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Dr. Jeff Pettis, Bee Research Lab, Beltsville, Maryland. Spoke at Henderson Co Bee Club meeting Tuesday evening as part of Pollinator Week programs in Asheville. Notes (as well as typos and potential errors) by Blue Ridge Bee. Shared for anyone who may be interested in reading.


(Bio from Wikipedia: Jeffery Stuart Pettis is an American born biologist and entomologist known for his extensive research on honeybee behavior. He is currently the research leader at the United States Department of Agriculture's Beltsville Bee Laboratory (BBL). His research has led to significant breakthroughs in understanding and managing CCD, a primary cause of North American bee population decline. He is also known for discovering with Dennis van Engelsdorp of Pennsylvania State University the ability of bees to detect pesticides and harmful fungi in collected pollen and subsequently quarantine the harmful substances from the rest of the hive.[8] His research has also studied the synergistic effects of Imidacloprid on bees, an insecticide derived from nicotine.)

Notes from talk:

His lab in Beltsville focuses on pests and diseases. Viruses, nosema, mites, foulbrood. Foulbrood used to be the worst thing, he says he 'wished he could go back to the days.' Dr Evans in the lab works on bee genome. Dr Judy Chen, virologist and nosema work….especially varroa/virus interactions. Dr. Corona working on queen health and bee nutrition. They have a product almost ready to field test, which adds nutrition to megabee, etc. Dr Cook, toxicologist and insect physiologist…how to worker bees react to chem exposure, esp farm chemicals. Dr. Pettis - field work with commercial beeks. Bart Smith: disease diagnostic service. He is entomologist. Diagnostic center is underutilized. Beeks can send in dead bees, comb and they will analyze and try to diagnose.


Pettis is not a proponent of treating nosema with fumagillin. New nosema is not predictable and does not respond always and does not need to always be treated or respond to treatment. In the research yards at the lab, they manage mites with formic acid and some thyhmol products. They do not treat with fumagillin. Does not use hard chems. (See info on lowered queen performance below.)


US colony losses. Since '07 averaging 30% winter loss. Some operations in commercial lose 50% over summer. They are looking at summer losses. Winter still close to 30%.


1940s (Commerical) 5.5-6 million colonies in US. Now 2.5 million colonies. Same land mass in Europe supports 16 million colonies. On national scale, just don't have a lot of bees. Need 1.5 million just for almonds alone. (This is commercial scale, to pollinate.) Bees are being shipped even from Northeast for CA almonds. Used to be just west of Mississippi bees that were sent to almonds.


What is going on in bee health (commercial): Average hive goes to 3-5 pollination contracts. Diseases stress bees, then they are put on mono crop that doesn't provide much nutrition, like watermelon, exposed to a little pesticide/fungacide and that has large results. Commericial bees do better: skipping a pollination contract or two, resting in wild areas, and building up bees with protein and nutrition before doing more pollination contracts. Focus is interactions between stressors.


Humans have long association with bees. In hunter-gatherer time, it must have been the crazy jane or john who climbed up the cliff to angry bees…the simple minded crazy person in the clan who like bees… Those genes have come through to us. :)


Colony performance and failing queens. Failing queens is more widespread.


They do not have the answers. What is to blame? Queen production: poor mating weather? enough drones? nutrition during cell building? stock selection? Once in hive: disease level in hive (transmitted to queen), pesticide levels in hive, poor supercedures, transportation. All are factors.


A lot of queens turning into drone layers - runs out of sperm. They test for percentage of living sperm. He hasn't seen a 4 year old queen (which someone in audience had) in 10 years. 2 years seems great these days. Drone layers were often well mated, but dead sperm. They are sampling failing queens from commercial hives. Typical sperm survival was 55% (which is terrible). ( from East coast commercial hives, that beeks rated in poor health). West coast sample - 40-70% sperm survival. Healthy queens sampled: 92% live sperm. Healthy queens 90% live sperm typical. Above 80% is normal. Failing hives: typically 40-50%. Many factors affect amount of living sperm.


Dead sperm in queens is causing poor colony performance. What is causing dying sperm? Many factors/potential causes.


We know there is a lot of queen turnover. Poor brood patterns in queens with low living sperm percentage. Poor colony performance/survival.


