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Suggested Biological Manipulative Field Management for Control of Honeybee Mites – Part 2

The Way Back to Biological Beekeeping, Part 22

Prevention – A Possibility!

MITE PREVENTION – - A POSSIBILITY.

Since a small population of parasitic mites is nondetectable by either chemical or biological examination methods, beekeepers wait for the appearance of a large infestation to tell them that something is wrong. By then it is often too late for the hive. An approach is needed that looks at the situation in reverse. First the honeybee colony drifts into a pathological state, with the final symptom being a severe infestation of parasitic mites.

Logic should compel beekeepers to try to detect the underlying stress signals which are the forerunners of mites, and through biological field treatment manipulations, eliminate the artificial stimulations that result in Acarapis mites attacking colonies at various points of infestation upon bees. This can be accomplished with a long-term biological field manipulative treatment program which can be used to either prevent or wean colonies from parasitic mites and their accompanying secondary diseases. (Note: before we go any further, let’s state: MITES HAVE HISTORICALLY BEEN NAMED BY POINT OF INFESTATION ON THE BODY OF THE HONEYBEE. IN THE BEGINNING FOR ACARAPIS MITES IT WAS HEAD, NECK, BACK, AND WING MITES; LATER INTERNAL MITES, WHEN EVENTUALLY FOUND IN THE TRACHEA. NOWADAYS WE ONLY TALK ABOUT TRACHAEL MITES AND VARROA MITES HAVING RENAMED THEM JUST LIKE WE HAVE RENAMED FOULBROODS SEVERAL TIMES!)

There is no denying that methods consisting of heavy medication do wage a battle against parasitic mites and accompanying stress diseases. However, at the same time chemicals only mask the symptoms and perpetuate the problem. In addition, beekeepers run the high risk of chemical contamination and product recall of wax, pollen, and honey crops.

Advanced stages of stress, indicated by symptoms of high Acarapis mite infestation levels at various sites upon the bees’ bodies, prevent beekeepers from implementing biological field manipulation treatments easily, because once on chemical dependency treadmills, it is almost impossible to stop treatment without significant loss of colonies.

STRESS SYMPTOMS DEVELOP FOR SEVERAL REASONS THAT WORK IN COMBINATION.

In the beginning, the honeybee colony is in perfect health without diseases, pests and parasites. Then through the combination of placement on improper artificially enlarged size brood combs for localized geographic regions, and improper nutritional needs brought upon by bees being out-of-balance with natural flora over extended period of time, the colony develops the loss of this healthy condition.

Stress factors weaken the honeybee’s natural defense system inherent within the hive. Minor stress symptoms appear in the form of foulbrood and other body diseases. In successive generations, more advanced symptoms appear in the way of various fungal diseases. These diseases, along with accompanying acarapis mite infestations at various sites upon the bees body can easily gain a foothold within a stressed colony. The end result is that the colony is destroyed from generations of abuse and stress.

The mites and their accompanying diseases are not the problem, they are merely the advanced stages of an artificially caused problem. THE STRESS RESULTING FROM GENERALLY ACCEPTED BEEKEEPING PRACTICES OF ARTIFICIALLY ENLARGED BROOD-COMBS, NUTRITION BY EITHER BEING OUT-OF-BALANCE WITH NATURAL FLORA OR FED ARTIFICIAL DIETS OF POLLEN SUBSTITUTE AND/OR SUGAR/CORN SYRUP, OVERUSE OF ANTIBIOTICS, AND CHEMICALS, REPEATED OVER MANY YEARS IS THE REAL KILLER OF DOMESTICATED HONEYBEE COLONIES.

The most important weapon in the fight against the various parasitic Acarapis mites and their accompanying secondary stress diseases is prevention. Beekeepers must be alert to the signs of distress within their colonies from these sources. When stress symptoms are apparent, beekeepers must take action to put their colonies back into a natural biological balance with manipulative field treatments. (Note: SECONDARY STRESS DISEASES COME ABOUT BECAUSE BEES INGEST BACTERIA OR VIRAL PATHOGENS THEIR SYSTEMS CANNOT HANDLE AND/OR BECAUSE THE MITES CHEW ON THE BEES EXOSKELETON CREATING A WOUND, ALLOWING FOR BACTERIAL AND VIRAL INFECTIONS TO BEGIN THROUGH THESE WOUNDS, THAT THEIR IMMUNE SYSTEMS CANNOT HANDLE.)

