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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I've been thinking again, A dangerous habit, (I know).

It has occurred to me that the best survival strategy for mites depends a lot on how many hives are in an area. (not that mites think these things through, so using strategy to describe pattern of behavior)

A hive that dies over winter (at least in colder climates) is a loss for the mites and for the bees. In this part of the country, if the only losses to mites were overwintering losses, the mites would die out pretty quickly.

Now when I say mites, I mean mites and their complement of viruses. "Bad" mites are likely mites with virulent viral strains, "manageable" mites are mites with less infectious or deadly viral strains.

So let us postulate "bad" mites, and "manageable" mites. How "bad" mites go bad is another rabbit trail...

Consider the hypothetical case below:

I am a beekeeper living in relative isolation. There are a few feral colonies in the area, perhaps, but they don't have "bad" mites, and so they survive in relative isolation. I have (just to pick a number) 100 hives located in relatively close proximity, so my bees rule the skies.

When I started beekeeping, I had horrible losses at first, because most of my bees came from somewhere, and brought a mixture of "bad" mites and "manageable" mites with them.

I didn't treat of course, but I kept my hives small by using 8 frame and not trying to prevent swarming. So the hives with mostly "bad" mites didn't thrive, and didn't swarm much, and mostly died off in the winter. Some of them died off in the summer, and I mite bombed my own hives, but since not all of the surviving colonies got in on the robbing, a few colonies, with mostly "manageable" mites survived and I split them. I also caught swarms which were second generation from my own bees that swarmed the year before. They survived because they didn't have "bad" mites. So mites that killed colonies over winter were strongly selected against, and in a few years I had mostly "manageable" mites.

I looked at this and saw that my winter survival rates were better than my brother could get where he was keeping bees, even though he was treating them year-round.

So I sold him 100 packages of my survivor stock and explained to him they were superior bees. highly resistant to mites, and that there was no need to treat or monitor for mites.

He put those packages to work right away, and they started off great. Being packages, they didn't have a lot of mites, and the ones they did have were "manageable"

But he lived in an area where there were other beekeepers, and winters were really mild. Those other beekeepers had bees with really "bad" mites, and their drones brought them around. Pretty soon, his colonies started collapsing. I didn't know why, but I thought maybe the bees needed to acclimate to their new surroundings. After all, I had that happen to me at first too. His neighbors didn't know why, but their hives started collapsing too, because their bees were robbing his hives, which now had lots of "bad" mites.

I sold them packages too, but even though they treated regularly, my superior bees didn't do any better in their hives.

Winter was very mild where my brother lived, and so pretty much every time a hive collapsed, it was warm enough for robbers to carry its mites back home.

My brother bought another 100 packages from me, and a copy of my new book, "EASY BEEKEEPING". But it didn't help him much at all. They all died.

I told him to rebuild using local feral swarms, and he tried that. Sadly, the local swarms were mostly from his neighbors' hives, which had a mixture of "bad" mites, and "manageable" mites, and his neighbors' drones also brought him plenty of "bad" mites. His hives all died.

I explained to him this was just weak bees dying, and it was better that way. I encouraged him to try again.

He told folks at his local beekeepers' association he had gone TF, of course, and several of them decided to buy packages from me. But later he didn't tell them how all his hives collapsed. It was too embarrassing.

This went on for a few years. My brother still keeps bees. I think he is treating them, but I'm not sure. He doesn't talk about it, but he did stop buying my bees. Family gatherings are awkward.

...

Notice that in this parable, the bees are all the same, resistant bees are an illusion. This may not be true in some cases.
Notice that "bad" mites are strongly selected against only in the case of winter losses, where both bees and mites die.
Mites that are "bad" enough to cause late summer losses, but not so "bad" as to cause high winter losses in the hives that rob out the hives they killed, would possibly do better than either truly "bad" or "manageable" mites.

DISCLAIMER

I have 5 hives, and I treat them as needed, which is quite a bit more than I like.
This is armchair science - where anything we suppose is true because it sounds true, where the most significant factors are the ones we think of, where no other factors are very significant, and there are no unintended consequences of our actions, so don't take it too seriously.
 

