. If bees are further apart, then they tend to move more. This adds more stress to the colonies and decreases their attachment within the vehicle.

 Moving colonies Short distances

Beekeepers may want to move colonies short distances, which I consider 5 feet to 1 mile. These short distances are tricky because bees want to return to their original location. When bees are in a location, they orient themselves in a way that attunes them to a certain location. This orientation helps bees find their way home after a long foraging flight. Because of this, it is difficult to just move a colony 5 feet to a mile away. Bees are attuned to their original location, and have a high propensity to go to that original location. No one wants disoriented bees! Beekeepers are fine moving bees less than 5 feet because bees can easily find their way home. However, beekeepers must move bees a certain way if they want their colonies in a new location 5 feet-1 mile away. They have two options:

Option 1: Beekeepers can move their colonies a few feet at a time several days apart. If colonies only need to be moved a few feet or across the yard, then this is a great option.

Option 2: Beekeepers can initially move the colonies 1 1/2 miles away for at least 10 days, and then, move the colonies to their intended location. This requires more work and time but it is an effective practice. Moreover, it ensures all bees orient to the right colony. Win Win!

IMG_6650.jpg

Moving colonies long distances

Beekeepers can easily move colonies distances over 1 1/2 miles. Beekeepers across the nation successfully do so as they transport colonies to pollination orchards in other regions. Basically, these beekeepers strap colonies to a flat bed semi (a truck would work for less colonies) and put a net over the colonies. They may cool the colonies with water, but in reality, there is nothing to it. Hobbyists can do the same thing. If bees are moved long distances, place the colonies on a truck, properly strap them, and move them to their new location. These colonies do not need to have net or their entrances shut. I have moved bees these distance by simply strapping them to the back of a truck and driving to the desire location. Obviously these colonies were smoked liberally, and binded together with straps, but it worked sting free! I should not that vehicles must follow traffic requirements and regulations. Also, make sure everything is strapped down. You do not want to lose any equipment!

I hope you enjoyed

Cheers!
Garett Slater

Washboarding: A Very Peculiar Behavior

IMG_7410
Honey bees washboarding

Many describe honey bees as a “superorganism” because thousands of bees function as a single unit. These thousands of bees perform several tasks for the betterment of the entire colony, including foraging, defending, brood caring and cleanliness for the entire colony. Each bee has their own task or role within a colony, and they must execute it for a colony to truly thrive and survive. However, in order to operate a highly-functioning organism, each bee must properly communicate and perform a panoply of behaviors. For example, colonies display hygienic behavior as a way to defend the colony from various brood disease. This is just one example, and washboarding may be another.

IMG_7415.jpg
Honey bees washboarding

Honey bees washboard for no apparent reason, which is fascinating considering humans have kept bees for several thousands of year. In reality, washboarding is an understudied behavior, which is perplexing because honey bees are a model for group behavior among scientific circles. When I say model for group behavior, I mean scientists study honey bees to understand social behavior and how groups arose. In short, honey bee behavior is highly studied! So why do we not know what washboarding it?

Before I explain why, I must describe washboarding. Washboarding honey bees look almost like they are bearding, yet they look much different than bees bearding. These bees gather outside the colony (but can bee seen gathered inside), and they rock back and forth. They seem to be lined up in rows, and spread across the face of the colony. The washboarding bees move their front legs frenetically back and forth, as if they were “scrubbing” clothes, thus the name washboarding. Some folks describe the washboarding behavior as a sweeping behavior because they move their front legs back in forth in an almost rhythmic movement. It is quite odd, so check out the video on my facebook page . I would add it to this blog but I cannot due to payment requirements. Ask to add to join the page to watch the video! But, many washboarding videos do exist online.

Washboarding was studied by Jeff Pettis of the USDA and Katie Bohrer. They believed washboarding was performed as a sort of general cleaning behavior, but the evidence does not point to that direction. But when they observed it,  they found a few things:

  1. Many wasboarding bees were between the ages of 15-25 days, with an average age of 13 days old.
  2. The behavior was most prevalent between 8:00 to 2:00 pm, but the behavior was observed at 9:00 pm.
  3. The behavior increased as the texture of washboarding surface increased. The researchers found that washboarding was more prevalant on rough surfaces like wood and slate, but less prevalent on smooth surfaces such as glass.
img_7396.jpg
Washboarding on the side of the colony

These were observations from the scientists, but beekeepers have anecdotal explanations for the behavior. Most beekeepers believe honey bees washboard immediately after a major honey flow, which is when it is often observed. While washboarding does seem to be associated with general cleaning, most research is needed to support this claim. I observed washboarding recently, on May 30th to be exact in Jamestown area ND. I talked to several commercial beekeepers in Minnesota, and they observed washboarding the same day. North Dakota and Minnesota have very different honey flows, so it may be due to a photoperiod or temperature cue. I have really only observed it in Late-May to Early-June, so this is my observations.

Washboarding is a very cool behavior, even though the function or purpose is unknown. Washboarding is one of the greatest mysteries of honey bees and I look forward to future research on the subject. Honey bees use behavior for a wide variety of reasons, and washboarding may be a necessary behavior for the survival of honey bee colonies. Either for the protection from pathogens and diseases, or as a signaling/communication cue. When I observed it, the bees seemed to be releasing a pheromone based upon what I smelt. But who knows… Hopefully this phenomenon will be solved soon so we can understand this fascinating behavior!

