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Thread: Bees Regression

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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Dec 1999
    DuPage County, Illinois USA


    >>>> Allen Dick wrote:
    >> We have asked you to prove that bees have been increased in size
    >> significantly during the 20th century by use of artificially large
    >> foundation

    Allen -

    Okay, it appears that we agree on this one now, since Mark Otts went and
    posted excerpts from some of the articles that are on the web site showing a
    definite and purposefully increase in cell size. You made no negative
    comment about it nor challenged it so I hope this is a point we might agree

    > You know, I have been looking all over for the rest of the second quote above
    >> The quality were NOT heritable/hereditary so that a swarm from a beehive
    >> with cells of 700 in freedom goes back to 734 cells and after that goes back
    >> to 835 to 870 cells
    > Using the chart at, these
    > numbers translate to about 5.75 mm, 7.4 mm, and 5.25 to 5.15 mm respectively.
    > The last numbers are what I consider to be the natural size

    The quote above, from the book in Dutch, makes it clear that the bee can not
    go from large to small in one giant step (regression). I don't think we can
    assume that this quote is complete. It may even go on to say yet another
    higher number of cells, I don't know. It doesn't really matter for this
    point. Only that there is a step down in size by the bee when given the
    freedom to do so. It also tells us that the bee, if left to its own, will
    regress itself down to a size that is "natural." Nature goes for small. In
    nature, no one gives the bees new wax after a few years so combs become used
    and cells get smaller from many rounds of brood rearing, and smaller drones
    fly faster and catch the virgins first. So you get selection for smallness.
    I assume we also agree on this point?

    It appears we can then narrow down our differences to just "what I consider
    to be the natural size." I think here is where we differ with the
    "interpretation" of the literature.

    > worker comb measures very nearly five cells to the inch on an average. Some
    > specimens average a little larger, and some a little smaller;

    One should note that Root is making reference to "average" in all three
    examples. The larger and smaller cells are not looked at as being unusual,
    but still average. Five cells to the inch gives the measurement of a single
    cell, 5.1 mm. Is an average smaller size 5.0 - 4.9? Is an average larger
    size 5.2 - 5.3? One would have to speculate here as it's not stated in this

    I also note here that in 1898, a correction from Thos. Wm. Cowan was given
    to Mr. Root about his use of "average." I quote:

    "Dear Mr. Root:- On page 144 you refer to the "number of cells or worker
    comb to the linear inch.'' Will you kindly look at my "The Honey-bee; its
    Natural History, Anatomy, and Physiology"? On page 180 you will see that I
    say, "The average size of a worker-cell between the parallel sides is 1/5 of
    an inch, or 0.2 (a printer's error makes it 0.02; but it is two-tenths of an
    inch). Then I go on, "We say 'average,' because considerable variation
    exists in different parts of the same comb, as both Reaumur and Huber
    found." I then go on to summarize the large number of measurements I took;
    and if you will read the details you will see what a variation there is. You
    say, "It has been said over and over again in bee-books and bee-journals,
    that there are five cells of worker comb to the inch, so that we have come
    to believe it;'' also that Cook is the only authority you have run across
    who says worker-cells are a little more than 1/5 inch; but in my book you
    will find that, out of 36 measurements that were taken, I found the greatest
    aggregate diameters of any one series of ten cells to amount to 2.11 inches,
    which you see makes them considerably larger than 1/5 inch. On the other
    hand, the least came to 1.86, which makes them smaller."

    Again, we are still talking average. And within the average size is a range
    that the bee will use. 2.11 inches to 1.86 inches. That's 5.36 mm to 4.72
    mm. 4.9 is in this natural (average) range, is it not? What the Lusby's have
    done by using the 4.9 cell size is to help the bees to use one of their
    smaller natural sizes to be able to deal with the mite on their own without
    the use of any chemicals. All the numbers are out there for all to read and
    I don't think I'm off base in my reading of these articles. I know you think
    the same about your interpretation. We should realize, though, that what you
    and I are talking about is just theory. A matter of opinion and
    interpretation. What can't be overlooked is reality. The Lusby's are *in*
    reality, but have offered their theory as to how it works.

