Date: Thu, 1 Feb 1996
From: Andy Nachbaur
Subject: Re: New Honeybee Virus?

>Has anyone observed PMS in colonies with low or normal varroa levels?

Hi Beekeepers,

Don't know if you have read this, but if not you may find it of interest. From my own experience with bees and given as at my last talk with at the American Beekeeping Federation at Las Vegas Jan. 1989 I think. As for "PMS" thats pure USDA government regulatory bee science... And in my opinion a real example of "BS" and not Bee Science.

ttul Andy-

This is from now, 40+ years keeping bees....

Successful keeping of bees in the ninety's will require several beekeeper skills or inputs. Two of great importance are:

1. Beekeepers ability to locate his bees in quality pasture.
2. Beekeepers ability to renew his colonies that die for what ever reason.

In 1990 about 900,000 beehives will be located in California almond orchards by beekeepers to take advantage of the cash rents being paid by the almond growers. This number of hives represents a doubling of the resident populations of bee hives in California and about one third of the bees in the U.S. And probably is more then half of the hives that can be made migratory. Demonstrating beekeeper ability to relocate bees for anticipated cash rents, comparable to about fifty pounds of honey production.

Due to the poor quality and quantity of bee pasture in California, 400,000 of these hives will be relocated out of state for the summer honey flows.

Beekeepers continue to demonstrate great skills and expertise in relocating their bees to high quality pastures in spite of special interest groups who have continentally tried to restrict bee movement by various regulations and quarantines, with the motivations of restricting competition for bee pasture, creating jobs and income for the regulating industry, and fulfilling the vision by a few scientists of great loss from perceived pests.(Our greatest threat is being made financially impotent.)

The ability of beekeepers to renew or replace colonies that die out, or become so poor as to be a liability, is a serious problem that can be met by applying rule number one: Keep your bees in high quality pasture. Of course this is not always practical. The second best solution is to keep part of your bees in high quality pasture. If all of the above fails, then you must be able to replace your loss.

Annual losses under conditions that prevail in California today can approach thirty percent, and in some seasons exceed that. Renewal of these colonies by purchasing Nucs, or making divisions, will depend on the individual beekeepers economic condition and the timing of his first surplus honey flows. (Beekeepers with dependable early pasture, such as citrus, will not be anxious to divide hives, and will purchase nucs if available.)

The decline in colony populations of bees experienced by beekeepers in California during the winter of 1987-88 is not a new phenomenon, and has been reported by beekeepers in California and elsewhere [world-wide] for over 100 years. It is my opinion based on thirty five years of observations and lots of library research, that this dramatic loss of bees will continue, and at times we may even have more frequent episodes of epic, unexplained losses of bees.

MY REPORT ON S-A-D AND B-A-D BEES from 35 years field experience.

Stress Accelerated Decline [SAD] and Bee Immune Deficiency [BAD] are not new spectacles in managing honeybees, or is it even limited to honeybees. They have been described in the popular and scientific literature for over one hundred years, by both beekeepers and biologists.

The SAD or BAD condition in bees in the United States has been called by many names in years past. Such as Isle of Wight Disease, Afro-hereditary Disease, fall, winter, or spring Collapse or Decline, and Disappearing Disease. The cause has been diagnosed by biologists as everything from poor nutrition to pest infestations. Such as the TRACHEAL MITE, which is at this time is the populace view. It is my opinion, based on my own experience with bees, that all of the above and every other natural and unnatural condition that afflicts bees, that can be identified as stressful can be made scape goat for SAD or BAD bees. (Including weather; hot, cold, wet or dry; pesticides; and management; good or bad.)

Most of this speculation only leads to SAD BEEKEEPERS. No workable solutions are forthcoming from the speculators and much time and money is wasted on popular cures. (redistributing beekeepers wealth) Leaving beekeepers to face the realities of a silent spring, when fifty per cent or more of their hives are quiet of humming bees, after treatment, or no treatments. And I add, much to the disappointment of Almond growers who expected more, and in some cases were guaranteed more then SAD bees can deliver, which at times make them MAD.