IMG_7414.jpg
More washboarding behavior, from the individual bee

 

I hope you enjoyed

Cheers!
Garett Slater

 

 

 

Queen Cells: The 3 types

8635477990_0230d8b342_o (1).jpg
Emergency queen cells. Photo courtesy of Rob Snyder and the Bee Informed Partnership

A honey bee colony consists of thousands of workers and 1 queen. Each individual has their own task, but arguably, non are more important than the queen. The queen lays eggs and provides the colony with the next generation of bees. In fact, the queen can lay ~2000 eggs per day. But in certain situations, queens can become damaged, killed, or start to fail, which puts a colony in a precarious situation. Without the queen (or with a failing queen), the colony would most likely fail because not other individual can reproduce. However, workers can rectify the situation by producing new queens.

Workers can produce queens if eggs or young larvae are within the colony. Workers will produce queens for many different situations, but they do so for 3 major reasons: Swarming, Queen Superscedure and Emergency queen replacement. For each situation, the colony produces relatively distinctive queen cells, which beekeepers can identify. Queen cells are overt signs of larger issues, and beekeepers should learn to interpret these signs and manage accordingly.

Lets take a look at the 3 major queen cells!

Swarm Cells

8575350833_3aab8932c7_o (1).jpg
Swarm cell. Photo courtesy of Rob Snyder and the Bee Informed Partnership

Swarm cells are the most common queen cell as most beekeeping deal with swarming. Colonies swarm for many reasons, which I have talked written about already.

Swarm Management: The signs of swarming

Swarm Management: Preventing Swarms

Why do swarm cells occur?

Swarm cells occur for 4 major reasons:

  1. Colony is crowded
  2. Abundance of resources
  3. Old Queen
  4. Mite infestation of disease

Colonies often swarm because the colony is overcrowded. They will produce swarm cells because the colony must split in order to survive. Swarm cells are not necessarily a sign of disaster, but must be managed accordingly.

When do you see swarm cells?

Swarm cells are seen in during mid-spring, when the colony is building up rapidly with brood and resources. Oftentimes, the beekeeper does not provide space in a timely fashion, so the gets into “swarming mode”. Swarming is seen differently in other regions, but is most often correlated with honey flow and forage availability.

What do swarming cells look like?

The colony will produce swarming cells if the colony becomes to large for their current
enclosure. Unlike superscedure or emergency cells, the cells will be built on the bottom of the frame. They have the distinct peanut shaped look, but are known to be smaller than superscedure and emergency cells. If swarm cells are seen, observe whether: 1)the cell contains eggs or larvae, 2)the cell is capped or 3)the cell is open due to queen emergence. The swarm cell can inform beekeepers how far along the colony is about to swarm or not. If the colony has swarm cells with eggs or larvae, then the colony is in the early stages of swarming. However, if the swarm cell indicates a queen has emerged, then the colony has or is about to swarm. Observe these signs so you can manage accordingly.

What should you do if you see a swarming cell? 

I outline the signs of swarming and preventative measures in a previous post I linked above, so refer to these. However, removal of swarm cells may not be enough, especially if the colony is preparing to swarm. Anyway, even if a swarm cell were removed, the colony can easily produce more. Swarm cell removal can be a short term solution because a colony will not swarm without a queen. Cell removal is a short term solution to a larger problem, which is ultimately space.

8632192071_a64496afe3_o.jpg
Swarm cell. Photo courtesy of Mike Andree and the Bee Informed Partnership

Superscedure Cells

14224782964_4471d1aa71_o.jpg
Capped, queen superscedure cells. Photo courtesy of Rob Snyder and the Bee Informed Partnership

 

These are superscedure cells. The left cell is about to be capped

Colonies produce superscedure cells when they need to replace an aging or failing queen.

Why do superscedure cells occur?

Colonies produce superscedure cells when the queen is not performing up to colony standards. Many times, this is due to age and attrition because like all organisms, queens age and their performance wavers. This can hinder a colonies growth and development.   Colonies can sense this attrition through pheromones and other cues, which tell colonies the queen needs to be replaced. Colonies produce superscedure cells for many different reasons, which include:

  1. Queen is old
  2. Queen is not producing enough pheromones
  3. Queen is beginning to lay drone eggs
  4. Brood pattern is spotty

These are not the only reasons for superscedure cells, but the major ones.

This is a newly emerged virgin queen

This is a nice, high performing queen

This a failing queen laying an egg. The queen has tattered wings and a poor brood pattern

This is a failing queen. The queen is tattered wings, and she has a shoddy brood pattern

 

When do you see superscedure cells?

Unlike swarming cells, superscedure cells can occur during all times of the year. But remember, if a colony is producing a new queen, that queen must still mate. During certain times of the year, mating will be less successful because less drones are available or the weather is not ideal. In these situations, the beekeeper may need to intervene with a new queen.

What do superscedure cells look like?