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My brother bought another 100 packages from me, and a copy of my new book, "EASY BEEKEEPING". But it didn't help him much at all. They all died.
It's plainly obvious what went wrong for your brother and all the folks in his area. they didn't invite you to the local bee club to do a paid presentation on 'EASY BEEKEEPING' and get the last few bits of secret that aren't in your book.
 

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I am a beekeeper living in relative isolation.
Jon:

I think your parable mirrors many folks' experience. And while I certainly don't claim to have the answers, I think there is something to be said about the opening assumption of relative isolation.

Relating back to your previous post about genetic diversity- if we assume that resistance develops at least in part at the population level and that this resistance is tied to local adaptation, then we cannot assume that bees taken out of their specific biome will still be resistant in their new locale.

So while I again stress that I am no authority in this area, it seems reasonable to me that if I am having relative success at TF in an area that is relatively isolated I should be reticent to make any universal claims about their suitability in other environments which includes differing climate, management approach and local disease profile.
 

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Missing one very MAJOR factor which is viruses, particularly the iridescent viruses. Bees that die don't just die from mite parasitism. They die from viral infection. Stop thinking of this as just a "mite" problem. It is a complex of mite plus virus and possibly other disease organisms. We call it PMS (parasitic mite syndrome) for a reason! There are two ways to address it, either reduce the total mite load (current treatments or resistant genetics) or select bees/mites that carry less virulent diseases (as per the findings in Ron Hoskin's bees in England a few years ago).

Resistant genetics in their current form only work if most of the bees in an area are resistant. Ship in a truck load of commercial packages and voila you just killed the canary. Isolated areas have had multi-year survival of resistant colonies. Areas swamped with commercially produced queens have not.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Missing one very MAJOR factor which is viruses, particularly the iridescent viruses. Bees that die don't just die from mite parasitism. They die from viral infection. Stop thinking of this as just a "mite" problem. It is a complex of mite plus virus and possibly other disease organisms. We call it PMS (parasitic mite syndrome) for a reason! There are two ways to address it, either reduce the total mite load (current treatments or resistant genetics) or select bees/mites that carry less virulent diseases (as per the findings in Ron Hoskin's bees in England a few years ago).

Resistant genetics in their current form only work if most of the bees in an area are resistant. Ship in a truck load of commercial packages and voila you just killed the canary. Isolated areas have had multi-year survival of resistant colonies. Areas swamped with commercially produced queens have not.
Hmmm
Actually, my post was almost entirely about viruses, or so I thought. The "bad" mites are the ones with virulent viruses. The "manageable" mites are ones that have less virulent viruses.

In this story, the bees are all the same, and the mites themselves are all the same. It is a thought experiment, nothing more.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Jon:

I think your parable mirrors many folks' experience. And while I certainly don't claim to have the answers, I think there is something to be said about the opening assumption of relative isolation.

Relating back to your previous post about genetic diversity- if we assume that resistance develops at least in part at the population level and that this resistance is tied to local adaptation, then we cannot assume that bees taken out of their specific biome will still be resistant in their new locale.

So while I again stress that I am no authority in this area, it seems reasonable to me that if I am having relative success at TF in an area that is relatively isolated I should be reticent to make any universal claims about their suitability in other environments which includes differing climate, management approach and local disease profile.
Agreed.

Or if I am having success anywhere, but I don't know why.

If you have bees that carry all the mites out of the hive, and you can see that and document it, you really have something.

If you have bees that survive but the only evidence you have is surviving colonies or lower mite counts, you don't have much to talk about. You are not in a position to generalize your success.

If you propagate your bees and distribute them widely, and you see the same success everywhere then you have something.

It is possible that resistance develops at a population level without resistance being tied to local adaptation.

What I mean is that resistance may depend on a large proportion of local colonies having resistant characteristics. That sort of resistance would be easier to create in a local setting which was isolated.

However, if that local resistance was so fragile as to be destroyed by someone introducing a non-resistant colony with its attendant mites and their complement of viruses, that would not be useful resistance. (except for the local, isolated beekeeper as long as he remains isolated).