I have chosen to call this malady of my bees, SAD or BAD, as I believe that best describes the condition of the bees and the way I feal when I have to work with them. And I have not been alone in this work. The SAD or BAD condition of bees is a world wide problem and has been reported in all areas of the world that bees can be kept in large numbers. It is not restricted to any one area, and appears without warning. It can affect beekeepers large or small without regards to experience or politicks. Because it may not reappear in the same region season after season, it is hard to study and much is not known of its cause or circumstances which lead to its appearance.

In my own years among the bees I have had SAD or BAD bees many times. (a confession) Some who know me will tell you that it is because of my own (benign neglect) style of management...I prefer to refer to my approach to management, as a more natural, relaxed system of bee behavioral modification. In which I change my life style according to the needs and production of my bees. (Admittedly my life style has matched my bees and lately has been near or slightly above the privileged poor, in some part due to my own SAD bees.) Which may qualify me as an expert on SAD bees.

About 1960 I had my first experience with SAD bees. They were diagnosed as having Nosema. So as soon as I could afford it, I treated and was cured. Several years later I again had SAD bees, since I was treating for Nosema, it could only be caused by a bacteria, like EFB. Because at the time I was using sulfa [legal then] to control AFB, I changed to Terramycin. (The cure again was spontaneous.)

A few years later, now using enlightened treatments for Nosema, AFB, and EFB, my bees again were SAD. It could only be from pesticides. No antidotes were known, but I did get a government Pesticide Indemnification Payment, or PIP... Again several years later more SAD bees, still treating for Nosema, AFB, and EFB, but no more PIP's... SO I stopped going to summer pollination. (The surest way I know of gaining pesticide damage.) And since have tried to limit the time my bees are in the crop growing areas where pesticides are used. [Not a easy job in California, where even in the most remote areas some perceived threat from a pest can bring mass aerial attacks with pesticides, by one government agency or another, or for that matter in the most populated areas, reference resent and continuing attacks on Med Fly and other perceived pests in the major population centers.]

Several years later more SAD bees. Still treating for Nosema, AFB, EFB, no government PIP's, (no summer pollination rentals), and very short honey crops, due to droughts, and BAD, SAD bees. NOW I HAVE MITES?? This time I will be dammed if I am going to put a pesticide into my beehives. Its bad enough to be putting artificial honey, (corn syrups), pollens, drugs and antibiotics in my bees food chain. (Personally, I have not the resources for one more recommended cure, such as menthol or what ever.)

In the spring 1989, more BAD, SAD bees, but not as BAD as 1988. At this time, [Jan 1990], looking forward to the spring, I do not expect to have many BAD SAD hives. Due to the fact that my bees did not show any symptoms last fall.

(I have tried to outline, in capsule, what I have seen in the thirty five years of keeping bees. I left much out, including Chalk brood, vitamins, proteins, salts and more to fill a book. Now what did I see, or thought I saw....that makes my bees SAD or BAD?)

SAD or BAD bees do show symptoms prior to their collapse. These hives appear to be strong productive hives after a honey flow or extended broodrearing period. In the fall or early winter, in the area I keep my bees. They can change in a very short time leaving boxes full of honey and empty of bees.

Two symptoms that have repeatedly shown up in my bees, in the late summer or fall before the decline is increasing numbers of black shinny or old looking bees on the combes. [Hairless bees] The unexplained appearance of numbers of dead, dying, or crawling bees in my bee yards is the second symptom I believe indicates I am experiencing the effects of SAD or BAD. (One can never rule out pesticides, but when you find these symptoms in bees kept ten to twenty miles from the crops pesticides are used on, the likelihood of pesticide damage is reduced.)

For years I have seen my bees crawl out of my hives and die, not only in the fall, but at other times of the year, with no detectable pesticide use, or in some cases even residues found. (I have also seen too many of my hives damaged and killed by pesticides and do not want to minimize the damage they have caused me and others and the real threat they continue to be for all bees.)

(Nothing has been more devastating to me personally then the loss I have had from the regulated, [proper and legal], use of pesticides in California. Many times miles from my apiaries. Pesticide damage and loss is far greater by a factor of one thousand or more then all other bee losses put together. Or simply stated: for every dollar lost due to bee disease, pests, and predators; one thousand dollars are lost due to pesticides used on crops miles away from the bees hive. There has never been a pesticide loss to bees that could not have been avoided with out any action by the beekeeper.)