The colony will build several cells, usually on the face of the frame, to boost their odds of rearing a queen. These cells are often extensions of young eggs or larvae, which are ideal for producing high quality queens. Like I mentioned in the swarm cells, observe the stage of the superscedure cell. Does the cell contain eggs or larvae? Has a queen emerged from the cell? Is the queen cell still capped? These signs indicate the stage of superscedure. If the cell contains eggs or larvae, the cell is still in the early stages. However, if signs indicate queen emergence, then the colony may contain a virgin or newly mated queen. Just to note: the old queen may work side-by-side the new queen as superscedure does not always mean the old queen will be killed. If two queens are seen, then this may be a valid explanation.

Screen Shot 2018-05-29 at 8.39.41 AM.png
Uncapped queen cells

 

Superscedure cell that has recently been open. The queen has emerged in the top cell. In the bottom cell, the newly emerged queens and/or workers destroyed the other developing queen. You can tell because the cell was never uncapped, and was destroyed from the side.

What should you do if you see a superscedure cell? 

Many beekeepers will tell you to “let the process” run full circle, but this can depend upon the timing of superscedure cells. Queen success is based upon genetic traits and mating success, which may not be accomplished during certain times of years or if the right drone population is not available. Beekeepers want their queens to mate with as many drones as possible, but also with the right drones. Thus, requeening with purchased queens is a valid management practice, especially in the spring. These queens are often properly mated and selected for certain traits, which improves success going forward. Letting the colony supersede the queen is a risky process that can work, but can lead to undesirable traits or lack of success. Obviously queens are not availible in the fall, so beekeepers should let colonies fulfill this process, but requeening should be considered.

IMG_6987.jpg
Superscedure cells

Emergency Cells

8635477990_0230d8b342_o (1).jpg
Emergency queen cells. Photo courtesy of Rob Synder and the Bee Informed Partnership

Colonies produce emergency queen cells if the queen is lost suddenly

Why do emergency cells occur?

It is often hard to pinpoint exactly why colonies produce emergency queen cells, but something has happened to the queen where the queen died or did not make it back to the colony. These are few reasons:

  1. The queen died suddenly
  2. The queen was crushed during inspections
  3. Queen was lost during inspection
  4. Queen flew away and did not make it back to the colony
  5. Virgin queen did not make it back from the mating flight

For whatever reasons, the colony is fervently trying to produce a new queen.

When do you see emergency cells?

Beekeepers see emergency queen cells during all times of the year, and it really depends upon when the queen was lost or killed. To survive, the colony needs a queen so they will worker quick and fast to replace her. Remember, the colony needs young eggs or larvae to produce high quality queens, which may be in a limited supply. While the colony has young eggs or larvae, they must produce a queen quickly before they become to old. Once they are too old, then the queen will be of very low quality or the colony cannot produce queens at all. Oftentimes, beekeepers should intervene when emergency queen cells are seen.

What do emergency cells look like?

Similar to superscedure cells, the colony will build the cells on the face of the frame and usually several at a time. The beekeeper will spot several queen cells in one area, which is a obvious indication of an emergency queen situation. Similar to swarm and superscedure cells, observe the stage of emergency cell development. This will tell you whether the colony just lost its queen or if it produce a new queen that just emerged.

What should you do if you see a emergency cells? 

Beekeepers should be wary of emergency cells because they are often riskier than superscedure cells. Unlike superscedure cells, the colony has had little time to prepare for replacement. The colony picks the perfect aged larvae to produce the highest quality queens. However, the colony is forced to rear queens from the youngest larvae available within the colony. While young larvae may have been readily available when the queen suddenly died or did not return, this is often too late. Beekeepers can provide the colony with young eggs or larvae while removing the queen cells, but the beekeepers runs into similar problems as superscedure cells. The best option is to requeen the colony to ensure the colony has a genetically ideal queen that has properly mated. It is not worth losing a healthy colony if the colony can be requeened. Obviously queens are not always available, but it is an option to consider.

IMG_6996.jpg
Emergency queen cells. As you can see from the picture, the colony was desperate so they produce a lot!

Queen Cups

I included queen cups because colonies will produce them randomly, but with not real purpose. Oftentimes, colonies produce these “nervous” cups, which may make them more prone to swarming. Beekeepers should only be concerned about queen cups if they contain eggs, which can indicate superscedure, emergency queen development or swarming. If the queen cups contain eggs, refer to the signs above to identify the issue. Queen cups WITH eggs are often early signs, so it mean you caught the issue early!

IMG_7001.jpg
These are random, egg-less cell cups. They are not an issue unless they contain eggs!

 

 

Cheers!
G.

 

A Beginner’s Guide: How to Become a Beekeeper

Hey all!

I wrote a guest post for a blog called the hobbyism, https://hobbyism.co.uk/beekeeper/. I really enjoy the hobbyism because it includes guests posts from niche type hobbies. If you are interested in finding a new hobby, check out the hobbyism!

My blog is a beginners guide to beekeeping. I write about traits I believe new beekeepers need to have for success. Also, I include a beginners guide to begin beekeeping. Obviously, I cannot include everything about beekeeping in a short, 2000 word post, but I summarize the traits I deem necessary! Here is my post: https://hobbyism.co.uk/beekeeper/.

 

Thanks!
G.