Surveyed 6 different queen breeders from diff areas of country. Two shipping rates: overnight and usps. Recording thermometer in boxes. Aug queens: 65% sperm living, Sept queens closer to 80% living sperm. In a different region: opposite results. Overall, not what you want to see re: low numbers. Best set they got: nearly all over 85%, some well above 90%. Worst set: awful, averaged 60. Shipping temps could be to blame: In one shipment that took 3.5 days in transit temp spikes from 101-104. Low temps, not so bad. In another shipment that took 2.5 days, low 40's in July (!) (air shipment). One dip down to 8 degrees. Holding queen 1 hour at 40 degrees can kill 50% of sperm in lab. So shipping temp is having an effect. Also, could security X-rays affecting queens? Not known. Shipping temps could be involved in poor queens. Ag chem exposures will also kill sperm.


Mite chems can impact queen/sperm count. Amitraz/Apivar (newest mite control on market - slow release) : killed 50% of sperm in Queens in application tests in the lab. May be worse effect combined with other chems. This is what he is working on. All three doses of Amitraz/Apivar caused same effect in killing sperm - low dose to super high dose all caused 50% reduction in living sperm in Queen.


Need more evidence to determine if queen failures are resulting from factors in the hives, queen rearing or drones (ag chem/mite chem exposures of drones can also lower sperm viability).


Application of Amitraz/Apivar produced 50% sperm death in the lab, regardless of dose. Likely to be similar with other mite chems.

(Amitraz/Apivar was tested. Not to be confused with ApiLife Var thymol product)
______ Q & A Session _______

Queen surveys from the field: queens came from same apiary, but not clear whether queens came from. Queens made on site (local) and not shipped are almost always better in Pettis's experience. (Commercial beek in audience said he did not see a diff in purchased/shipped queens and ones he raised in his yards.) Pettis said in his experience 28-30 days in mating nuc, makes better queens. Never-shipped queens are usually better queens (more long lived, more production) he says. Nosema rarely affects queens, but if it does, she is gone in 3-4 weeks. Black queen cell virus does affect queen. Disease level of the colony more directly related to overall colony health.


GMOs and honey bee health. At present, he is more concerned with pesticides than GMOs. Studies with corn pollen (gmo and non) show no difference in bee health in the lab. He is much more concerned about pesticides than GMOs. GMO ag fields, on the other hand, create another problem. 'sterile field' effect. Only crop -- no weeds, flowers etc. Better buffers/ pollinator habitats needed. Forage summit to be held in the fall - trying to diversify the ag land environment. Ag environment not only one to blame: residential and commercial development of land. In CA, Ag use of neo-nics is only 1/3of total. Other 2/3 used is by consumers and golf courses.


Research in CA has shown if you increase buffer/diversity (using part of field for this) yield will more than offset the crop not grown in that space. Many things in traditional high-input are not going to work in future, he says. In commodity crops, bigger may work better. Veggies/fruit, may be better in smaller settings.


How is ag industry responding re: bees and pesticides. They are listening and are concerned (b/c public and beeks are concerned). But EPA and chem companies are not making fast moves. Public opinion matters more than beeks (much bigger audience). He said he knows chem companies are listening, but response is uncertain. In play. In response to a question from audience re: banning neo-nics for a time period, Pettis expressed concern that simply doing that (as Europe has done) would 'take the pressure off' the EPA to fully assess effect of many ag chems on pollinators. Worse, if neo-nics alone are banned, ag may resort to chems 'that are likely worse' he said. He expressed that the chem/bee issue is larger than neo-nics alone.


Wild bees and other pollinators: they are being impacted by same factors/chems as honeybees. 1 type of honeybee in US; 35K native pollinators. Many show drastic declines.


Europe, other areas that have banned neonics -- grand experiment going on and he says. Data not in re: has the ban had impact. What is known in US: when commercial bees are near ag crops, don't do as well as wild environments. Period. Grand experiment going on in Europe, he hopes they are keeping good data. Good comparison can be attained on canola fields. Neonics can be very persistent in soil when not exposed to light, can last multiple years. Can get accumulation. Dandelions, for example (among others), can pull it up from soil and expose pollinators .


