Varroa levels in feral colonies
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  1. #1
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    Default Varroa levels in feral colonies

    I am working on my first trap-out (I have another thread here about that). The colony has been in a concrete block wall for at least 8 years. I was curious to see how bad the mites would be on a colony that had never been treated and appeared quite healthy. I did an alcohol wash today and got 52 mites from 451 bees!!

    I searched google for any papers on mite loads in feral colonies and didn't come up with much. Have any of you ever tested feral colonies before?

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Varroa levels in feral colonies

    Wow. You might want to post this in the TF forum too. They will be interested and have some suggestions on what you might want to do with them. Make more of them I bet. As a treater, I would separate from any brood you were able to harvest, put them away from other hives, and start treating. I would also think about making more of them. J

  4. #3
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    Default Re: Varroa levels in feral colonies

    Quote Originally Posted by dd33 View Post
    Have any of you ever tested feral colonies before?
    If there is one regret for me that I don’t count mites, this would be it...Finding the percentage of mites on colonies that thrive yearly regardless of “high” counts. Are you sure it is the same continuous colony for eight years? Personally, I would not treat them, but isolate them in a yard, & keep counting them mites to see if they can truly thrive with this percentage A Robber screen may be in order You mentioned a lot of drones in the other thread, I wonder if this plays into the equation?
    Please excuse me, I am now free to go manage & treat ;)
    my ladies the best way I know how.

  5. #4
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    Default Re: Varroa levels in feral colonies

    I can't be certain that these are the same bees for for 8 years. I have seen bees coming out of the wall for 8 years but I could have missed them abscond and a new swarm move in.
    I was planning on treating before bringing them home, even before the mite count. Probably OAV but possibly apivar, it will depend on how much longer the entire trap out takes . Even if they could live with this many mites, I am sure they would rather not.

  6. #5
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    Default Re: Varroa levels in feral colonies

    Feral swarms die out a couple times per year, and the comb gets recolonized quickly. In my region, anyone talking about a single colony surviving year after year is just telling you a fairy tale.

    I have two tree hives that are on my morning constitutional walk, and I watch them sicken and die twice per year (both are empty right now). I no longer keep bees in my yard (all my colonies are at outyards), and the predictable mite migration from the ferals into the home bees was one reason I shut down the backyard apiary.

    Mite "bombs" are a thing, though Seeley tries to spin it with a more polite name. His research clearly established that colonies sickening and dieing from mite load, brings the mites home.

  7. #6
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    Default Re: Varroa levels in feral colonies

    Interesting. We get a ton of swarms around here so I imagine it would be repopulated pretty quickly if they died out. There is actually another hive in the same wall about 100 feet away.

  8. #7
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    Default Re: Varroa levels in feral colonies

    Quote Originally Posted by JWChesnut View Post
    Feral swarms die out a couple times per year, and the comb gets recolonized quickly. In my region, anyone talking about a single colony surviving year after year is just telling you a fairy tale.
    I have a great story along this line. Years ago when we first started with bees, found out that an acquaintance had a house with a hive in the soffets. We didn't think much of it, till talking to our neighbor across the street. Apparently they owned that house for many years and said the bees were in that soffet for at least 15 years and they had a local beekeeper get swarms there almost every year. Then at a club meeting, the local long time commercial beekeeper confirmed the story, he had picked up a swarm at that house at least once a year over a 10 year span before the house was sold. We were excited, we had found long term surviving feral bees, the holy grail. We had a plan, following spring we would set up swarm traps around Dave's house and surely get us a feral survivor queen. As a side note, at the time we were also the hosts for the club extractor, so we met a bunch of club member that never came to meetings, but they did come to get the extractor.

    Over the winter we had a couple colonies beside our house, and one day in February it was a beautiful sunny day, with lots of bees orienting at the hives, and LOTS of dead bees on the ground in front of the hives as they cleaned up inside. We popped by Dave's place to see how much activity was there. Nothing, nada, not even a dead bee on the ground by the entrance. Walk all around the house, no sign of a bee coming and going anywhere.

    Wind the clock forward, it's mid April, and our phone rings, it's Dave, the bees have 'woke up', and are now coming and going constantly from the soffet. Off to check, sure enough, they are. We set out the swarm traip.

    Wind the clock forward, it's September. One club member has borrowed the extractor, but he doesn't have a vehicle to return it with. Another member is on the list to get it that day, and it just so happens I'll be driving past both later with a trailer behind my van. I picked up the extractor from the first place, and was unloading at the second place, chatting with the guy, one of the folks that never comes to club meetings. He is 2 blocks up the street from Dave's place, has 4 colonies in the back yard. Apparently he feeds pollen in mid February and syrup in March so the bees get big and strong colonies, they make anywhere from 60 to 100 lb of honey over the spring bloom cycle. It's normal to lose one or two swarms in April or May happens almost every year he says.

    So, now we know where the bees in Dave's soffits came from year over year....

  9. #8
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    Default Re: Varroa levels in feral colonies

    I went by to check on the trap out today and did another mite wash to double check my number from last week. This time I got 99 mites on 436 bees.

    2020-02-10 17.50.37.jpg
    This wasn't the final count, there were a bunch more that fell off the bees when we counted them out.

  10. #9
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    Default Re: Varroa levels in feral colonies

    628DirtRooster (on youtube) is going to do mite counts on his swarm captures and colony removals this year. It should be interesting to see what he turns up.

