The Way Back to Biological Beekeeping, Part 21

Concept & Causes

What is biological field management?

Biological field management of beehives is not new but is seldom practiced anymore. Basically, it is similar to beekeeping the way Grandpa used to do it around the turn of the century.

Because today's conventional drugs and chemicals used in the treatment of bee diseases, pests and parasites are aimed at suppressing disease symptoms by controlling the problem rather than alleviating the problem, they do not have a place in a long-term program of biological field treatment. In the end, chemical controls only add problems for the beekeeper in the form of increased resistance to the very chemicals being used, thus only enhancing the problem.

Colony distress is an important symptom, a signal, which is initiated by the colonies own defense mechanism. Learning to recognize these stress signals is therefore important for early initial natural biological field treatment. To suppress and mask symptoms of honeybee diseases, pests and parasites with chemicals without finding their origin is contrary to the philosophy of long term biological control.

It is of vital importance to realize the various symptoms of honeybee diseases, pests and parasites and should not be viewed as totally negative. Rather, they should be viewed as positive constructive symptoms initiated by the colonies' own healing mechanism, in its effort to restore balance and heal itself.

When this is clearly understood by beekeepers, then time and resources will no longer be wasted on methods that mask symptoms with quick fix remedies and provide only temporary relief, while leaving in their wake the consequences of product and broodnest contamination. Hopefully, the beekeeper will then aim at eliminating and correcting the underlying causative factors of honeybee diseases, pests and parasites, and begin supporting biologically the colonies own recuperative powers of self-correction and healing.

Concept of origin and spread of diseases, pests and parasites

It is a known fact that both honeybees and mites have been on this Earth and have co-existed for many millions of years. Parasites cannot survive if they kill their host. The question then is what has gone wrong? Why do colonies die from Acarapis woodi and Varroa jacobsoni infestations? How do normal healthy beehives change into parasitic mite infested colonies with accompanying secondary stress diseases without cause and effect transpiring?

The well-known colony stress symptoms -- unexplainable fatigue, loss of appetite, physical abnormalities, nervous or runny behaviors, lack of housecleaning, poor flight activity --, create increasing degrees of ill health and are considered by many to be consequences of mites.

Since both honeybees and mites have co-existed for many millions of years, it must be assumed that something done artificially to honeybee colonies during their domestication and management by man has created the problem of parasitic mites, that ultimately result in the destruction of the colony population by them and their accompanying secondary diseases. By looking at CAUSE AND EFFECT we find that beekeepers themselves have wrought cause and effect in several ways. Combined, they have created the situation beekeepers now find themselves in.

First the colonies have to be stressed (the cause) causing the hives to become susceptible to mites and related accompanying stress diseases (the effect). It has been suggested that Acarapis woodi may have evolved very recently, perhaps in Britain, and as recently as 1900 (DEJONG et al., 1982). However, this hypothesis must be treated with caution (see Saga # 16 American mite history background). Nevertheless, the very close similarity of the various species of Acarapis mites (which includes A. woodi, Tracheal mites, & Varroa jacobsoni) does suggest that they evolved symmetrically of Apis mellifera from a common ancestor (DELFINADO-BAKER and BAKER, 1982).

If beekeepers were to study comb size history they would easily perceive that introduction of larger and larger comb cell sizes, used in colonies since the turn of the century, have developed evolutionary changes in honeybees through artificial mutation of body size, therefore making bees more susceptible to parasitic mite attacks.

With today's comb cell foundations now on the market near or exceeding measurements per square decimeter for Apis dorsata, for most of today's European honeybee races, no small wonder there is a parasitic mite problem (see table included). The European honeybees are merely out-of-tune with natural feral races and strains of bees by way of artificially enlarged body and comb sizing.

Based on observations and study of comb cell sizes, it should be hypothesized instead, that honeybees, since the early 1900s, have been artificially mutated larger by beekeepers using bigger and bigger comb sizes, thus causing the parallel evolution of mites as their food source changed.

The causes

1. Artificial oversized brood combs. Since the time of Baudoux in following Huber's experiment in 1791, but by using artificial means instead of drone combs, causing creation of larger worker bees, beekeepers have been artificially mutating the body size of honeybees larger (GROUT, 1931). This has placed honeybees with each successive upsizing of comb more out-of-tune with Nature and natural bee flora. Why, because it is difficult to create new honey plants and bees which can be reproduced as such, which have been developed through thousands of years and adjusted to the existing climatic conditions, soil, and especially existing bee flora (CHESHIRE, 1888; GEORGANDAS, 1968). This then creates and adds to the second cause. Known documented measurements of the dimensions of honeybee brood cells per square decimeter on natural comb.


2. Artificial diet causing inadequate nutrition. Poor nutrition is a serious stress factor of any organism. What happens when key nutrients are present in insufficient quantities for generation after generation? Larger honeybees require richer nutritional diets, yet have access to less in Nature by being out-of-tune through body size to appropriately match natural bee flora.

Colonies can be in a state of inadequate nutrition through either their geographic location placement or placement on artificial enlarged comb foundation creating imbalance with bee flora, and/or fed diets of pollen substitutes and sugars that are inadequate. Because of this, one or more of the key nutrients can be insufficiently represented or entirely lacking in the bee's body adding to immune system deficiency.

Since we believe that a queen reared this way, can not give to her offspring what she does not have herself, the result is that the queen constitutionally transmits a predisposition for disease and mite attack to her offspring. If honeybees acquire a predisposition for stress diseases due to inadequate nutrition through either their geographic location placement or placement on enlarged brood comb foundation, beekeepers can expect disease and mite infestations in their colonies.

3. Artificial medical treatment by chemicals rather then biological treatment through natural management, causing neurological disorders (CHANEY, 1988), queen supercedures, brood deaths, resistant mites to chemicals being used for treatment thus enhancing reproduction of same and contaminating internal colony food, leaving the honeybee colony unable to function properly to fight off bee diseases or mites.

Signed: Dee A. Lusby, Amado, Arizona, USA