This retrogression back to a natural biological balance within the colony can be accomplished through dietary change if an artificial diet is being used, and by replacing the artificially enlarged brood comb with natural sized comb foundation in harmony with the geographic region where the colonies are being maintained. Culling excessive frames of drone combs (more than 10% drone cells drawn on any one comb) will also help.

The down sizing of brood comb by manual shake-down in the field to natural brood comb sizing, before that made for enlarged brood combs at the turn of the 19th century, will realign the bees’ body size to again match their native flora. Changing the diet from artificial pollen substitutes and sugar syrups back to pure natural pollens and honey from the colonies own geographic region, will also improve colony vigor.

The removal of stress by beekeepers is, of course beneficial, like the removal of contaminated combs and their replacement with disease free and chemical free (or decontaminated, greatly reduced chemical, processed foundation) combs. But this in itself does not correct the underlying reason the hive came down with the malady in the first place. The whole hive must be restored to full health by retrogressing it back onto a natural biological system, that acts to relieve stress without the use of chemicals, essential oils, antibiotics, or some other crutch that is labor intensive.

If the colonies are still in the early reversible stage of development of stress diseases, the therapeutic administration of natural key nutrients and natural sized brood comb foundation, sized to ones own beekeeping region, will in most cases bring about the restoration of health to the colony, thus naturally controlling mites and their accompanying secondary diseases.

The result is that the bee’s own natural defense system and capacity for recovery will again be activated and begin the work of clearing away the problem within the hive. Stress diseases will be eliminated and the mite population will naturally decrease to a level well below economic thresholds for survival of the hive.

Beekeepers must bear in mind that in treating and curing honeybee stress diseases and getting rid of the various accompanying Acarapis mites, that these disturbances to colonies do not possess a capacity for unbridled autonomous growth. Their behavior depends entirely on the state of health of the honeybee colony as a whole harmonious working unit.

The nutritional healing of the colony coupled with replacement back onto natural sized brood comb foundation has a number of important advantages:

1. In a colony that has been restored to health, the natural defense systems of the bees are fully operational again, whereas treatments such as chemotherapy for parasitic mites can have the opposite effect, that of damaging the bees by causing neurological disorders (CHANEY, 1988), as well as probably causing comb and hive product contamination.

2. No secondary infections by foulbroods, chalk broods, etc., can take place because infected brood will be destroyed by the bee’s own natural communal defense system.

3. The size of the worker bee returns to normal and again fits the natural flora of the region. This is important because the ratio of worker size honeybees to drone size bees is 20%, a four to five ratio of body size, that remains constant no matter what size the worker bee is and by returning the worker bee to normalcy, you CHANGE THE SIZE OF THE THORAX OF ALL BEES IN THE COLONY, including the drones.

THE AUTOMATIC DOWNSIZING OF DRONE DIMENSIONS BY THE DOWNSIZING OF WORKER BEES IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT FOR FIGHTING VARROA JACOBSONI INFESTATIONS.

This is important because drones are also periodically thrown-out of hives after each honey gathering season. We further believe that this downsizing of honeybees aids in reducing the Acarapis mite population, no matter what the point-of-infestation is (whether internal and/or external), in important ways:

a. The size of the honeybee is correlated with the capacity of the cell. Small cell, small bee; big cell, big bee (BAUDOUX, 1933). The size remains the same during the whole of the bee’s life in perfect ratio one caste to each other.

Since the only place Acarapis woodi (Tracheal mites) mites can get into honeybees is through the first thoracic spiracle (EICKWORT, 1988) on the bees thorax, artificially enlarged cell size is an important artificial mutant that can be rectified by beekeepers through use of naturally sized brood comb foundations. Once placed onto natural sized brood combs the bee’s thorax size is reduced (cell size determines the size of the bee’s thorax and hence all other body parts in proportion) thus also reducing the hole size of the first thoracic spiracle, and Acarapis mites have lost a very valuable avenue of entry for hive destruction, thus regulating them back to external body mites surrounding the wing region (vagans).

b. In Brazil, cell sizes for Africanized and domestic (European) honeybees when measured averaged 4.5 to 4.8 and 5.0 to 5.1 mm per cell, respectively (MESSAGE and GONCALVES, 1983). They further reported that Varroa infestation rates were 4.8 and 11.5 percent respectively. CAMAZINE (1988) calculated female Varroa replacement rates for Africanized and domestic (European) honeybees at 1.2 and 1.8 with drones present and 0.8 and 1.5 without drones, respectively. (Note: A female Varroa replacement rate of less than 1.0 indicates that the mite population is declining while a 1.0 rate is indicative of zero population growth.)