Q: What is most common residual chem found in hives they examine? A: Coumaphospate, Fulnavilate (?) (=Checkmite and apistan . most common by quantity. In the wax. )

When they trapped incoming pollen on bees on 7 diff ag crops -- the only neonics were from apples. The incoming pollen averaged containing 6 ag pesticides/fungicides. Multpiple exposures. Combintions appear more toxic than individual pesticides. There are many factors. Nutrition is a strong effect too. More study required on all.


They do see glyphosate/roundup residue in hives. Unknown effect on bees. He said there is more research concern re: human effects of roundup/glyphosphate exposure than to bees.


Early queens - is there usually lower volume of sperms. Less than 7 drones represented in spermatheca, related to lower performance and longevity.


Q: Are Neonics affecting endocrine system and affecting immune suppression and performance of queen? A: Detox genes are turned on in some cases (that is good thing, bee immune system attempting to detox) but they are seeing immune suppression in queens in exposures. Not killing queen directly but affecting performance.


Years ago, 1.5-2 years was common longevity for queens. He sees more turnover than that now. Early queens always iffy due to weather, etc. Late spring/early summer: best. Later queens may be poor due to decreased drones.


Using (green) Drone frames: he likes them for mite control. (Drones must be killed before emerging in this technique.) If doing queen production - use drone frames (allowing to emerge) for increased drone availabillties. He recommended using for both.


Q: Amount of pesticide residue in wax foundations? Yes residues are there, but levels are very low. He said he would not be worried due to low amount. Possible to have foundation made from your own wax if you are worried.


Q: Is there evidence of increased Africanized genes in this area (Western North Carolina) due to imported queens from the South. A: unknown. Weed out hot hives. He encourages buying local stock. You will get better performance: more adapted, less africanization, does not have to be shipped.


Lab is seeing more EFB and Idiopathic Brood Disease Syndrome? (aka 'Snot brood' as they casually call it …white dying larva) EFB is increasing in certain areas. Unknown causes. Also in UK and Switerzerland -- seeing strains that are more virulent EFB. Lab is seeing it in IL and deep south. IBDS: have seen it all over country. Don't know what it is. Could be viral, bacterial. Not associated with high varroa. (Unlike parasitic syndrome) Bees on blueberries tend to get more EFB. More is popping up this area.


Q: EMF (cell signal, radiation ) affecting bees? A: EMF not compelling enough to study. He hasn't seen effect evidence. Radiation such as Japan accident: not really being tested in U.S. He hopes they are testing effects in Japan.


_______________
 

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Thankyou very much. Good solid information instead of chest beating film makers. I wonder if a printed transcript is available.
 

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Fascinating. I wonder if he would do a talk for our club in Northern VA.

This gives me some ideas as to why my 2-month-old Carniolan queen ran out of gas recently. I wonder what drone supply she was mated with? Could be they were duds. She looked healthy enough.

Our club advocates raising bees locally, and has a nuc-rearing program to supply new members. I'll be picking up one in the next week.
 

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Now that is an earful. Must have been a stenographer in another life. Wish I could be that clear and concise.

Couple of steps we have taken for about 6 years now to deliver better queens.

1. No harsh miticides. Oxalic and thymol for mites. No other Garbage. Our motto of a "drug free" drone zone was instituted over 8 years back.

2. All queens ship UPS overnight air and we take them to the cooler shipping options as needed ( Route out of Oakland as opposed to hotter Sacramento when the temps demand so).

3. The longest I have heard on queen longevity in the past ten years has been about 3 years and 3 months from some of our hobbyist customers who know how to keep bees. ( many cases) Most queens in our own hives are replaced minimally every other year with a preference for new ones at least every 18 months or less.

4. Implementing a comb culling program to reduce residue issues with the goal of all "new" in 10 years or less with a long term goal of "new" every 7 years. All frames are now "year" stamped along with other ID info.
 

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Did Dr. Pettis say anything about why we have fewer managed colonies of bees in the US now than we did in 1945? Did he say why there was such a drop in numbers right after WW2?
 

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Did Dr. Pettis say anything about why we have fewer managed colonies of bees in the US now than we did in 1945? Did he say why there was such a drop in numbers right after WW2?
Mark. Not sure if your question is tounge in cheek or serious. I can give you a pretty decent answer if you are not familiar. Its a classical example of our federal governments power to issue edicts that had unintended consequences via its meddling with the free market. Not to say that in this case it hadn't somewhat merit to do so.