The symptoms of SAD or BAD bees I have seen in my own bees has been seen by other beekeepers from all over the world and have been identified as indicators of various viruses that are found in the bee. This includes bees from dwindling colonies from California.

Some of the common ones are: Paralysis, [dead bees, black like robbers, dislocated wings]; Sacbrood, [yellow larva, shot gun brood], and many more.

Advanced cases of BAD SAD bees can be identified by their lack of ability to use sugar syrup fed in gravity feeders. Pools of sugar syrup will be found on the ground around these SAD hives. A satisfactory but expensive weed killer. And when moving these SAD bees down the freeway on a clear star bright night fellow travelers who pass you will have their wipers on, and at times make gestures to you as they pass, sometime mistaken as the international sign of friendship.

One other symptom worth mention is one reported by beekeepers with normal olfactory development. An odor best described as between fermented honey and mouse urine. Both recognizable by experienced beekeepers. Since many of the hives are full of honey and too weak to keep out mice, I have without much scientific research concluded that fermenting honey and mice are responsible for the odors detected. But this could be a real symptom, and I wonder if others have detected this odor?

(I once thought, because I kept my bees in the cotton growing areas that the cause of SAD bees was associated with cotton growing or cotton honey. Since so many bees that show SAD and BAD symptoms have never been in the cotton I soon discounted this as a cause.)


The major problem with identifying viruses in bees is that few bee scientific types are doing this kind of work and fewer in the U.S. Requests by beekeepers for virus screens or checks made to public agencies are given very low priority. Most bees can be found to have Nosema and its easy and cheap to look for, so that is what beekeepers are told their bees have when they ask for a virus check. Few ask anyway. As mites become more prevalent they are superseding Nosema as a stock diagnosis for bees sent to public agencies for study. It really does not matter that much because so little is known of bees viruses and no cures are known. Over the years enough samples of bees from California and the U.S. have been checked in European labs and found to have viruses of one type or another that you can feel confident that they are present in your bees and surely if the symptoms are.

(For a hobby I feed colored hybrid carp called, KOI, and find them interesting and somewhat comparable to bees in that they have pests, predators and diseases; like my bees. They also suffer greatly from stress and viral diseases. Its worth quoting from the "TETRA ENCYCLOPEDIA OF KOI" a passage on Viral Diseases.)

"Viruses are probably among the most successful organisms ever to have evolved and, apart from other viruses, can infect all other living organisms, including bacteria. Their structure is one of elegant simplicity,.....The life cycle might also be described as simple compared with other organisms..... The infecting virus literally 'injects' its own genetic material into a single cell of the host. Once inside the cell, the viral genetic material takes command of the cell's genetic material and causes it to produce more viruses. Very simply, it may proceed in one or two way. The virus may cause the host cell to mass produce other virus particles that are released when the host cell ruptures, allowing the virus particles to infect other cells and organisms. Alternatively, the virus can incorporate itself into the host cell's genetic material and may have an initial infective stage causing more virus particles to be produced. The virus then enter a non-infectious state during which the particle remains in the host cell's genetic material but is inactive. STRESS OR OTHER DISEASES CAN THEN CAUSE THIS TYPE OF VIRUS TO BECOME INFECTIVE AGAIN. A classic example of this type of viral infection is the herpes virus which causes cold sores in man.(and women)

One of the sinister aspects of any virus is that its genetic material is not very stable; it mutates very easily, giving rise to new viral strains. The perfect example of this are the viruses that cause influenza, with different types appearing apparently each winter to plague us. There is no treatment or cure for any viral disease. Prevention of viral disease using vaccination is the only method currently available....." END QUOTE

The realities of bee viruses are that there are no quick fixes or magic bullets. Viruses are present in most bees and they don't show symptoms or dramatic effects every year. I believe that these viruses do effect bees each year to some degree.

The effects or degree of damage that viruses have on bees may be determined by the condition, number of healthy young bees raised prior to the slowing down or stopping of broodrearing and the time before it starts again. The quality of the last bees reared may be just as important as the numbers. Bees reared on low quality diets may look normal and be in great numbers, but not have the ability to properly feed brood; or rear bees that have shortened longevity. Some of the poor pollens that I have been able to associate with my own SAD bees, are grass pollens; such as rice, and many of the water grasses associated with rice. Corn, milo, and fall tarweed pollens also. I am sure that most any area his its own problem pollens. It is well to remember that the greater the mixture of pollen the less problem with SAD or BAD bees, both as a cause and cure. As a rule when large amounts of pollen accumulate in the combs a problem can be associated with that pollen. One example of this can be experienced in the prolonged fall tarweed flows, large amounts of tarweed pollen can be found in the hives and brood rearing stops in spite of good broodrearing conditions. I have also seen this same condition in early October coastal manzanita flows. In this case the lack of pollen was evident. Poor pollen and no pollen give similar symptoms.