Keeping this in mind, it makes perfect sense to downsize (retrogress) artificially enlarged brood combs to natural sized brood combs to take advantage of the 0.8 population replacement of Varroa jacobsoni when drones are seasonally ejected by colonies at the end of each honey gathering season. This could also be accomplished by division of the broodnest for requeening, knowing that following mating with the new queen starting to lay, drones are expelled from colonies also. (Note: equate Africanized with natural feral sizing, which is all it is; and European size with artificially enlarged bees by way of man’s interference.)

Additionally, it also makes perfect sense to cull drone combs to less than 10% of all combs in a hive and/or 10% drone cells drawn on any one frame in a hive, to keep Varroa populations down to a minimum.

Thus it may be possible to suppress Varroa populations in domestic colonies by using small natural brood cell foundation to downsize honeybees back to natural racial/strain sizings, as small caste bees on a natural system equate with: 1) more bees per brood comb, 2) faster developmental time, and 3) faster mating flights for breeding advantage over large caste bees, which equate with 1) fewer bees per brood comb, 2) slower developmental time, and 3) slower mating flights.

c. Downsizing also reduces basic food stimuli attractiveness for mites. It has been documented by KULZHINSKAYA in 1956 that worker larvae in enlarged oversized brood cells received 21% more food and 21.4% more protein than worker larvae reared in normal sized cells. He also found that the weight of larvae increased by 12.4% and that of adults reared in enlarged oversized cells by 10.4%.

Since it is common knowledge that mites prefer drone cells, in the case of Varroa jacobsoni, over worker brood cells and Wolfgand RITTER (1988) stated that “Varroa cannot reproduce in the worker brood of Apis cerana, according to RITTER et al, 1980; KOENIGER et al, 1981 confirmed this and additionally found Varroa jacobsoni offspring only in drone brood”, then logic should dictate that the additional food and protein in enlarged oversized cells does indeed act as a mite attractant.

HANEL (1983) pointed out that one of the reasons for such differential reproductive behaviors of A. cerana bees could be due to their juvenile hormone level. Varroa takes in various amounts of juvenile hormone III during its primary intake of hemolymph (bee blood) when feeding. This induces oviposition (egg laying) in the mite.

In the first 60 hours, the drone larvae of A. cerana and A. mellifera contain more than 5ug/ml JH in their hemolymph (bee blood). Worker larvae of A. mellifera contain 3 – 7 ug/ml and, those of A. cerana contain only 1 ug/ml. The level of juvenile hormone in worker larvae of A. cerana is apparently not sufficient to induce oviposition (egg laying) in the mite.

This has proved to be a selective advantage to the honeybee during the course of its host and parasitic evolution. Only in this manner does the parasite prevent death of its host and thus its own death. F. RUTTER in his paper “Characteristic and variability of Apis Cerana” points out that “Contrary to the customary assumption, A. cerana is not generally a small bee when compared with A. mellifera. This frequently-held opinion holds true only when A. cerana is compared with European A. mellifera”.

We believe that this is a comparison of a feral sized, naturally occurring type of honeybee, to an artificially over-sized domesticated European sized honeybee that has received more food and protein, thus more juvenile hormone by being reared on artificial enlarged combs. Therefore, retrogressing/down-sizing would have the impact of reducing juvenile hormone levels; and, food and protein contents of the larvae jelly, all of which are mite attractants in oversized cells.

d. Downsizing also compacts the brood nest by density and our observations by inserted temperature probe, show that it raises the brood nest temperature, which we believe helps to speed up the gestation cycle of the brood. Combine this with being able to select for faster developing queens (DEGRANDI-HOFFMAN, LUSBY & LUSBY, and ERICKSON JR, 1989) and it becomes possible to breed for bees with shorter development times as an aid in overcoming Varroa.

Remember in the end, surgical removal of stress (taking diseased frames out by hand) by beekeepers is always possible if the colonies own defense system proves to have been so debilitated as to be incapable of returning to normalcy. If surgery by beekeepers is necessary, a healthy honeybee on a proper nutrient diet will better generate strong recuperative powers once causitory brood combs have been removed and replaced.


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