    We now have the tool (4.9 foundation) to test this theory. One can stay in
    theory and debate indefinitely, or, pick up some 4.9 foundation and see what
    reality is. People will believe reality over theory.

    > Back to the quote again: I gather that immediately after removal from the
    > monster foundation combs, in the quote they go to 7.4, and then in a
    > generation or so, to 5.2 and then stay there, according to this source?

    The portion of the quote is all I have. Don't know what follows. Perhaps one
    of our European friends could find this book and let us know.


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Tucson, Arizona, United States


    In keeping with the topic of regressing the size of domestic honeybees by use of artificial foundation, with Dadant recently accepting orders for smaller 4.9mm foundation(posted also on BB under "making Cell Calls"), I am posting here "Basics for Sizing Down Combs to 4.9mm (Retrogression of Sizing. Anyone wishing more pointers or having questions, please forward for discussion.

    Thank you.

    Here is the post for sizing down guidelines:

    BASICS FOR SIZING DOWN COMBS TO 4.9mm (Retrogression of sizing)

    It has been found today thru beekeepers sizing down their bees, that colonies sizing down off of enlarged combs can only size down .2mm - .3mm at a time in reduction. This means that colonies coming off of 5.4mm sizing from todays's combs can only retrogress downward to 5.1mm - 5.2mm sizing. Then to go smaller to 4.9mm sizing, the beekeeper must wait a period of time for the bees to adjust to the combs, with the old workerbee field force dying off and new workerbees emerging from the smaller combs to take over the colony, before another downward sizing can be accomplished.

    This retrogression of bee body size within selected colonies is at minimum two full months to wait following the first sizing down, until downsizing can begin again, and then only with ample flows of pollen and honey coming in (or artificial supplements fed) to allow the bees the opportunity to draw new combs a second time.

    Minimum time to accomplish a preliminary down sizing then is figured to be about 4 - 5 months to size a bee colony off of a foundation comb size of 5.4mm. During this time, combs drawn wrong need to be culled and replaced as much as possible while allowing the queen ample room to lay in the new smaller brood-combs. Culling should concentrate on combs drawn-out with more than 10% drone cells drawn on any one side.

    The hardest part of the process is getting going. Most beekeepers are used to drawing wax when their bees are at their largest inclination for drawing combs, - namely, those used for honey production. Now to solve todays's problem of parasitic mites and secondary diseases, beekeepers need to be told to draw wax when their bees are at their smallest sizing inclination for doing so.

    This inclination only happens when bees first brood-up in the spring, restart drawing combs immediately following swarming; and/or restart brooding following broodnest turnover in the fall, for going into winter, by changing over from summer to winter carryover bees.

    It is easiest for most beekeepers to draw new combs with the first two options above for starting sizing down, namely, when bees first brood-up in the spring or restart drawing combs immediately following swarming.

    SPEEDING UP THE PROCESS: Changing foundation twice in so short a period is costly and labor intensive. But when faced with the choice of bees dying from various chemical treatments no longer working, it does rather fast become a viable option for either having dead or alive bees to work with.

    Costs can be cut and the retrogression/sizing down process speeded up two simple ways.

    1. By converting some of the foundation purchased into 1 -2 inch wide starter strips for use in regular frames, during initial shakedown in the spring when bees first start-up drawing combs, or placing newly caught swarms upon. This saves whole foundation sheets and at the same time gives the beekeeper a chance to see what size the bees can retrogress/size down to naturally. It is recommended that during initial shakedown in the spring that the super the bees are shaken into be placed on top of a queen exluder to act as a queen includer until the queen is laying 2-3 frames of brood.

    Once combs are built out and measured, , most bees today in the USA being perceived as drawing in the 5.1mm - 5.2mm sizing range, with initial shakedown from 5.4mm foundation sizing, or restarting following swarming, then the beekeeper can begin use of full sheets of 4.9mm foundation or restart again with starter strips mounted in the top bars of regular frames.