Chalkbrood: A common spring disease

8262800358_631c68b432_o
If a colony is heavily infected with Chalkbrood, then chalkbrood mummies can be found at the entrance. Photo Courtesy of Rob Snyder and the Bee Informed Partnership

Many diseases and pathogens infect honey bee colonies, but chalkbrood is likely the most common among beekeepers. Ascosphaera apis causes chalkbrood, which is a fungal brood disease. Beekeepers commonly detect chalkbrood in the spring because chalkbrood is considered a stress-related disease. However, chalkbrood is observed throughout the year. Many times, chalkbrood becomes established in colonies because of many interacting factors, such as environmental stressors, genetic makeup of colonies and beekeeping practices. Chalkbrood contaminates larvae when nurse bees admix chalkbrood spores with brood food. The fungal spores out-compete larvae for food and eventually, turn larvae into “chalk-like” mummies. Beekeepers can observe chalkbrood in many colors, ranging from white to grey to black. As larvae turn black, the chalkbrood begins producing fruiting bodies, which are highly infectious. Beekeepers can find these mummies at the entrance or bottom boards, especially if chalkbrood is widespread. At this point these mummies can spread spores to other colonies in the area. Chalkbrood often infects 3-4 day larvae, and can be found as uncapped or capped larvae. If the colony shakes a frame with capped chalkbrood, the frame will rattle when shaken.  

8261732847_33216ed627_o
Black chalkbrood mummies with fruiting bodies, which are highly infectious. Photo Courtesy of Rob Snyder and the Bee Informed Partnership

Symptoms

  • Spotty brood pattern
  • Chalk-like (white, grey or black) mummies at the colony entrance, chalk-like mummies in open brood.
  • Early stages of Chalkbrood look very similar to Sacbrood Virus. However, the larval head is less defined with a sunken appearance.

 

14038418827_1cbeab1a03_o (1).jpg

Chalkbrood mummies. Photo Courtesy of Rob Snyder and the Bee Informed Partnership

8636392126_edf3514fee_o.jpg
Sacbrood virus, which has a distinct look to Chalkbrood, even though they share similarities. Photo Courtesy of Rob Snyder and the Bee Informed Partnership

3 Major factors why Colonies have colonies get chalkbrood

  1. Environmental StressorsChalkbrood outbreaks increase when colonies have a lessened ability to care for brood or maintain the optimal brood temperature of 35°. Remember: Chalkbrood is a stress-related disease, so cold and wet temperatures can proliferate the fungal disease. The following are environmental stressors the may induce Chalkbrood outbreaks:
      • Brood chilling
      • When it is cold and wet during spring population increase. Chalkbrood often occurs during rapid growth periods and when the colony has a higher brood:worker ratio.
      • Reduced foraging and habitat due to agriculture intensification. Agrochemicals can immunocompromised adult honey bees, which may weaken the honey bees ability to care for brood. Agrochemicals include both agriculture sprayed chemicals and beekeeping miticides.

2. Genetics

  • Honey bees have significant genetic variation between strains. For example,  certain honey bee strains are more resistant to chalkbrood. Because of this, selective breeding for chalkbrood resistance is possible. A great example is hygienic behavior, which have known resistance to chalkbrood.

3. Stressors from other pests, pathogens and diseases

  • Chalkbrood is a stress-related fungal disease, and a contemporary honey bee stressor is other pest, pathogens, and diseases. Honey bees can be co-infected with other pests (varroa mites), viral infections (Deformed Winged Virus) and pathogens (American and European Foulbrood), which are stressors that can induced a Chalkbrood outbreak. Below are examples where the co-infection of other pests and pathogens can induce a Chalkbrood outbreak:
    • Chalkbrood is associated with Deformed Wing Virus, a common virus associated with varroa.
    • Chalkbrood outbreaks is correlated to both Varroa destructor and Nosema ceranae.

 

14245178643_f39bf07b85_o.jpg

A mixture of white, grey and black chalkbrood mummies within a heavily infected colony. Photo Courtesy of Rob Snyder and the Bee Informed Partnership

Factors that affect the spread of Chalkbrood

  1. Virulence
    • Chalkbrood virulence (the severity of harmfulness of the disease) is dependent upon the strain. A more virulent strain of chalkbrood will spread and kill a colonies more quickly. Remember: not all chalkbrood is the same and some strains are more virulent than others.
  2. Social Immunity
    • Colonies bred for hygienic behavior have a reduced prevalence of chalkbrood. But, remember, hygienic behavior is most effective during early detection of chalkbrood, which means the early detection of larval death. If chalkbrood is detected during the late stage and potentially sporulation chalkbrood mummies are removed, hygienic behavior could increase rather than decrease transmission of chalkbrood spores.
  3. Beekeeping Practices
    • Management and sanitation practices should aim to reduce transmission
      • Keep equipment clean to avoid transfer of chalkbrood among colonies
      • Either removed old comb from your operation or avoid the transfer of contaminated comb among colonies.
    • Reduce Stressors
      • Reduce environmental stressors, such as low forage, nutritional limitation, and agrochemical exposure
      • Reduce co-infections with other pest, pathogens and diseases.
    • Breed bees for hygienic behavior or select bees for chalkbrood resistance
  4. Chalkbrood taking over a drone larvae.
    3-4 day old larvae infected with Chalkbrood, a common fungal disease. Photo Courtesy of Rob Snyder and the Bee Informed Partnership. 

