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Effects of synthetic and organic acaricides on honey bee health: A review

2756 Views 47 Replies 9 Participants Last post by  ursa_minor
Interesting survey of the known effects of acaricides on bee health - two in particular stood out to me in considering some of the recent challenges with viral issues and colony vitality:


Organic acids have been shown to negatively affect the immunity of adult worker bees. For example, formic acid was shown to impact the proteolytic system in the bee cuticle. Adult bees treated with formic acid had a higher H+ protease and H- protease activity. The cuticle of treated bees showed lower antimicrobial activity. This may have critical implications for bee metabolism and body defence. It is widely believed that as a result of impaired metabolism and body defence, bees treated with formic acid are more susceptible to other serious diseases, namely fungal diseases (89). Locke et al. showed that shortly after winter treatment with fluvalinate, the tires of the Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) increased for a certain period of time (121). The authors suggested that this may be because the acaricides application weakens the bees and makes them more susceptible to viral infections.

Another research topic that will require more attention in the future are the wider implications of chemotherapy for bee breeding. The heavy use of chemotherapy in apiculture may have much more pronounced effects on bee colonies then just what may seem as minute sublethal effects. Elzen et al. demonstrated that the European honey bee (A. m. ligustica) was significantly more tolerant to pyrethroids than African honey bees (A. m. scutellata) (135). It was suggested that European bees that are managed much more intensively, face selection pressures because of the routine application of synthetic acaricides. It thus seems that the advent chemotherapy in beekeeping significantly altered A. mellifera phenotype and maybe even its gene pool. This may subsequently bring serious problems in bee breeding.
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Interesting article. I would think that most beekeepers are aware that you can’t put chemicals, whether naturally derived or synthetic, into a colony and expect to have no potentially deleterious effect on the bees therein. I, for one, would definitely prefer to be treatment free. But, the issue that resolves many beekeepers to treat remains, regardless of articles like this: Is it better to have clean, naturally kept bees that succumb to Varroa more often than not, or to have treated bees that survive in spite of things like heat shock protein spikes and chemically induced brood breaks? I’m definitely no fan of the synthetic chemicals that have been shown to be incredibly persistent at background levels in the hive, but most everything I’ve read seems to conclude that treatments like Formic acid, oxalic acid and thymol tend to fall to normal background levels fairly rapidly after the treatment is finished. And the nature of honeybee populations is such that you have above a 99% turn over in population every 6 weeks during the height of treatment season. So long as your queen isn’t disastrously affected by any treatment, the spikes in gene expression will be a thing of the past within a few month or so (most times of the year), and you’re left with a reasonably healthy colony that isn’t overwhelmed by a colony destroying invasive parasite.

I think articles like this are important. I’m a big fan of having as much info as possible to base my decisions on, but I haven’t found one that’s going to convince me to buy increasingly more expensive stock every year or two in an effort to luck out and find a bee that will thrive in my area without treatment.
 

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Organic acids have been shown to negatively affect the immunity of adult worker bees
I reported (and will continue to report) how in my case introduction of the Oxalic/Lactic acids drastically improved the wintering rates - a net change of about 80% in the desired direction.
If this is scientifically insignificant, I don't know what it is.

And so, this paper will not spook me when they state that "oxalic acid increases bee mortality".
It very well may increase the mortality of some individual bees momentarily and in short term (and I even had a such case recently).

And yet, overall colony health and survivability long-term increases several times over (which then makes my own beekeeping sustainable - finally).
For as long as I stayed away from the organic acids, I could never be sustainable under my circumstances (ironically, trying to create some sort of a local TF population).

Thus, I am unsure what is wrong with this survey.
Probably nothing is wrong.
It very well maybe conveying a trivial message akin - "don't eat a bottle of Tylenol at once - it may increase your mortality".
A question of dosages and proper application, and even maybe of sacrifice of some quantity of bees (if compatible to an alcohol wash loss, then totally fine).