  11. #10
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    Default Re: Varroa levels in feral colonies

    I have found it very difficult to actually lure the queen out of the cavity while doing a trap out. If you cannot lure the queen out, you will lose the genetics and all you will have is a bunch of mite infested bees. Even if they have been there for 8 years continuously, and are true "Survivor" bees, you have no way to propagate them without that queen or at least some of her eggs on comb. I am assuming that breaking into that wall for a cut out is not an option?

  12. #11
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    Default Re: Varroa levels in feral colonies

    Yes! One of Randy Olivers videos (scientificbeekeeping.com), it might one entitled 'the times the are a changin'...package bees are notorious for being from a very limited (like one or two) strain. This increases the chances of limited desired traits. Not the case with feral bees who have adapted to the area in which they live.

  13. #12
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    Default Re: Varroa levels in feral colonies

    Hopefully the queen comes out. She only has to walk a few inches to the new box and the entrance cone is inside.

    I added apivar after the mite wash yesterday. The bees are cleaning out the mites now.
    2020-02-11 09.43.35.jpg

  14. #13
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    Default Re: Varroa levels in feral colonies

    Quote Originally Posted by dd33 View Post
    Hopefully the queen comes out. She only has to walk a few inches to the new box and the entrance cone is inside.

    I added apivar after the mite wash yesterday. The bees are cleaning out the mites now.
    2020-02-11 09.43.35.jpg
    It happens. I just have not gotten lucky. Good luck!

  15. #14
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    Default Re: Varroa levels in feral colonies

    Quote Originally Posted by dd33 View Post
    Hopefully the queen comes out. She only has to walk a few inches to the new box and the entrance cone is inside.
    dd33:

    While I am no expert by any means, I had good success last year employing Mr. Cleo Hogan's trap-out approach:

    https://www.beesource.com/forums/sho...warm-Harvester

    I bought an actual 'Swarm Harvester' but also made a homemade version that worked too- the key is adding a frame of open brood if you have the luxury.

    Good luck to you with your trap-out.

    Russ
    Ecclesiastes 11:4

  16. #15
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    Default Re: Varroa levels in feral colonies

    Quote Originally Posted by Litsinger View Post
    dd33:

    While I am no expert by any means, I had good success last year employing Mr. Cleo Hogan's trap-out approach:

    https://www.beesource.com/forums/sho...warm-Harvester
    I believe I am using the Hogan trap-out method. I have some photos of it in this thread:
    https://www.beesource.com/forums/showthread.php?359671

  17. #16
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by dd33 View Post
    I believe I am using the Hogan trap-out method. I have some photos of it in this thread:
    https://www.beesource.com/forums/showthread.php?359671
    My apologies, dd33. I missed this important detail.

    In speaking with Mr. Hogan he stressed the importance of checking the trap early and often once the open brood is put in the trap, looking for the queen in residence. Might be worth adding another open brood frame if you can spare it?

    In the second trap-out I did employing the method last year, the bees made queen cells and I found them chewed-through at a later check.

    Best of success with your efforts- I expect you might have some success as the colony looks to expand their nest toward the entrance.
    Ecclesiastes 11:4

  18. #17
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    Default Re: Varroa levels in feral colonies

    anecdotally, I tried to rescue a log hive a few years ago. It was late november when the tree was removed. I sectioned out the part with the hive in it, stood it up, put a lid on it and let it be, planning on doing a cutout in the spring. They were flying well on every warm winter day till march. One good early spring day I went to check them, and no activity at all. One dead bee hanging out the front had 6 mites on her; 3 on the bottom, two on top, and one right on the face.
    Mistakes are the best taechers

  19. #18
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    Default Re: Varroa levels in feral colonies

    I studied the topic of mites on wild colonies for a paper this last fall. Here are a couple references that I used that are good jumping off points in study on the topic. They primarily discuss small colony size, swarming and normal selection as the key points for wild colony survival with mite loads.

    Loftus J., Smith, M. & Seeley, T. (2016). How Honey Bee Colonies Survive in the Wild: Testing the Importance of Small Nests and Frequent Swarming. PLOS ONE. 11(3). Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150362 on 15 November 2019.

    Seeley, T. (2010). Honeybee Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Seeley, T. (2019). The Lives of Bees; The Untold Story of the Honey Bee in the Wild. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press
    In search of the Golden Mean

  20. #19
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    Default Re: Varroa levels in feral colonies

    as its a trap out, and the mites were there very early in it, might it stand to reason they are coming back on the foragers?

    RWW you might do a tad bit more digging... commercial bees tend to me more genetically deverce do to admixture , ferals are whats left after all the deveristy dies off
    The internet is instant, and the internet is often wrong-Kim Flottum

  21. #20
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    Default Re: Varroa levels in feral colonies

    Commercial as in big commercial guys...maybe true. I think Randys point is that commercial, as in package producers, breed only for certain traits. It seems most of them breed for the same traits. This bottlenecks the gene pool so all you have going out into packages is a narrow gene pool with only certain traits...maybe not the traits needed to survive mites or winter, etc. but certainly the traits the purchaser wants-calm, honey producing. Therefore (I guess) the point is that local, feral are best for the backyard guys like me. On the other hand I could be misunderstanding.

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