Prevention

  • Increase ventilation and airflow into colony
  • Replace and removed old comb. Old comb contains spores and is often the source of a chalkbrood outbreak. Be cautious when buying old equipment and comb.
  • Re-queen colonies with queens bred for hygienic behavior
  • Maintain strong colonies

Treatment

  • Thymol based treatments are thought to effectively treat chalkbrood. But this is purely anecdotal. Thymol based treatments include apiguard, Vitafeed Green and beevital are commonly used, and many beekeepers believe they are effective. While these thymol based treatments may work, I have not seen it.

 

Cheers,

Garett Slater

Lithium Chloride: Is it the next mite treatment?

 

8636297430_87f4ddef8c_o.jpg
This colony eventually collapses due to extensive mite damage. It had all the major signs of mite damage.

Varroa continues to devastate colonies, and the issue seems to worsen as the years pass. For example, colonies with 5 mites per 100 bees in the spring would live 10 years ago, but now colonies seem to need to have < 1 mite/ 100 bees to survive. This is because of viruses. Mites transmit not only more viruses, but the viruses have become more virulent over time, such as Deformed Wing Virus. Researchers are finding new variants of Deformed Wing Virus that are more devastating, but Deformed Wing Virus phenomenon is likely just the beginning. As mites transmit more and different viruses, the mite issue will worsen.  As mite issues worsen, more and more control is needed.

9310087808_15e754bcb3_o.jpg
Honey bee with Deformed Wing Virus, the most devastating mite transmitted virus to date.

Beekeepers use many different forms of varroa treatment, and it really depends upon the “type” of beekeeper. Most commercial beekeepers use synthetic treatments such as amitraz, whereas hobbyists typically use organic treatments such as apiguard, formic acid and oxalic acid. While these treatments can be effective when used properly, they all have certain limitations. For example, apiguard and formic acid have temperature limitations, while mites can develop resistance to amitraz. As of now, there is not a perfect treatment. Each treatment has its time and place, however, “perfect” time rarely occurs. This is why many commercial beekeepers have struggled, and have accrued high annual losses. Think about it this way. Hobbyists can monitor and treat accordingly, whereas commercial beekeeper must treat their entire operation without knowing where their numbers lie. If a colony has high numbers after the treatment, then that colony is effectively dead. Beekeepers do not have time to manage each colony, so they must account for these “mite bombs” in their operation. Most treatments only work perfectly if the weather is warm or humid enough, the colony is a genetic predisposition against mites, and if the treatment is applied correctly. These are limitations that impact beekeepers because: A) they must constantly train new crew members, B)they often have a short window to treat due to migration, and C) they must treat 2000-20000 colonies. Because many treatments have limitations, these mite bombs can be scattered throughout the operation. This leads to “typical” 20-30% annual losses, even if the beekeeper does treat. This is why a new treatment option would help, and why I was excited to hear about lithium chloride.

 

35883942721_1d7bc68829_o.jpg
Varroa mite

Nature recently published a paper from researchers in the University of Hohenheim in Germany about Lithium Chloride, a possible new mite treatment. As I read about Lithium Chloride, I was left excited, yet curious about further experimental trials. Lithium chloride is new and exciting, especially because new varroacides are not produced regularly. I sample >30 commercial beekeepers annually, and they struggle with mite controls and which treatments. They often use amitraz, the main ingredient of apivar, which most beekeeper view as a “ticking time bomb” because beekeepers believe resistance is inevitable. Most commercial beekeeper experience 70-90% losses in the early to mid 2000’s because mites became resistant to coumaphos and fluvalinate, two major mite treatments at the time. This includes the commercial beekeeper I worked for whom lost 80% of his colonies in 2006 when mites became resistant to coumaphos. If lithium chloride has realistic potential, then beekeepers have an option IF mite become resistance to amitraz, the current #1 treatment for mites among commercial beekeepers.

 

Lithium chloride is a salt commonly used as a mood stabilizer in humans. It is often prescribe as psychiatric medication for treating major depressive disorders. I have taken a lithium chloride supplement before and it does work as a mood stabilizer. While lithium chloride does positively impact humans, lithium chloride has hardly been studied on insects. In reality, the effect of lithium chloride on insects is fairly a mystery. Because of this, I was skeptical about their experimental design and approach. However, they seemed to stumble upon Lithium Chloride through alternative studies, and that “surprisingly lithium salts mediate a strong acaricidal efect on Varroa mites”.

Image result for lithium chloride antidepressant

Does lithium chloride have potential? Sure. I would be ignorant if I said it may have potential. I mean, they clearly showed that feeding Lithium chloride to bees: A) kills mites and B) does not hurt bees. I cannot deny the results. However, they must be taken with a grain of salt for a few reasons:

  1. The study used caged bees and broodless artificial swarms. This was a great first start, but hardly replicates a colony setting.
  2. The study did not include brood, only phoretic mites. Powdered sugar has been shown to knock mites off bees, but I would NEVER use powdered sugar as a mite treatment. So while positive results exist, many factors must be considered.
  3. The mechanism is unknown. To truly understand the effectiveness, researchers must understand the mode of action. The mode of action is not everything, but it is definitely something, especially when performing studies on a colony level.
Screen Shot 2018-05-21 at 9.11.41 PM.png
This graphic shows survivorship of varroa mites when bees are fed different concentrations of lithium chloride. Mites died more readily when bees were fed the highest concentration.