A more useful resistance would be population level resistance which was not developed in isolation. That of course takes time.
 

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The unique combination that can make treatment free a possibility in an area could then be a quite fragile circumstance. There seems to be a common theme that it "worked", until it didnt anymore. Some operators of note have had these calamitous burn outs. It certainly can lead to people claiming for a while to have found the holy grail.

Some people have tried very hard through all the common avenues only to wind up faced with the same result. Gave each option a good try, sometimes switching 180 to try another and another, each time proclaiming eureka with great conviction. I would recommend that doing it quietly would be wiser because the ones who had felt preached to can be a bit vindictive. After having seen this repeatedly take place they tend to be less than enthusiastic to the next proponent. The more self assured that person appears, the more automatic the push back.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
The unique combination that can make treatment free a possibility in an area could then be a quite fragile circumstance. There seems to be a common theme that it "worked", until it didnt anymore. Some operators of note have had these calamitous burn outs. It certainly can lead to people claiming for a while to have found the holy grail.

Some people have tried very hard through all the common avenues only to wind up faced with the same result. Gave each option a good try, sometimes switching 180 to try another and another, each time proclaiming eureka with great conviction. I would recommend that doing it quietly would be wiser because the ones who had felt preached to can be a bit vindictive. After having seen this repeatedly take place they tend to be less than enthusiastic to the next proponent. The more self assured that person appears, the more automatic the push back.
Worse, some people who fail hide their failures and fake it, like bad televagelists.

The comparison to false religion is inescapable, since it is the religious impulse misdirected, combined with the love of praise and power and fame and MONEY that captures susceptible and often initially well meaning souls.

The most important thing in science is not to fool yourself - because you are the easiest person to fool.
After that, all that is required is basic honesty to avoid fooling other people.

Richard Feynmann
 

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However, if that local resistance was so fragile as to be destroyed by someone introducing a non-resistant colony with its attendant mites and their complement of viruses, that would not be useful resistance. (except for the local, isolated beekeeper as long as he remains isolated).
Jon:

I think I understand where you are coming from, and I don't disagree on balance. I would only offer:

1. Even conditional resistance might yield clues about what mechanism(s) might be available to make resistance more ubiquitous- By allowing mite pressure to be applied in selected settings we have become aware of mite biting and uncapping/recapping behavior (as examples) which potentially hold promise for wider use.

2. Progress is progress- Even in my specific locale where I have at least not suffered abject failure in a TF setting yet, both I and others I know have imported bees and attempted withholding mite treatments on stocks that do not last even a season. So if a colony lasts 2-3 years before flaming-out, it suggests to me there is some modicum of resistance developing that gives us some hope of it further maturing.

3. It appears that low mite population growth is almost universally-applicable- If one develops stocks that consistently maintain low mite population growth in the face of heavy mite pressure, I would surmise that this stock might perform fairly well in other settings, accepting all reasonable exceptions for genetic control and stock suitability to the local environment and forage profile.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Jon:

I think I understand where you are coming from, and I don't disagree on balance. I would only offer:

1. Even conditional resistance might yield clues about what mechanism(s) might be available to make resistance more ubiquitous- By allowing mite pressure to be applied in selected settings we have become aware of mite biting and uncapping/recapping behavior (as examples) which potentially hold promise for wider use.

2. Progress is progress- Even in my specific locale where I have at least not suffered abject failure in a TF setting yet, both I and others I know have imported bees and attempted withholding mite treatments on stocks that do not last even a season. So if a colony lasts 2-3 years before flaming-out, it suggests to me there is some modicum of resistance developing that gives us some hope of it further maturing.

3. It appears that low mite population growth is almost universally-applicable- If one develops stocks that consistently maintain low mite population growth in the face of heavy mite pressure, I would surmise that this stock might perform fairly well in other settings, accepting all reasonable exceptions for genetic control and stock suitability to the local environment and forage profile.
True enough.

On the other hand, they may be blind alleys. Dead ends.