    Once the bees are perceived as sized down, foundation is fed in as normal for broodrearing, until the volume of bees begins to outrun the broodnest and the comb drawing-out pattern is broken, with the bees wanting to draw a larger sizing, signaling that the bees are beginning to want to draw-out larger honey/drone combs instead for storage.

    This normally happens when the bees reach a point starting to draw combs in the next upper super (mostly going into the 3rd super, sometimes but rarely the 2nd). When this point is reached, with bees wanting to draw out combs for storage, then only 4.9mm foundation placed between two frames of sealed brood in the heart of the broodnest will continue to be drawn properly.

    2. By use of removeable swarm-catching frames for feral colony cut-outs. Using these special frames, the beekeeper merely cuts out the brood combs, normally already sized down to 5.1mm - 5.2mm sizing range, while discarding drone/honey combs. The RSC frames with mounted brood are then placed into a super with bees on top of a queen excluder now acting as a queen includer, and either starter strip frames or regular 4.9mm foundation frames fed in to complete super.

    Once the bees are stabilized and laying good, bees can be shaken down completely onto 4.9mm starter strips or regular 4.9mm foundation for final sizing.

    EXPANDING: Following the successful sizing down of a few colonies for the hobbyst or a few test yards for the commercial beekeeper the first year, the second year the process becomes easier. Surplus frames drawn out from colonies already converted to 4.9mm foundation can be used to convert other colonies even faster.

    This is accomplished by taking 2-4 empty already drawn combs and filling out the rest of the space with new 4.9mm foundation and merely shaking the bees down into nucs, with again a queen exluder on the bottom board acting as a queen includer, until the shook bees and queen are stabilized and laying well.

    Queens shaken onto already drawnout 4.9mm foundation lay immediately, sizing down the brood so that following the first brood cycle with emerging bees, with the old bees dying off, the colony is immediately ready to draw proper sized combs. Nucs can then be filled in with additional 4.9mm mounted foundation and easily converted to full supers.

    The process then merely continues pot progressive. Drawn combs from already established 4.9mm colonies being used to restart and convert more colonies throughout the active season.

    Dee A. Lusby

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Tucson, Arizona, United States


    Does any beekeeper have any idea how to get honeybees to draw small cell foundation on a large scale the first year for sizing down so larger commercial operations can have a chance to switch gears if they want and thus get off the chemical treadmill?

    Comments and ideas please........

    Dee A. Lusby

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2000
    Tennessee, USA


    Barry writes: "Nature goes for small. In nature, no one gives the bees new wax after a few years so combs become used and cells get smaller from many rounds of brood rearing, and smaller drones fly faster and catch the virgins first. So you get selection for smallness."

    I was just thinking, it could very well be to evolutionary advantage to select for "not-quite-smallness". The scenario above might select for genes coding for bees on the larger side, so that only the older colonies with proven survival skills get the delux-model drones with the additional speed. Just a thought.

    Regarding ways to optimize the downsizing process, something else you're probably doing if you aren't downsizing all your colonies at once is to take the un-foundationed intermediate size comb from a colony about to get the final downsizing, and to use it to get bees small enough in your next hive in order to get another group ready to draw out the 4.9 sooner. If the intermediate comb already has brood in it, you only have to wait 20 days for the existing population of larger workers to decide they have no interest in drawing comb, now replaced by the bees coming out of the intermediate comb ready to build the next size down. If you remove half of your intermediate frames at a time during final downsizing, you might have to use comb from 2 hives to get a full broodnest of the intermediate foundation in your next hive to be downsized. You'd do the same again once the half-nest of 4.9 is drawn and you replace the last if the intermediate comb. In that way you re-use your intermediate-sized comb and you can start getting more 4.9 comb drawn sooner than starting from scratch with those later colonies (in which case you'd have to wait for the intermediate comb to be drawn and then 40 days once you have a good pace of laying on the intermediate comb.

