Defecating Insects Make Angry Neighbours!

bee-poop

I have been talking about good locations for beehives, and how you can successfully move hives to these locations. Between nose and lips I have mentioned that you should always consider your neighbours when choosing a site.

But actually, the latter isn’t something we should just quickly skim over. This is a serious issue that needs some more emphasis: Respect Your Neighbours! Consider them. Keep up good “public relations”. Neighbours don’t just include the people that live next to you, but also the passing pedestrians in your street, cyclists or motorists. If your hive is on somebody’s farm – “neighbour” translates into farmer and farm-workers. Make sure you and your bees don’t get in the way of them.

This is not just to make your own life friendlier and more pleasant, but it is also on behalf of beekeepers as a group: we don’t want beekeepers to be seen in a bad light – they deserve a good name.

Besides people being scared of getting stung, there are a variety of other complaints when bees get in the way. To understand these complaints better and to understand how we can avoid them, we need to look at a few aspects of bee biology.

  1. Bees poo. And their toilet is outside. Defecating insects is not something we are usually bothered by (I know that I’ve personally never gave it a blink of a thought before I became a beekeeper). We are bothered by dog poo and cat poo, because we can clearly see and smell it if owners don’t clean up after their pets – on the beach, on the street and in the garden. This is especially frustrating in public places.  Insect poo on the other hand, is so tiny it is simply not part of our daily lives. That is, unless your washing line is on the route from a bee colony to their hive. As they come and go, they drop their dropping while flying. Now that explains those weird orange blobs on your clean white sheets! This is especially an issue in spring. Other common places where people have found patches of bee poo are on houses and cars. To avoid this, you need to consider the bees flight pattern. For example, if the current “bee line” – the route that they fly –  is a nuisance, but moving them to a completely new location is too much of a big deal, you could rotate the hives 180 degrees one night, and block the entrances loosely with grass. This could force the bees to establish new flight routes.
  2. Bees swarm – and they might settle down in your backyard. Or your neighbours one. Be quick to remove them and especially tell children to be careful. For more information about swarming (and prevention), see my post Where Are You Going, You Flying Black Cloud?
  3. Bees get thirsty. They need to drink. If you don’t provide them with anything (like a container of regularly-changed water) when there’s no natural sources  they will inspect your neighbour’s property, on the hunt for dripping water taps, wet washing or swimming pools.
  4. Bees can be temperamental – and some bees are worse then others. You can control the bees’ temperaments to a certain extent. This depends on the strain of bees you choose to have. Italian bees are known to be gentle bees, and they are well suited for the New Zealand climate. Also, to keep the temper down don’t disturb the hive too often, especially not in rainy cold weather. If your bees are moody anyway, it might be time to re-queen: a new queen means a new spirit.
  5. One sting means many more stings! It sounds perhaps counterintuitive, but it might be an idea to stop wearing gloves once your comfortable enough. Stings on your hands will only hurt briefly and you can remove the stings quickly to continue your work. If the bees sting your gloves however, you won’t feel it and the smell lingers on, attracting other bees to sting. It may not hurt you, but it might very well hurt the neighbours…
  6. Bees are robbers. When they get the chance to munch on honey or syrup sources from other hives, they will take it, especially when nectar sources are hard to find in the environment. When scout bees find a honey source – they will quickly communicate it to the forager bees. The bees will gather and sometimes they will fly out in a big group to start the invasion. You may see a mass of bees that eagerly flies back and forth to find a way in; into the treasures of the Other Hive. And they will fight! You can tell by how they fly that something is up. Their flight seems nervous and less straight forward than normally. You don’t want this nervous flying to be happening close to your neighbours! They might complain about getting stung or being “buzzed” by the bees. One way to prevent this, is to make sure you don’t spill any syrup around the hive when you feed the bees, and don’t leave any honey exposed when you put a sticky honey box on top of your hive. Conduct these activities only in the late evening.

Finally, these are some other tips&tricks beekeepers could keep in mind, with respect to neighbours:

Out of sight, out of mind. It may sound dubious, but it works. If your neighbour -who is not familiar with bees-, sees that beehive every time they hang out washing or work in the veggie garden, they are bound to get a bit of an unnerving feeling at some point. If they can’t see the hive however, at least they won’t ponder about it on a daily basis.