They maty be dead ends because they have limited power, they are as good as they can get without rendering the bees useless as bees, and still insufficient to transmit meaningful resistance.

Alternatively, they may be dead ends because in our hurry to achieve them, we may have inadvertently selected out the necessary accompanying traits before they have a chance to align in a way which produces additional benefit. Only outbreeding, with its dilutive effects, would permit further improvement.

And they may not. Results so far appear to me to indicate that they are dead ends, but I may be wrong.

I think breeding for specific traits (not for lower mite counts) has some potential. However, you don't need to be treatment free to do that. In fact, it probably isn't helpful at all. Treated hives have plenty of mites to be able to determine those traits, without worrying about survival.

It is also true that your typical treatment free beekeeper is pretty blind to bee behavior. Survival of a hive is a pretty crude metric, which is probably more due to random chance than anything.

Considering how the honeybee seems intentionally designed to be difficult to selectively breed at a population level, I suspect the noble sacrifice of the typical TF beekeeper is pointless

If you have 1000 hives, selecting for the hives which have the highest level of mite biting behavior, Finding the worker bees who display the trait, and genetic testing of the workers who have the trait, selecting queens raised from their sisters who have the same father, and breeding those queens with drones which share genetics with the mite chewing workers of other hives - you might amplify the trait pretty quickly. That is an observation intense, capital intensive, and very technical approach.

The average TF guy can't participate in that game.

That is how I see it.
 

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II think Fusion Power is headed in the right direction, it is not just the mites. I say we have not made much progress with the mites because they are the effect, and not the cause. The real search should be for the cause that makes the bees susceptible to the mites and their viruses. One of the clues is in the real estate motto "Location, Location, Location".

With that, I will leave so you can continue to "Pea into the Wind"

Crazy Roland
 

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The average TF guy can't participate in that game.
I'll grant that you might be right. Two quick thoughts:

1. The average TF guy can participate in the game, but will likely not make any meaningful contribution on the macro-scale. That said, if his local population is developing mechanisms of resistance, he can at least engage in the work going on around him- and thereby possibly identify what mechanisms are going on in the population that are allowing resistance to become established.

2. For that matter, the average treatment guy can't make any meaningful contribution either. To be fair, the only folks making an appreciable dent on the macro-scale are large-scale bee breeders and mother nature.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 · (Edited)
I'll grant that you might be right. Two quick thoughts:

1. The average TF guy can participate in the game, but will likely not make any meaningful contribution on the macro-scale. That said, if his local population is developing mechanisms of resistance, he can at least engage in the work going on around him- and thereby possibly identify what mechanisms are going on in the population that are allowing resistance to become established.

2. For that matter, the average treatment guy can't make any meaningful contribution either. To be fair, the only folks making an appreciable dent on the macro-scale are large-scale bee breeders and mother nature.
Possibly.

Or the average TF guy is just slowing things down, by doing things which lower genetic diversity (maybe just a little, and maybe just locally) while not bringing significant combinations of attributes to the fore because the selection pressure is too great, and the selection criteria are too crude.

But the average treating guy is maintaining genetic diversity, and through the modest selection pressure on his hives, selecting bees that are incrementally better, and thus helping things in a small way.

Pretty much everyone who keeps his bees alive and requeens with the best of his local stock is helping, in proportion to the size of his operation, to bring the species toward a better future.

if that is true, treating isn't a negative thing. It is marginally more virtuous than not treating because it has lower losses. However, the difference is miniscule. I don't treat because I think it is making the world a better place. I am treating because I am lazy and cheap, and I don't like cleaning out deadouts or buying bees.

That is just my perspective.
Of course, I am a bad beekeeper with just a few hives, so don't ever accept anything I say as true just because I said it.
Ideas are born orphans. They need to survive on their own.
Sometimes people decide to adopt ideas, but that usually turns out badly.
 

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Pretty much everyone who keeps his bees alive and requeens with the best of his local stock is helping, in proportion to the size of his operation, to bring the species toward a better future.
Well-said. I think this sums up the ultimate objective regardless of approach. And at a bare minimum- 'Primum non nocere'.
 