I do not mean to bash lithium chloride because it has a lot of possibilities. Lithium chloride is easy to apply, most likely does not leave residues in honey or wax, and may kill >90% of mites, so I am all for Lithium chloride. But let us wait and see, because we have seen miticides like this before. Like the researchers said, lithium chloride provies a “promising basis for the development of an effective and easy-to-apply control method for mite treatment”. I sure hope so!

Screen Shot 2018-05-21 at 9.12.18 PM.png
This graphic compares honey bee survivorship when fed different concentrations of Lithium chloride. As you can see, the supplement did not effect bee survivorship by alot.

 

Cheers!
Garett Slater

 

 

What if your colony has multiple eggs per cell?

Recently, I purchased colonies from a reputable commercial beekeeper in central Minnesota. I just received them a week ago, and went out to perform a full colony inspection and mite check. All my colonies looked great, with the exception of one. That one colony did not look horrible, but it was a bit weaker that the rest. The colony had ~4 frames of bees compared to the other colonies, which had grown to 7 frames of bees from the original 4 frame nucs. The beekeeper produced these nucs over a month ago, so that one colony had not grown! I was not terribly concerned, but I decided to put on my detective hat to find out more..

I spotted multiple eggs per cell. I was initially concerned because the beekeeper did perform check-backs, which means the beekeeper verified the colony had a queen. I eventually found the queen and she looked healthy, young, and “excitable”. I concluded this queen is “over zealous”, and is laying multiple eggs per cell in the short term. This happens sometimes with young, newly mated queens. It is possible these are drone eggs, so I will need to continue to monitor. But as for now, I think the colony will recover quickly. These are the signs I saw:

Multiple eggs from Queen

  1. Multiple eggs from queen

If queens lay multiple eggs per cell, there is often not more than 3-4 eggs per cell. Moreover, the cells are all oriented in the middle of the cell. I would not worry to much if the queen is young and laying multiple eggs per cell, because the queen will straighten out sooner rather than later. It is possible the queen is abnormal and laying multiple eggs is a permanent trait, but it seems unlikely. I will keep track of the queen throughout the year!

8635016173_1a456742e4_o.jpg
Multiple eggs from young queen.
  1. Good pattern without drone brood

 

8633348108_bde74f467d_o.jpg
Brood pattern

3. Young Queen

Lastly, the colony had a young queen without any marks of abuse. If the queen was laying drone eggs, she would most likely have: 1)tattered wings, 2)workers would be attacking her, and 3)she may be running around the colony. The colony does not want a failing queen, so they would try to replace her.

8262860148_ed971b2a53_o.jpg
Young, newly mated queen

Multiple eggs from Laying workers

  1. Multiple eggs from laying workers
Screen Shot 2018-05-21 at 6.58.40 AM.png
Laying worker eggs. Photo courtesy of Zachary Huang

As you notice, the eggs are all over the place including the cell walls. This happens because worker abdomens are shorter, so they cannot reach the bottom of the cell. So unlike multiple eggs from the queen, the eggs are often off-centered. Also, laying workers oviposit 5-10 (sometimes more) per cell. This is much more than a queen, even if the queen were laying multiple eggs.

2. Drone brood

Image result for laying worker
Drone brood from laying worker. Courtesy of Dennis Van Engelsdorp

Laying workers can only produce unfertilized eggs, which become drone brood. Laying workers cannot mate, so laying drone brood is a way to pass on genetic material. As you can see from the picture above, the colony has widespread drone brood.

Summary

Older queens can begin laying drone brood, but a failing queen will not lay over 3 eggs per cell. Furthermore, the eggs will still be centered. There is obvious differences between a laying worker, a queen laying multiple eggs and a failing queen. In my case, I believe I just have an over zealous queen that is laying multiple eggs per cell. There could be worse problems!

14224778754_3237856345_o (2).jpg
Failing queen

 

Cheers!
G.

Swarm Management: Preventing Swarms

Beekeepers must manage colonies so they do not swarm. If colonies do swarm, beekeepers may not only lose the swarming colony, but the parent hive is much smaller as summer progresses. This may inhibit honey production and overwintering success. Anyhow, swarming is bad beekeeping practice, and should be avoided at all costs. I have outline preventative and remedial techniques to avoid swarming, which should help you as swarm season pushes on!

Early prevention of swarms

Adequate space for brood and resources

Beekeepers should provide extra space during the spring as colony population drastically increases. If colonies are large entering the spring honey flow, then colonies may need 2 brood boxes and supers to inhibit swarming, but this depends upon the state of the colony. A good rule of thumb is colonies need at least 2 empty frames, but if you check the colonies 2 weeks later, this is often too late. It is often best to provide space extra space to prevent disaster later. Too much space can spread resources, such as nurse bees, but if you cannot check the colonies often, then do provide extra space.

IMG_6492
This colony has begun to pack the brood box with honey. I noticed signs of swarming, which is predictable due to congestion.
IMG_6585.jpg
This colony is bringing in a lot of brood and nectar. Because of this, this colony needs space or it may swarm.