…Unless one of the above things is happening. Even more so, some bees will fly exactly at human head height. It might freak people out when they hear loud buzzing close to their ears. There is a trick to avoid the latter: you can force your bees to fly at least two metres high from the moment they leave their hives. It sounds silly, but the only thing you need to do is placing the hive entrance close to a screen (a fence or hedge for example) which makes them go up.

If the neighbours are still not convinced, you could always bring up the point that your bees will help pollinating the crops and fruit trees in the area, and who knows, you might be kind enough to share your honey

cabbage tree and honey

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Information from Practical Beekeeping for Beginners, p. 24-25-26

Bee-poop photo from http://spudlust.wordpress.com/

Plan Bee

Now I hope you don’t feel too discouraged by all the things that can go wrong with bees…. (see previous posts)

Today it’s time for an optimistic message!

cabbage tree and honey

We humans have strong destructive powers, but we should never forget that we also have great constructive abilities; and there is a lot we can do to support the life and well being of bees.

So, how can we help?

  • Plant bee-friendly plants in your garden. If you don’t have a garden you could perhaps plant in a local community garden. The more variety the better. Different plants and their flowers have different qualities: some are an excellent pollen source, while others provide delicious nectar.  Bees need both food sources. Examples of plants and trees suitable for the NZ garden are stone and pip fruits, hawthorn, lavender, manuka, cucumber and zucchini plants, cabbage trees, brassicas (broccoli, cabbage), thyme, sunflower,  rosemary, pohutukawa, buttercups, citrus (lemon), dahlia & varieties, mint and clover.
  • (Plus extra bonuses: your garden will look happy and full of flowers. It won’t only attract buzzing honey bees, but you might find bumblebees as well as other insect pollinators. Another bonus is the fact that some plants will be a food source for yourself as well!)
  • Try to avoid buying seeds that have been coated with neonicotinoid pesticides.
  • Don’t use sprays; pesticides or insecticides for maintaining your garden.
  • Try to avoid buying sprayed food – eat organic.
  • Become a hobby beekeeper! You don’t need a big patch of land. One beehive in the backyard or even on top of a roof is a great start – certainly one of the most rewarding decisions I’ve ever made.

 

hive

  • If you feel that owning a beehive is too much responsibility, there is also the option to let another beekeeper put a hive on your property. You provide the space, they take care of it. Simple.
  • A Dunedin-based initiative is “Rent a hive“. Worthwhile checking out:  www.rentahive.co.nz
  • Word of mouth is a powerful tool. Talk to people and raise awareness in your area about the importance of bees and the threats of chemicals and pesticides.
  • It seems that within the New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries no-one is responsible for protecting the welfare of bees. Also, there hasn’t been a lot of research going into the specific effects of pesticides on bees. We could write to our local MP or newspaper, calling for a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, and urging for the importance of more research.

Warning2Pesticides

And good things are already happening….!

Currently there is a cool project planned in Christchurch, the destroyed city that deserves some extra love.

It’s called Plan Bee; a collaboration between the city council and an apiarist.

The goal is to put beehives all over Christchurch: in gardens, on rooftops, and even in city council-owned parks and reserves. It will be a big leap from the current situation – at the moment there are less than a dozen hives in Christchurch central city.

It’s an unique project that has never been executed anywhere else in the world. It has exciting prospects. Not only will it improve local ecosystems, but it is also going to create jobs: from construction and maintenance of the hives to harvesting and selling honey. To get the project rolling, people can buy shares in the honey and own beehives. A final exciting aspect of the project is the planned “bee house”. This will be a place where people can learn about bees and honey.

I think this is a great way of getting bees closer to the public. It gives people more insight in the mysterious ways of bees, emphasises the importance of bee-pollination, and teaches how we can be involved.

What do you think?  Feel free to comment!

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Information based on The National Beekeepers’ Association of New Zealand,  http://nba.org.nz;  Fairfax News NZ,  http://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/8524553/Plan-Bee-citys-sweet-ambition; and Organic NZ, March/April 2013, Vol.72, No.2, p.48, article written by Sue Kedgley. Pesticide photo from Wikimedia Commons, by Colin Grey.

Poem Of a Mutated Larva (Or Two).

afb

AFB

O, Morphous mass!
Melting

On the bottom of the cell

Are you waiting for me?