    That could be worked into a staggered plan to get a given number of hives to being ready to draw 4.9 foundation in one year. Advantages to such a plan would be that it would tell you the smallest number of 4.9 foundation frames you need to have ready at any point, if time preparing foundation/frames is a limiting factor for the process. It'll also minimize the number of starter-strip frames you make and hence have to get rid of once obsolete. Unfortunately I don't know how long it takes a hive to draw foundation versus unfoundationed frames (e.g. with starter strips), or it might be fun to work such a plan out.

    Dee writes: "Does any beekeeper have any idea how to get honeybees to draw small cell foundation on a large scale the first year for sizing down so larger commercial operations can have a chance to switch gears if they want and thus get off the chemical treadmill?"
    I got one...
    Assembly-line broodbox: the ends flop down to give side access, the rabbets are lined with teflon and the top-bars of the frames have vaseline to prevent propolizing and make it so they'll slide. At a regular interval, you cycle frames by opening both sides, remove a drawn frame from one side and insert an undrawn frame in the other, sliding them down the line. The queen keeps laying in the same direction and with a steady supply of empty space, doesn't have to cross over frame with brood and go backwards. Figure out the ammount of time it takes to draw a frame, lay it and move on to the next, and the brood to completely emerge. Divide this by the number of frames in the box to get the number of days between frame cyclings (or make the box big enough to cycle one frame each day). Store in moth-proof containers. Alternative: have a special brood box with a queen-excluded frame-space in the middle of the brood space, such that the queen can walk around the excluded portion which is accessible from the side. Insert and remove new frames of foundation regularly to keep the bees drawing them.


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Tucson, Arizona, United States
    This is in response to Don's post of 12 Nov 2000 at 04:50 PM.

    Don, I liked your idea for re-use of un-foundationed intermediate size comb so that the next hives to be downsized have an edge on time and workload to make their transition to smaller natural combs easier on the bees besides saving time. This shows much thought.

    I also liked your idea on making an assembly line broodbox for continuous drawing of new comb foundaton, that could be used for producing starter drawnout combs, for shaking down colonies on enlarged cell sizes to retrogress them back down to more natural sizing. This to shows much thought on your part.

    I sincerely hope you have a go at both methods of use and report back on your progress so everyone can read here how you did.

    Anyone else out there with another method or thought on how to size down combs on either a large or small scale?

    All thoughts are welcomed so beekeepers here can exchange ideas to help each other.

    Dee A. Lusby

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Nehawka, Nebraska USA


    I am experimenting on using PermaComb for regressing. The measurements are not easy to take because the PermaComb has thicker walls than a regular cell and since the bees don't draw the wall, and since the "standard" measuments used currently DO take into account the natural cell wall, this has to be taken into account in the measurements. By my measurements PermaComb out of the box is the equivelant to 5.15mm. This is exactly the size I got on my first regression with starter strips of 4.9mm foundation and it is already drawn.

    What is more interesting to me is that by heating the PermaComb to 200 degrees F and dipping int 200 degree F wax I get a wax coating on the insides of the cells which increases the thickness of the cell wall and decreases the cell size to the equivilant of 4.95mm cell size. This is virtually a fully regressed fully "drawn" comb that is plastic, cannot be reworked by the bees past the wax coating, is impervious to wax moths. The question now is will a 5.4mm queen and 5.4mm workers raise brood in the 4.95mm PermaComb. This I hope to answer soon. If they do then I can get almost completely regressed in one step.

    The other method for getting brood comb drawn is to set up a lot of 5 frame nucs of natural sized bees with feeders and keep stealing the combs out of the center of the brood nest as fast the bees draw them. If they have brood on them, it doesn't matter, just give them to the hives you are regressing. This way the bees are not drawing comb for storage, but comb for brood and you keep them in need of comb for brood. I have seen this done to get comb, but I have not tried it yet to get regressed comb.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    brown county,indiana,usa


    to expand on michael's idea about 5-frame nucs,you could also have some with 5.1 mm bees and use that method to speed up the 4.9 comb output.


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