Young queens

Older queens are more likely to swarm than younger queens. However, this does not necessarily mean all old queens will swarm! I have seen colonies headed by 2 year old queens that have not swarmed, so do not worry too much unless signs of swarming exist. But annual requeening may be a great option to lessen that chance. Many beekeepers requeen their colonies annually because colonies with young queens often produce more honey, have a better brood pattern, and are more likely to live through the winter. This does not mean older cannot queens perform as well as younger queens, but it is less likely. If you plan to requeen to prevent swarm, purchase queens bred not to swarm. Obviously swarming is an embedded behavioral trait, but many queen breeders select colonies that do not swarm. Because of this, bees can be selected for their low propensity to swarm.

IMG_6576.jpg
This is an older queen that is about to fail. Her left wing is tattered and the right is half gone.

Removal of queen cells

8576507332_736e7f1f9b_o.jpg
This is a swarm queen cell.

Queen cells are a blatant sign of swarming. If these swarm cells have eggs or late-staged larvae, then swarming is far advanced and action must be taken. If the queen cell is open, then the queen has hatched, and the colony might have swarmed already. But if a colony contains swarm queen cells with eggs or late staged larvae, then these cells need to be removed immediately. The colony will swarm if a new queen is available to the colony. If a new queen is not available, then the colony will not swarm. Once queen cells are removed, then other steps need to be followed, such as brood removal or checkerboarding.

Checkerboarding

Checkerboarding is a useful practice that encourages colony build-up while preventing swarms. Essentially, checkerboarding tricks bees that the brood next is smaller than it actually is. Checkerboarding is the alternation of brood frames with empty frames, which creates a checkerboard pattern (brood, empty, brood, empty). This breaks the brood into multiple brood boxes, and tricks colonies to continue colony build-up. If the colony is packed wall-to-wall with brood, then add an additional brood box or super, and rotate frames between the two boxes. While this may seem like a lot of extra, unnecessary work, checkerboarding does prevent swarms while encouraging colony build-up.

Reversing

 

8493311716_b98214d2e1_o.jpg
Reversing is a common, yet scientifically unproven technique.

Many beekeepers reverse the top and bottom boxes during the first spring inspection. In theory, this method prevents swarms by lessening congestion. Despite the lack of evidence on reversing, this is a common practice. Many beekeepers believe this practice lessens swarming because  the majoring of the bees are located in the upper box. Because of heat, the bees stay in the upper box without migrating to the lower brood box, and this increases congestion. By reversing, the queen and ~ 1/2 the bees move to the empty box as they migrate up. Both boxes will now contain half the bees, which evenly spreads the bees between the two brood boxes. While not backed by scientific evidence, this is a common swarm management practice.

Exchanging

 

Many beekeepers use exchanging as their main method of swarm management, especially if the beekeepers as several colonies.  Exchanging is the practice of switching the locations of a weak and strong colony during mid-day. Once foragers come back, they populate the weak colony, thus alleviating congestion of the stronger one. Many commercial beekeepers exchange colonies because it is a quick swarm management technique. Moreover, it provides a boost for weaker colonies. The colonies may lose queens, so be wary of this.

IMG_6596.jpg
Exchanging is much easier on a commercial level because these beekepers have 100’s-1000’s of colonies. However, hobbyists can use this technique is they simply have 2 colonies.

Late-stage prevention of swarms

Prevention is the best swarm management practice, but life does happen! Most beekeepers have a swarming colony at some point. In many cases, colonies are in the late stages of swarming and beekeepers must take immediate action. Unlike the previous section, more drastic measures must be taken to prevent swarming

Removal of queen

If the colony is about to swarm, than queen removal is prudent option. Remove the queen for 7-9 days, and requeen once again after all queen cells are removed. The beekeeper may choose to either requeen the colony with the original queen or with a new queen, but this is personal preference. While this technique does impact honey production and population increase, it does inhibit late-staged swarming.

Removal of brood

Beekeepers can remove brood to inhibit swarming. Either the beekeeper use the brood to produce a new colony or place the brood into a weaker colony, but this is a useful swarm management technique. If the beekeeper plans to produce a new colony (nuc), then place 3-5 frame of brood, bees, and a queen in a new brood box. Move the colony to a new location, and whala! A new colony without the swarm.

 

Separation of queen from the brood

This technique is called Dameering, and is a very common for swarm management among beekeeping circles. Essentially, the beekeeper separates the queen from the brood by rearranging the colony. With this technique, beekeepers place the queen and 1-2 frames of brood in an otherwise empty foundation box. The box is placed in the original location of the colony, and a queen excluder is placed on top. Beekeepers then place a 1-2 supers on top of the queen excluder, followed by the original brood box. This should be repeated 9-10 days later. There are several modifications, such as shaking all the colonies on the ground next to an empty foundation box with a queen excluder, so the bees and the enter the intended box. While many different techniques exist, the basic premise is to separate the queen from the brood.

 

Swarm Management: The signs of swarming

As the temperature warms, daylight increases and flowers begin to blossom, bees can rapidly increase in size and nutrient storage. Because of this, beekeepers have a major task: managing swarms. Swarming is natural system for reproduction, as colonies split into two separate entities. But swarming can also impact colony health, especially if the swarm is not recovered. For sample, the colony is now half the size, so it is splitting an uphill battle for honey production and winter preparation. Because of this, beekeepers must understand the signs of swarming and prevent it.

