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Recycling Beeswax – Epilogue: Part 4

The Way Back to Biological Beekeeping, Part 13

That beeswax is different in composition than honey is obvious to beekeepers. That most pesticides for varroa control used in Western Europe and the USA are fat soluble substances and will have residues accumulate in the wax combs, to give off sub-lethal dosages of these same pesticides, is not so obviously understood by beekeepers. Even less understood are the consequences of mixtures of sub-lethal dosages coming together, that could be devastating to a hives well-being 5-7 years into treatment with a pesticide with no prior use of chemicals, and 2-3 years into treatment with the second pesticide used, once mite resistance has totally developed to the first pesticide used. If mite resistance to the chemical develops 2-3 years into the second pesticide used, the beekeeper very well may be left hanging to handle decontamination of a bad chemical reaction internally, locked within the treated brood combs themselves (residues migrated into the wax and held there from each pesticide used in succession), now spread throughout the whole hive structure by contact transfer migration that will continue to give off chemical reactions effecting his colonies well-being, until removed by decontamination procedures from the hive. Beekeepers should have plans on how to handle this situation, for it is coming, if not already here.

Fluvalinate has been approved for use in the USA for several years now to fight varroa mites. The most current usage being in the form of Apistan control strips. Now Coumaphos is being rapidly approved in the USA for use under a Section 18 authorization only, sold as Checkmite control strips, to combat both varroa mites and small hive beetles! QUESTION: What do beekeepers know about these two pesticides, in-hive effects of sub-lethal dosages used either singly or mixed in synergism, locked into wax combs, that they will be forced to deal with later on relevant to effecting their colonies, health, plus decontamination?

SYMPTOMS OF CHEMICAL EFFECTS THAT SHOW THE PESTICIDES ARE WORKING: Fluvalinate: USA beekeepers should be aware and I am sure many of them remember reading in The Varroa Handbook, by Bernard Mobus and Larry Connor, that “however inviting the treatment may seem, we should heed a warning given to German beekeepers who want to play as researchers, that FLUVALINATE could have neurotoxic effect in humans (ADIZ, April 1987). Handle paper, wood or plastic strips, or any other formulation of FLUVALINATE with great care and gloves. In Agricultural Chemicals Book 1 Insecticides, 1992 Revision, we learn that fluvalinate is a synthetic-pyrethroid compound used as a selective contact and stomach poison insecticide. It may cause eye and skin irritation. It suppresses spider mite populations. Further, it maintains its activity under high-temperature conditions.

Fluvalinate is a Class 2 synthetic-pyrethroid compound that is unique, in that besides maintaining its activity under high-temperature conditions, it is a pyrethroid that works to the negative, in that it gets stronger as the temperature gets colder (Chaney, 1988 PHD Thesis). What happens in this inverse relationship is that the fluvalinate stored in the hive may not singularly cause colony mortality, but will act in conjunction with other factors i.e. temperature or interaction with other chemicals bees are exposed to, to increase stress within a beehive and cause a decline in population of adult bees in an overwintering situation. If there are insufficient bees left coming out of winter to begin hive build-up in the Spring, then colonies quickly crash with inclement fluxional changes in the weather due to the chemical inverse relationship to colder temperature (Note: Look for bees dying around the outer layers of the cluster, like peeling the outer skin off fruit or leaves dropping off of a tree, with each successive cold snap, dropping in waves to the cold).

Reports of hives crashing from mite populations should therefore also be tested for adverse chemical inversion to see which is the real culprit! Chaney’s PHD thesis showed that the relative toxicity to adult honey bees of fluvalinate was shown to increase at 18 degrees C and 12 degrees C. At 25 degrees C (77 degrees F) the LD50 was 800ppm and observation of bee behavior was acceptable. At 18 degrees C (64 degrees F) the LD50 dropped to 615ppm and observation in bee behavior changed. At 12 degrees C (53 degrees F) the values for fluvalinate were not shown due to the great difference in magnitude as temperature dropped and continued to drop, and the observation of bee behavior was bees not clustering; no normal behavior observed and feeding was reduced significantly.

In the Varroa Handbook, by Mobus and Connor it was also pointed out that bees exposed to fluvalinate had a memory loss in forager bees, rendering them useless for nectar / pollen foraging (Beekeepers not knowing what this means could equate this to short term memory loses, like Alzheimer’s disease, that gets progressively worse as residue levels rise). Wolfgang Ritter pointed out in Chemical Control: options and problems in Living with Varroa, Edited by Matheson, that “the effectiveness, especially of pyrethroids, persists for several months the mites emerging from the brood are also killed, thus enabling a successful treatment for colonies with brood…residues cannot be avoided, especially in wax, if colonies are treated for a long period.