The stress of nectar collection is easy to understand when no broodrearing is taking place. The bees work themselves to death, so we say. The results may be full boxes of honey and KNOT HEADS. [KNOT HEADS, are small clusters of bees in the advanced stages of BAD, just prior to death or when a hive becomes a DEAD OUT.]

GOOD forage conditions do not include over crowded almond orchards. The main reason that so many SAD and BAD bees that are KNOT HEADS at the start of the almond bloom are DEAD OUTS shortly after its over, is that almond pollen by itself is not a good food for bees. (The generation of beekeepers that I learned from did not regularly go to the almonds in the spring even though they lived close to the almond growing regions, because their bees did better elsewhere. Until the almond acreage dramatically increased and beekeepers started taking advantage of the increased need for bees, did beekeepers who live out of the immediate growing area start moving to the almonds, for the CASH rent.)

BEES REQUIRE a balanced diet and to get this almost always require more then one kind of pollen. In pollinating almonds, (and other crops), so many bees are concentrated in a relative small area, that many hives will not have a chance to collect pollen from more then the orchard or orchard floor. And leave no doubt that bee viruses have a better opportunity to spread from hive to hive, as when near a million hives are concentrated in a limited area for almond pollination. Furthermore some research has shown almond pollen, or something in it, may retard brood production and much problems in getting large numbers of queen cells accepted by cell builders is reported during the peak almond bloom in areas where the predominant pollen is from almonds.

The stress of poor diets, the presence of pathological viruses and the time between the stopping of production of healthy bees and the starting of the production of healthy bees determines the effects of BAD and SAD on your bees. If the last bees reared were not healthy and the first bees reared are not healthy, the hive will suffer BADly, and SADly, may become a DEADOUT.

I have watched my own BAD SAD bees for many years, and seen them go from what we refer to as "BALL BUSTERS", (after home run hitters in baseball), in the fall, to a queen and twenty queen in the spring. Then to DEADOUTS, many times with supers full of honey and sometimes both pollen and honey. In 1988 I witnessed for the first time, when I popped the lid off a hive, earlier identified as SAD, the queen take wing from a cluster of twenty bees and disappear in the flight of bees from other hives in the yard. A DEADOUT was born.

As for reported cures, it has been reported that feeding sugar syrup, and sugar syrup with the antibiotic AUREOMYCIN may have some positive effect on some of the viruses. I can not report great success with either in my own experience. (Note: AUREOMYCIN, HCL, or chlortetracycline is not approved in the U.S. for feeding to bees.) But I think that they should be examined for effect on prevalent bee viruses. Reducing the effects of bee viruses may be similar to EFB. Once you see the symptoms the damage has been done. For EFB, the TM must be present before the bees start to brood to get the best results, which is no EFB. If feeding sugar syrup or syrup with antibiotic are necessary to prevent damage from viruses, it may be necessary to do it in the late summer or fall to be effective. Once your bees are SAD or BAD, feeding them is the same as putting three or more of them together, the end results is one SAD hive and three or more DEADOUTS. Adding healthy bees or young queens to SAD hives is better spent on healthy hives and used to make up DEADOUTS or NUCS.

(Time and good pasture is the only proven way a beekeeper now can overcome the effects of SAD on bees. NOT MUCH HELP IF ALL YOUR HIVES ARE SAD.)

It is not my desire to minimize the effects of other pathogens of bees including pests, predators, chemicals, and other natural disasters. All and any stress can result in large numbers of SAD BAD DEADOUTS or DINKS. I do believe that each one of us has a responsibility to keep our bees healthy within the bonds of practicability. [We must always remember that very few creations are not afflicted by pest, predators, and disease.] The results of so many BAD, SAD bees the last few years has been a lot of SAD beekeepers looking for a quick fix to a very complex problem, KEEPING HEALTHY productive bees. I do not think the answer will necessarily be through modern chemistry, and I am certain it will not be by government decree, that:


Unlike others, I do not believe feral bees or hobby beekeepers will disappear, [leaving open pastures for the enlightened commercial beekeeper], because of any pathogen or pest we know of in today's world.