PS: I narrowly refer to the oxalic acid only - the only substance from the list I have tried so far (and only for a limited time still).
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
But, the issue that resolves many beekeepers to treat remains, regardless of articles like this: Is it better to have clean, naturally kept bees that succumb to Varroa more often than not, or to have treated bees that survive in spite of things like heat shock protein spikes and chemically induced brood breaks?
Good feedback, @NUBE. To be clear, I did not post the paper as an appeal to not treat- only as a point of reference and something to consider as we collectively try to answer the question of why it appears that the threshold for economic damage in the managed colony seems to keep going down. Is it possible this is a side-effect of the treatments themselves impacting viral tolerance and/or altering the genetic trajectory?
 

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I thought some of the generalizations about resistance development and about hive component contamination and persistence issues, indicated agenda. They lump the organic acids in with Coumaphos and others of its type. Some of those should be stamped with a greater degree of shame than at present. As @NUBE mentioned some temporary irritation or even mortality to bees is an acceptable tradeoff. Dont paint with a broad brush!

It is good to put hope in genetic selection as a potential control of varroa's effects but in the mean time I think it is harmful to beekeeping to encourage small holding beekeepers to eschew treatments with unrealistic hopes and slanted information.
 

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What agenda would you suggest they are trying to push with this survey?
Did you go back and look at how the common treatments were all lumped together. Known quick resistance developers, in with the organic acids and thymol which, as far as I have read, have not resulted in development of resistance; much the same in regard to contamination of comb and honey.

They speak of effects on exoskeleton of bees but do not quantify it as to long term relevancy in regard to colony level health.

Perhaps these points are addressed in more depth in the body of the research but from the information in the link I felt that someone had a thumb on the scales on some points; Like the conclusions were there before the research was begun.

Granted, what each one of us takes away is colored by our personal preconceptions.
 

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I thought some of the generalizations about resistance development and about hive component contamination and persistence issues, indicated agenda. They lump the organic acids in with Coumaphos and others of its type. Some of those should be stamped with a greater degree of shame than at present. As @NUBE mentioned some temporary irritation or even mortality to bees is an acceptable tradeoff. Dont paint with a broad brush!

It is good to put hope in genetic selection as a potential control of varroa's effects but in the mean time I think it is harmful to beekeeping to encourage small holding beekeepers to eschew treatments with unrealistic hopes and slanted information.
I have to say I had a similar issue with that clustering of all treatments into statements that I think have been pretty well verified to be untrue in regard to some of them (I.e. as Frank pointed out, they make no distinction between the synthetics and the organic acids in a statement about persistence in the hive). I also found it… interesting (?) that one of the reference papers I started in on conducted their experiments on non-varroa infested hives exclusively. I certainly understand the reasoning for that, but, at the same time, I don’t know of any beekeeper who is dumping chemical compounds in their hives just for the fun of it. Let’s see them infest those colonies afterwards and then see where the stress expression gene levels are after a few months of mite build up (referring to study 51 in the article Russ posted).
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Did you go back and look at how the common treatments were all lumped together.
I have to say I had a similar issue with that clustering of all treatments into statements that I think have been pretty well verified to be untrue in regard to some of them (I.e. as Frank pointed out, they make no distinction between the synthetics and the organic acids in a statement about persistence in the hive).
I do think I understand where you all are coming from on this. I think part of this is due to the fact that the intent of the paper is not to organize various treatments into varying degrees of 'badness' but rather to underscore their position that, ... every batch of bee medicaments made has its own, unpredictable effects.

So their takeaway is not no treatments but rather, ... that acaricides are only applied as a last resort when the Varroa population reaches damaging levels.
 

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What agenda would you suggest they are trying to push with this survey?
Hey Russ,

To clarify - I get it, you are the messenger; nothing is against you.
And btw - nothing is against the report either.

What really is at issue:
  • simply put, information consumers should become savvy with the information usage already
  • this is really a weak spot where the information consumers are unable to properly and critically digest the info and then apply it, use it in decision making, or ignore it
Nothing else is to add, IMO.

I know Tylenol is bad for my liver IF consumed continuously and/or in large doses.
But I also know that my poor shoulder is hurting and sometimes I need a pain killer (so I can function).