QUESTION: What happens when resistance sets in and mites stop being killed, but the residues in the combs are still there reacting against the bees, and now are contaminating the honey; or worse yet, to fight the resistance – another chemical is added? In Pollinator Protection, by Johansen and Mayer we learn that mixtures of more than one pesticide are a special hazard to bees as relates to certain insecticide-specific miticide combinations. In such cases, the miticide appears to have a synergistic effect which causes the mixture to be more hazardous.

Coumaphos: The first thing beekeepers need to learn now about coumaphos is that the Agricultural Chemicals Book 1 Insecticides, 1992 Revision, by Thomson says “Do not use before or after application of natural or synthetic pyrethrins or compounds used to synergize them.” This means that they react together so that 1+1 does not equal 2. It will probably equal much more. Coumaphos is a systemic, organic phosphate (nerve gas). What this means according to Pollinator Protection by Johansen and Mayer is that “The term organophosphate is a generic term used to cover all the toxic organic compounds containing phosphorus.” They kill animals, including insects, by inhibiting cholinesterase, a vital enzyme of the nervous system. Constant disruption of nervous activity occurs at the nerve endings. Insects literally jump their nerves to death.

Organophosphorus compounds ARE LIKELY TO CAUSE THE BEES TO BECOME AGITATED AND AGGRESSIVE (Just what Calif. is looking for with AHB syndrome on hand for public perception). They also cause paralysis, abnormal jerky, wobbly, or rapid movements (Equate to motor dysfunction in higher animals). Bees slightly affected by some organophosphorus compounds will crawl up the walls of the hive and fall to the floor over and over. Severe poisoning (or high residue build-up) leads to lack of young workers. Poor housecleaning is another sign typical to look for. Nectar is often deposited in empty brood cells and queens may stop laying simply because there is a lack of clean cells to receive the eggs (propolis coating the brood cells has a high affinity for chemicals).

So what does this mean? It means according to the chemical books, we have two approved incompatible chemicals coming together with effects outlined above to create new effects of the unknown. Add then to this the fact that Florida in the USA, one of our milder climates, is where coumaphos was first approved. This is a relatively warm climate, even in the winter. Now it is approved for much colder climates without prior pre-testing here in the USA in those colder climates. It is known that chemicals applied during cool weather retain a longer residual hazard and regional differences in the hazard of a given pesticide can often be explained in terms of differences in climate. If one equates this with temperature variation and fluvalinate is known to get stronger with its LD50 as the temperature goes down, then in about 2-3 years if not already this year, strange things could start happening in our Northern USA states in beekeepers hives, as coumaphos is added now to the scenario and these two chemicals mix with residual action within the wax combs, giving off sub-lethal dosages for the bees to contend with. I hope our industry is ready!

On another note briefly, even when using essential oils attention must be paid to residues, because some of them downgrade the scent and flavor of honey or reduce honey production or are even injurious to human health. In the December 1999 issue of the American Bee Journal, is an article beekeepers should read by Heather R. Mattila and Gard W. Otis, titled “Trials of Apiguard, a Thymol-based Miticide. Part 1. Efficacy for Control of Parasitic Mites and Residues in Honey.” In the article they write, “Although not statistically significant, honey production was reduced by 30% during the Apiguard treatment period, a result which warrants further study.”

QUESTION: Would not this be highly significant to beekeepers pocket-books? Further stated in the article was, “The influence of temperature on the evaporation of volatile oils is difficult to regulate. High temperatures cause rapid vaporization of thymol, exposing bees to lethal concentrations, while low temperatures reduce vaporization and result in ineffective control of mites.” They further referenced that Cox et al (1989) found that colonies treated with menthol during the summer registered significantly lower colony weight gain and honey production. Bees were repelled by strong vapors in hot weather; few bees were seen inside the honey supers while large numbers of bees covered the fronts of the hives. So much for approved alternate control in the USA.

QUESTION: What happens when equipment is mixed as hives die and outfits go out of business or sell off equipment downsizing? Who really knows what is going on within our beekeepers hives? Now add to this the added compounded problems of illegal spray or spraying per say during crop pollination and one can now really say do the bees have a chance and why is there not more comb rotation here in the USA.


Signed: Dee A. Lusby, Amado, Arizona, USA