 

Why do bees swarm?

Honey bees swarm for a variety of reasons, which include: 1) colony is crowded, 2)abundance of resources, 3) older queen, and 4) mite infestation and/or disease. Typically, bees swarm during the spring because bees are packed into a single brood box as they pack the colony with brood, pollen and nectar. Beekeepers must understand why bees swarm in order to prevent it.

  • Colony is crowded

8634812377_5b7017d74c_o.jpg
Colony can become crowded in the spring. If all the frames a packed with bees, then the colony likely needs space.

During the spring, bees rapidly increase in size. This size is attributed to queen laying, as the queen begins laying ~2000 eggs per day. When these eggs eventually become adults, bees can easily become overcrowded. Populated brood boxes are necessary for proper colony health; however, overcrowding often leads to swarming. 

  • Abundance of resources
8261600943_f768dba565_o.jpg
Resource allocation can inhibit egg laying area for the queen. This is a picture of bee collected pollen.

During the spring, the colony can easily pack the brood boxes with nectar and pollen. However, this may inhibit brood laying area for the queen. While the queen will lay heavily if resources are brought in, the queen cannot lay eggs if space is not available. As nectar and pollen are brought in, this can eventually eliminate brood laying space. If space is not available, then the colony may swarm

  • Old queen
14224778754_3237856345_o.jpg
This queen has begun to fail.

An older queen does not necessarily mean the colony will swarm, but the colony is more likely to swarm with an older queen. The colony can sense an older queen because the queen’s pheromone levels decrease and the brood pattern becomes spotty.

  • Mite infestation or disease
8643907422_97fab74eef_o.jpg
This colony is infested with Parasitic Mite Syndrome, mite transmitted viruses

Colonies may swarm if mite levels, pest, pathogens, and diseases reach an uncontrollable levels. Oftentimes, colonies with high disease or mite load will not just swarm, unless these colonies have a genetic predisposition for swarming. For example, africanize bees will abscond or swarm in the presence of various diseases, pest, and pathogens. The backyard beekeepers often does not need to worry about this cause of swarming.

Signs of Swarming

I stated reasons for swarming above, such as space restrictions, resource abundance and older queens. Most beekeepers can prevent swarming by simply providing space or splitting in the spring, and making sure the colony has a young queen. However, if beekeepers do not inspect colonies regularly, they may be in for an unpleasant surprise: signs of swarming. But what are the signs of swarming. They include: 1)size of brood box, 2)bees outside of entrance, 3)size of queen, and 4)Queen cells.

  • Size of broodnest

The colony may look very small because either the colony swarmed or the colony is preparing to swarm. Thus, the size of broodnest is a useful signal for swarming. If the broodnest is small, inspect the colony for other signals of swarming, such as bees outside the entrance and open queen cells.

  • This empty box was placed next to the swarm on the ground and the bees immediately started to enter.
    This empty box was placed next to the swarm on the ground and the bees immediately started to enter.

    Bees outside entrance

Bees releasing pheromone at the hive entrance to guide the rest of the swam in.
Bees outside the entrance can indicate possible swarming, but not always. Look at this signs!

If bees are bearding, this does not necessarily mean the colony is preparing to swarm. However, if bees are outside the entrance due to swarming reasons, this is often too late. The colony is receiving signals from scout bees about their new location and the hive is preparing to launch! If you see bees outside the entrance, these are signs that the colony is about to swarm:

  1. The bees are making a loud sound, almost like a roaring sound
  2. Bees are not only at the entrance, but flying around the colony. This prerequisite of swarming often looks like a “cloud”.
  3. Swarming mostly occurs during mid-morning, so this is when bees may be at the entrance.

Swarming can be confused with bee bearding, but bee bearding occurs due to different reasons, such as overheating and lack of ventilation. While bees at the entrance can indicated swarming, other signs must be considered.

  • Size of queen

After her initial mating flight, the queen is too large to fly. This is because the queen develops mature ovaries for queen laying. But if a colony swarms, the queen also needs to leave the colony, and many times, the older queen leaves with the swarm. In order to swarm, the queen must become smaller. As the colony prepares to swarm, the queen ceases egg laying and becomes smaller. The workers batter and hit the queen to make her smaller, which is a brutal but necessary process. If the colony is about to swarm, eggs will limited and the queen will be quite small. 

  • Queen cells
8575350833_3aab8932c7_o.jpg
Swarm cells
8635477990_0230d8b342_o.jpg
Emergency queen cells
14224782964_4471d1aa71_o.jpg
Superscedure cells

Queen cells are an obvious sign of swarming. Swarm cells, however, are different from superscedure cells or emergency cells. Swarm cells are found on the bottom on the comb, whereas superscedure and emergency cells are found in the middle. If a colony is about to swarm, there may be handful of swarm queen cells within the colony. The queen cell(s) may be open, which indicates the queen has already hatched. This means the colony has or is about to swarm.

Summary

Swarming has many signs, both early and advance. Beekeepers can prevent swarming by providing space in the spring, which often comes down to understand the colony. I will outline preventative and remedial measures in a later blog, but by understand these signs, hopefully swarms can be prevented!

Cheers!
Garett Slater