In the 60's and early seventies our family used to take a biannual trip from California to visit relatives in the midwest. ( from the left coast when it was still had a modicum of sensibility ) Each trip we would go to estate auctions and purchase antiques which we hauled back to Cali and then refurnished and then sold.

As an observant lad who was hell bent to voraciously consume any item relating to US history I noticed that one think that continually showed up at these auctions where WWII coupon ration books.

Growing up post war as a late bay boomer and never had a day of going hungry they sparked many a question as to "why" their was a need of such an item.

I can recall discussing this issue with many of the old folks (50-90) who had lived through the turmoil of the war. One of them was an 90 year old guy who my grandfather in Michigan made trips to for the purpose of purchasing honey. I can recall a discussion between them about how the "bee guys" were somewhat "exempt" from the rationing of sugar ( for feeding bees) during the war ( food production)

As a result I'm sure there were many an astute and cunning housewife who loved to bake that happened to give the hint that the family should keep bees to "get around" the war time rationing quota's on sugar.

Once the Allies had the opportunity to kick the fascist butts of the Krauts and the Japs all the resources needed to fund the war were now once available on the market. No need to scam the sugar rationing system by being a beekeeper to get what one wanted. As a result the number of tended hives in the US plummeted in the years following WWII.

If this isn't a purely classical example of the unintended consequences of the government getting their paws in the mix I do not no one at all. Like I mentioned in this case I think it might have been justified as part of the successful war effort. If it hadn't happened I'm sure the number of hives would not have spiked during the war nor would it have dropped of the cliff magically soon thereafter.
 

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Thanks. I like your explanation. Though, if you don't mind, it's only part of the picture. And I did seriously wonder if Pettis said anything about why things happened the way they happened w/ the decline in numbers after the war. I imagine he didn't for a number of reasons, both personal and professional. Which is not meant as a dig or critisism of Dr. Pettis who I don't know personally, but respect.

One thing about bees, beekeeping and WWII. Beeswax wax a necessity for the war effort. It was used in munitions especially on Destroyers and other gun ships to lubricate the barrels of big guns. That's what I have heard. I don't know how that was done, maybe beeswax was part of the shell casing.

So, as I understand it, and Peter Borst may chime in on this, beekeepers were encouraged to run more hives to produce more beeswax. Beekeepers were exempted from serving in uniform too I believe.

After the War was over the need for beeswax lessened and therefore so did the hive count.

I am sure there is more to the story. There always is, despite what Paul Harvey used to say about "the rest of the story."
 

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I am sure there is more to the story. There always is, despite what Paul Harvey used to say about "the rest of the story."
There were more hives during the war because of the need for both beeswax and honey for the war effort. Honey prices rose considerably during the war years because sugar was in short supply and was rationed. My uncle Archie (who failed the military physical because of a broken back suffered during high school) grew the family business during the war years for this very reason. He was even given a permit to buy a new truck for the business which was pretty rare in those years. After the war, honey prices fell considerably along with sugar prices and hive numbers fell as well. No doubt there were more profitable opportunities during the booming post war economy.
 

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I believe there was also draft rule that if you had 300(?) hives, you where more valuable as a beekeeper than as a soldier, and therefore no longer eligible for the draft. My father and grandfather therefore spent the war years in the bees.

Crazy Roland
 

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Seems to me we have enough bees. The parts of Agriculture that "need" bees can get them when they need them in sufficient quantity and quality. And those hives maintain their owners. The portion of society that wants to have bees but doesn't need them for sustaining life can get them w/ no more difficulty than usual compared to how that has been in the past. Quality of queens and drones is in question, I guess. At least for some folks.

So, so what if we don't have as many hives as we did during WWII. We have enough now and if the economic driver(s) demand more more will be forthcoming. I am confident of that.

People seem to thrive on doom and gloom, seem to desire it, maybe even demand it. I guess it makes a more interesting story than "Headline News: Things Are Alright". "Things are alright" doesn't sell. If it bleeds it leads sells. I want to hear Dennis van Engelsdorp and David Hackenberg say to Katy Curic, "You know what Katy, things aren't all that bad right now. Bees and beekeeping is looking up. We're going to be alright." Ain't gonna happen. But wouldn't it be nice if it did?
 
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