Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Patron Saint of Beekeepers

Legend has it that a swarm of bees lit upon the face of Ambrose after his birth—not to sting him but to leave a single drop of honey behind as a prophecy about the future power of his preaching. The honey-tongued St. Ambrose also had a significant impact on sacred music through the composition of hymns and psalm tones that are known to this day as Ambrosian chant. Maybe I should play this to my bees!

Study Question #2 Tracheal Mites

How does this mite infect bees? What happens if it goes untreated? What are the symptoms of tracheal mite infestation?

This micrograph shows bee trachea infested with mites.

The tracheal mite, Acarapis woodi, is a serious and growing problem for beekeepers. The microscopic internal mite clogs the breathing tubes of adult bees, blocking oxygen flow and eventually killing them. Mature female acarine mites leave the bee's airway and climb out on a hair of the bee, where they wait until they can transfer to a young bee.

Mature female acarine mite attached to bee hair

Once on the new bee, they will move into the airways and begin laying eggs. Also called acarine disease, it affects the flight efficiency and causes a large number of crawling bees outside the hive that are unable to fly. The inability to fly can contribute to losses of field bees and reduction of food stores in the colony. Another symptom is the abnormal "disjointed" position of the wings of walking bees.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Study Topic #1 Varroa Mites

What does the varroa mite parasitize in the colony?

Varroa destructor and varroa jacobsoni are parasitic mites that feed off the bodily fluids (hemolymph) of adult, pupal and larval bees. Eight-legged varroa mites can be seen with the naked eye (measuring 1–1.8 mm long and 1.5–2 mm wide) as a small red or brown spot on the bee's thorax.

Varroa destructor

How does it accomplish this?

The entire life cycle of the varroa mite is spent with their honey bee hosts. Female mites feed on the bee larvae and lay eggs of both sexes in the brood cells. Developing mites feed on immature bees. After the mites mature, male and female mites mate inside of the capped brood cell. The male dies after copulation and females emerge from the brood cell along with their bee host and seek another host to repeat the life cycle.

Varroa mites on pupa

What happens if they go untreated?

The feeding of varroa mites can result in a decline in host vigor, immunity, weight, shorter bee life span, and the eventual destruction of the colony. Varroa are carriers for a virus that is particularly damaging to the bees. Bees that are infected with this virus during their development will often have visibly deformed wings. Varroa have led to the virtual elimination of feral bee colonies in many areas and is a major problem for kept bees in apiaries.