If the environment for what ever reason will not support feral populations of honeybees, (or hobby beekeepers), then it will be too hostile to support commercial beekeepers no matter how enlightened their management systems. No area in the world that can support honeybees has had them disappear after they have been successively introduced.

- Commercial beekeepers have disappeared -

SUMMERY. My bees at numerous times over thirty five years have went from BALL BUSTERS to BAD or SAD. I don't have good pasture much of the time for my bees. (Yours always has looked better.) You may be able to recognize the symptoms of viruses in your bees before they look SAD and smell BAD, by looking for large numbers of black shinny, hairless bees in your hives. (Before you experience the unexplained appearance of dead bees in front of your hives or dramatic declines in hive populations.) Based on very little scientific research, my own personal observations and much practical experience of others. Sugar syrup fed to bees in the fall, that for what ever reason have been reared or pastured under stress, may reduce the number of apparently healthy hives that become SAD, BAD, DINKS, or DEADOUTS. (Other beekeepers from California to Texas, and elsewhere, report that heavy feeding of sugar syrup, two gallons and more, as soon as their bees are unloaded from being trucked from summer pastures, has greatly reduced their experiences with SAD bees. This should be investigated by our bee biologists.)

Beekeepers need a public, non regulatory, non political lab, that bees can be sent to for examination, not only for common pests and diseases, but also the viruses. Samples of bees sent in for testing should be routinely exhamined for more then the popular threats of day. (Both the regulatory and much of the scientific community appears to be suffering from tunnel vision. With no greater porpoise in life then being the first kid on the block to find or identify the first exotic pest of one kind or another.) Its time to accept the fact that bees have and are affected by pests, diseases, and parasites and that any single affliction may be of little harm alone but in combination may be fatal. We must be able to recognize these fatal combinations if we are to have any strategy for thretment. Beekeepers in the U.S. have had much time and experience treating pests, and yet hives treated for pests, (and made free of them), continue to die. This seems to suggest that something other then the pests being treated is causing the decline in our bees, and maybe we should reserve treatments of pests for extreme cases, and look for, and at other pathogens of bees.


(When I started keeping bees as an apprentice beekeeper or a beekeepers LOUSE, about 1954, to a generation of beekeeper now past. Their average production per hive was three times today's average. A family could make a good middle class living from five hundred hives including a new car every three years or so and collage education's for the kids. Annual losses of bees in excess of ten per cent was above normal and indicated a poor beekeeper. The normal replacement of bees today in California is thirty percent approaching fifty. Beekeepers with BAD, SAD, bees in the spring of 1989 did have fifty percent and higher losses. Replacing these deadouts, a challenge to the best beekeeper, is not lessened by not knowing if after replacing them they are not going to be SAD by the end of the season) (andy)

UPDATE (Jan 8, 1989)

As I try to polish my long winded talk, beekeepers in California are reporting:

Bees that are on the mid-winter coastal honey flows are not showing signs of dwindling. Bees from out of state and in state locations that are wintering in the interior central valley are dwindling in some yards. The weather in the valley has been overcast, foggy and cool, with very little bee activity or flight. On the coast it has been warm and dry. Most colonies appear to be bigger then last winter.

Thirty nine apiaries, mostly semi-yards, located from northern to southern California, have been found with Varroa mites at very low levels and are being forced to treat at very inflated costs. Some of the yards being treated have been treated two and three times since last winter. Twenty per cent of the 6,000 colonies being treated have not been out of state in 1989. The percentage of instate hives found with mites is greater then the out of state bees coming into California. California beekeepers have made several runs on the chemical product TAC-TIC (amatraiz) to protect themselves from the threat of high costs of forced treatments by the CDFA.

(Opinions expressed in this paper are those of the author, me, who has no regulatory job to protect, chemical products to sell, and should not be confused with any scientific paper created by any Doctor or PHD (POP) who must publish or parish. Thank you for reading this and may you prosper with me to spite all those who perceive that our end is near.)