Your body porridge
Slump. A foul fishy
odour of rotten flesh

And workers stamping
on your brown, lifeless mush
Leaving, as they leave,
A tiny imprint

“Here lays a fleshy worm.
slimy tongues poke out
or dry to a stale
skeleton”

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I’m sorry, that was disgusting. What the hell was that!?

This, my dear readers, is the New Zealand Beekeeper’s Nightmare.

This is AFB, American Foul Brood Disease; or the “Aids of the Bees”. When there is AFB in the beehive, there is no cure. When there is AFB in the beehive, the only solution is to burn all the evidence.

In this weird poem I have described a few very important symptoms that help you identifying this disease. Symptoms are best recognised in the larval or pupal (post-larval) stage. To sum up a few:

Instead of a healthy pearly white creature that is curled up in a c-shape; the larva/pupa becomes

  • Body porridge
  • Slump: it lays like a flat mass on the bottom of its cell
  • Brown
  • Lifeless
  • Stinks like rotten fish
  • After a while the slimy substance dries up to hard scaly bits

However, these symptoms could be confused with symptoms of other bee diseases. This is why my poem ends with the one and only Definitive Symptom of  AFB

  • The Pupal Tongue. For some strange reason, a pupa that dies of AFB  sticks out its tongue. It looks like a thin thread that points upwards in the cell. You rarely see it, but when you do there is no doubt: your hive is infected with AFB. 
  • Another way to identify the disease is by doing the “Ropiness-test“. This is shown in the picture above. To do this test all you need is a little stick; the foot of a match stick for example, or a piece of dry straw. You poke it into a suspicious looking cell. When you lift it out again and you see a brown slimy thread roping out, there is a good chance your hive is infected.

You can start raising suspicions by looking at the wax-caps that cover the brood. (This is only the case when the larva/pupa is 9 days or older). Symptoms that they might show are:

Perforation. If you see any any caps with holes in it, it’s a sign that worker bees have “smelled” that something is wrong. They poke a hole in the cap and peer through it, to check if their babies are OK.
sunken caps
greasy texture (instead of fluffy)
grey colour (instead of light to dark brown)
spotty cap pattern (instead consistent laying pattern; however this can also be a sign of a failing queen (see my previous post).

Note: You only have to find ONE infected larva or pupa in order to diagnose AFB. When this is the case, you have to burn the whole hive (according to New Zealand regulations). It’s a nasty process. You should pour petrol over the bees first, so that they suffocate. You dig a hole, throw in the hive and set the whole thing on fire.

What is the cause of all this misery?

It’s a bacteria. Paenibacillus larvae is its name. As it develops it appears in two different forms.

  • Spore form. Like plant seeds with a hard outer coat. The spores are extremely strong: they can live over 35 years, and resist boiling water.  The bee children get infected when nurse bees feed them honey and pollen with spores on it. One single diseased larva may contain more than 2.5 billion spores.
  • Vegetative form: This is the bacteria as a reproducing agent. The spore has germinated into something that is replicating itself. It climbs into the gut of the young larva and when the larva matures to the (pre-)pupal stage, it penetrates the gut wall. It starts replicating more and more by consuming bee-tissues. Often it’s fatal. the vegetative rods turn back into spores when all tissues have been consumed. It means there’s no more food left for them. This is how the infection can start off with 10 spores and ends up with billions in one single bee.

Don’t think that bees let this disease just passively overwhelm them! They will do their best to get rid of it by taking away infected larva and excreting infected honey outside the hive.

Unfortunately, their attempts are not always successful…

Who’s to blame?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The most important source of AFB spread is the beekeeper!

  1. By switching extracted honey supers (boxes) between hives (often a year later)
  2. Transfer of brood frames between hives

At other times the disease spreads through the behaviour of bees themselves. The most important source is robbing. Robber bees are bees that infiltrate other hives. They ingest infected honey, take it into their own hive, regurgitate it there and feed to their brood.  Robbing is usually how AFB turns up out of the blue in commercial operations.

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Most of this information comes from the book “Elimination of American foulbrood without the use of drugs” by Mark Goodwin, Cliff Van Eaton, National Beekeepers’ Association of New Zealand. After studying this information I sat a bee disease exam, passed it, and this is how I became an “Approved Beekeeper”.