What am I to do? :)

Short-term and sparingly I can take Tylenol.
Long-term and continuously I must do my physical therapy routine - personally assigned to me by a specialist (so I can avoid the Tylenol and in the long-term do without it).
 

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I do think I understand where you all are coming from on this. I think part of this is due to the fact that the intent of the paper is not to organize various treatments into varying degrees of 'badness' but rather to underscore their position that, ... every batch of bee medicaments made has its own, unpredictable effects.

So their takeaway is not no treatments but rather, ... that acaricides are only applied as a last resort when the Varroa population reaches damaging levels.
That’s fair Russ. Perhaps, as Crofter said, we are all coming at it with our own preconceived notions as well as biases. It just doesn’t help me be unbiased when researchers who are so carefully precise on so many different things make blanket statements in parts of their papers that are anything but exact. It instantly makes me suspiciously think, “Wait a minute. Are you a serious scientist putting forward information in an unbiased way, or are you trying to nudge your reader to a certain conclusion with unnecessarily imprecise statements backed up by research that is certainly worth thinking about, but hardly a sign of impending species-wide doom?”.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
It just doesn’t help me be unbiased when researchers who are so carefully precise on so many different things make blanket statements in parts of their papers that are anything but exact.
Understood. It should be noted that this is not a research paper per se, but rather a survey of published research literature on the topic of acaricides in honey bees prepared by a student of palaeobiology:


So I expect she is coming at this question more from an insect evolution POV and less of an applied scientist POV and may not have a very nuanced understanding of treatments, protocols, etc.
 

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"So their takeaway is not no treatments but rather, ... that acaricides are only applied as a last resort when the Varroa population reaches damaging levels."
Understood. It should be noted that this is not a research paper per se, but rather a survey of published research literature on the topic of acaricides in honey bees prepared by a student of palaeobiology:


So I expect she is coming at this question more from an insect evolution POV and less of an applied scientist POV and may not have a very nuanced understanding of treatments, protocols, etc.
Yes, this background is somewhat explanatory. She is into pointing out long range possibilities that can be scary. Thalidomide is a good example!
Perhaps that is what I sensed as agenda.

"So their takeaway is not no treatments but rather, ... that acaricides are only applied as a last resort when the Varroa population reaches damaging levels."
In my mind this in itself may be ill conceived. If the main payload of the damaging varroa/virus combination is from the virus, then allowing the mite numbers to rise to damaging levels might not be good advice. It certainly is not my inclination. Too little too late!

No doubt there is a level of treatment that requires a complicated cost / benefit analysis of many factors over different possible time frames which is not an easy piece of work. Our own fears and hopes sneak onto the scales! We have to attempt to identify and minimize what is fear mongering and what is rose colored glasses predictions.
 

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Understood. It should be noted that this is not a research paper per se, but rather a survey of published research literature on the topic of acaricides in honey bees prepared by a student of palaeobiology:


So I expect she is coming at this question more from an insect evolution POV and less of an applied scientist POV and may not have a very nuanced understanding of treatments, protocols, etc.
Yes, I certainly understood that it is not a research paper and more a correlation of previous research, which is why I mostly just skimmed it rather quickly and started diving into the reference bibliography at the end of the paper. I guess it’s easy to armchair quarterback some of the scope and setup of those research papers when I don’t have to write up the grant applications or do the work. It just seems like a lot of them are all too quick to gloss over the reason a large portion of beekeepers feel it necessary to treat their colonies.

I’d assume that the student who put together the survey read the works that are cited. The fact that she felt comfortable grouping coumophos and fluvalinate with treatments like oxalic acid and thymol, certainly gives one the impression that the research she read was, at best, an incomplete picture of the issues that we, as beekeepers, are facing.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
We have to attempt to identify and minimize what is fear mongering and what is rose colored glasses predictions.
... an incomplete picture of the issues that we, as beekeepers, are facing.
Indeed. And therein lies the interesting rub. Do we practitioners have a good understanding of the balance point?
 