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The unique combination that can make treatment free a possibility in an area could then be a quite fragile circumstance.
Admittedly I skimmed most of this as my eyes are strained and I’m on my phone.

Lost zero colonies of 14 last year, expect to lose 2 or 3 of 25 this year. Half had some form of treatment, half had none. Last year I did 2 OA dribbles, 1 in Nov, 1 in Dec on all 14.

I may not have a bee alive come April, but I think many of the stupid things I’ve done and signs I’ve missed before have been dealt with. I realize there’s another set of each.

As much as I’d like to claim resistance, I like folks to make up their minds somewhere else. I don’t think I’ve told anyone not to treat and in fact told my 3 major guys what my treatment plans were. Generally my advice is, if you have mites, kill them.

In texting, one guy told me he split an early nuc of mine and had recently lost both, along with one other hive with one of my queens. Said the yard in general looked good. He’s an hour away and I have no idea on his practices. A local guy told me he had lost 3-4 (of 50-60) including some of mine but said the Russians looked better in general than his others. Another guy refuses to treat, went up around 60 with similar early losses.

So my magic bees have gone elsewhere and died.

I’m in them so much that I’m sure I’ve propped up the weak by singing them lullabies. I’m also more isolated than anyone I know. Reasonably certain I can get away with all kinds of craziness here that won’t fly around 700 other colonies of mixed weirdness.

We once tested an old Mercedes around Nashville that was like a 3-cylinder diesel. It was clearly so underpowered as to be dangerous. When I took it back to the guy’s house he said, “My wife wanted it. And if someone wants one of these there’s no talking them out of it. If they don’t there’s no talking then into it.”

A lot of people called specifically looking for Russian bees. Some just needed a queen and asked about their temperament. To the first group I sold them Russian hybrids with all the appropriate disclaimers. To the second I invited them into my yard, popped open a few boxes without smoke in my t-shirt, and sold them queens.

But the recent conversations have convinced me that the genetics I now have are not invincible. Didn’t really think they were, but it helps to keep a clear head and not have a ton of disappointed people. That serves only to keep blaming folks for their losses, and keep them buying bees. My general goal is to sell bees to help expansion, not maintenance. If you bought 2 nucs and both died, then change your supplier and up your skills.
 

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I would bet with your isolation that your viral levels are very low. That may be as, or more, important than absolute mite levels. Sounds like your bees are doing quite well when moved. That is a good sign. Hope someone does not plop down next to you with a bunch of snotty nosed tramps!
 

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Bing Bing Bing...Winner winner chicken dinner.
Joe says:
I’m also more isolated than anyone I know.

So the bees on Gotland survive, the bees by Cornell survive "In The Woods" , but not when removed. Joe's bees survive, but only in his isolated spot. I follow a bee tree in the middle of a State Forest that survives. Are there mites in all of these locations? Yes.. And viruses? YES.

What is NOT in all of the spots that bees survive?? Humans in quantity.

As the wise Possum Pogo once said "I have met the enemy, and he is us".

Crazy Roland
 

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Just curious, how many of you all use some form of drone comb and freeze it good and dead on about day 18 to day 20?

Question #2 - How many of you all test with Randy Oliver's Alcohol mite wash, and if so, how often?

These are some basics I'm not seeing a lot of talk about recently.
 

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Pretty much everyone who keeps his bees alive and requeens with the best of his local stock is helping, in proportion to the size of his operation, to bring the species toward a better future.
Mother nature cares diddly squat what beekeepers want, all she cares about is survival. Keeping non-survival traits going is just countering what mother nature does. She ruthlessly culls anything that can't survive and reproduce. This particularly means mite susceptible honeybees. If we put treatments in a colony to keep it alive, we are just postponing mother nature's most important work - to get rid of the non-survivors.

I'm well aware that there are traits selected by beekeepers that are important for beekeepers. It is a good idea to keep those selected traits around because they make beekeeping and honey production feasible. I would not want to keep some geographic breeds of honeybee because they sting too much, swarm too much, or produce only dark poorly flavored honey.
 
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