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Indeed. And therein lies the interesting rub. Do we practitioners have a good understanding of the balance point?
I would say the short answer is NO! We dont know what we dont know:unsure: Be neither for or against a proposition you are assessing is a good start. A whole lot of it will amount to almost instinct level of judging whether someone is putting lipstick on a pig or has obvious personal conflicts such as monetary or emotional payoffs. There is a whole list of cautionary flags. It certainly gets difficult when the subject in question is more than a little outside ones area of expertise.

I once came across an article that spoke about a computer program that would do a reasonably effective parsing of a piece of literature and spot tell tale words and structure that indicate that it is designed to "work" you. Wish I had noted its whereabouts.
 

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Indeed. And therein lies the interesting rub. Do we practitioners have a good understanding of the balance point?
One of the issues I see, among many involving varroa, is that the balance point you’re mentioning isn’t something that is static. It changes year to year, month to month, and location to location. Each beekeeper has to use their best judgment given their experience and motivation. For many years, my motivation was trying my best to keep bees in my area without treatment. I couldn’t do it, at least not the way it is often sold in 30min to 1 hour lectures on YouTube and TF beekeeping sites. This last year my motivation changed to keeping bees alive and I tried treating. In hindsight, I definitely went about it improperly in several ways, but one colony that I knew from experience wasn’t going to even last the summer if I did nothing is currently packed tight into 2 deep eight frame hive bodies, with a loaded top box full of syrup and honey. If they don’t make it through the winter, I would actually be completely shocked, and their success is all because I was willing to throw some Apiguard on them a couple times this year. Looking in that hive a couple weeks back, I honestly wouldn’t have believed it is the same colony as the one I had late May that looked like there was barely enough brood in it to fill a 3 frame mating nuc. I’ve finally seen first hand that treatment can work. And yes, the treatment is propping up bees that aren’t really ones I want to propagate the genetics of, and I won’t. I’ll keep that colony from swarming next year by using their numbers to boost up a cell builder and graft some queens so that, after a few month’s assessment, I can take one of those queens grafted from the best one in my yard and get rid of the one that is so vulnerable to mites. That’s much harder to do, in my experience, when you’re barely able to get a few weak colonies, if any, to come out of winter strong enough to be of any use. I still haven’t given up on being treatment free, I’ve simply disabused myself of the notion that all I need to do is throw some bees in a box and see if they can survive whatever nature throws at them (an oversimplified, bombastic mischaracterization of what people like you do Russ, apologies if you feel them necessary. But, sadly, not all treatment free advocates are willing to be honest about the hard work that’s involved in getting to sustainable treatment free, like you are).
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
I would say the short answer is NO! We dont know what we dont know:unsure: Be neither for or against a proposition you are assessing is a good start.
I like it, Frank.

When I speak of balance point, I suppose I am looking a bit past the particular study in question and more to the general question of how do we ascertain the optimal point between applying treatments for the prevention of disease while also allowing innate resistance and tolerance factors to manifest themselves?

It would seem to me the first step in this process is understanding both the benefits and the potential side-effects of the treatment(s) applied.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 · (Edited)
One of the issues I see, among many involving varroa, is that the balance point you’re mentioning isn’t something that is static. It changes year to year, month to month, and location to location. Each beekeeper has to use their best judgment given their experience and motivation.
Well-said. My use of the term is admittedly an over-simplification which acknowledges your good point that this balance-point will move based on conditions on the ground.

But I do contend that such a point exists- and I admire folks like you who are making an honest effort at discovering where it is in your locale and management paradigm.

My purpose for posting the study was not to consider whether we should treat or not, but whether there is some merit to the idea that all the current acaricides we currently employ might have side-effects that could be working against the very thing I think we are all trying to secure - resilient bees.
 

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When I speak of balance point, I suppose I am looking a bit past the particular study in question and more to the general question of how do we ascertain the optimal point between applying treatments for the prevention of disease while also allowing innate resistance and tolerance factors to manifest themselves?

It would seem to me the first step in this process is understanding both the benefits and the potential side-effects of the treatment(s) applied.
Ah therein lies the rub! The vastness of the variables involved with both the bees and its environments, including a non static background of 30 or more viruses and bacterial infections, makes it a shape shifting quarry! All the physical realities with a nice dusting of ideological issues.

You guys are "Bears for punishment!"
 
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