If you are a member and have anything that you feel is important to chemical free beekeeping, please email it to me. I will post it in this section in a future issue.

Where ever you live in the world you should apply the information on working your bees that is given below when the weather conditions in your area are right. So take notes and be ready.

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Cletus Notes

 Hello Everyone,

Here in Texas we are monitoring our bee’s progress on gathering nectar from the yaupon honey flow. At Lone Star Farms, we rarely ever add a honey super during the first week of the flow. We like to give the bees the first week in order for them to fill most of their two brood boxes and do repairs in the hive. That way we rarely have to feed the bees during the summer months, especially if we do the same thing for the tallow flow in June.

Starting in the second week if the bees are ready for it, we add the first honey super. When the bees have filled the super to where they have started working on the two outside frames, we add another super and then repeat the process until the flow has ended.

Remember, the bees like to move up. If you add a super too early, they may not fill the outside frames with nectar. They may move up into the new box before completing the lower box.

 (Use this management technique in your location.)

 Enjoy your bees and be a good manager.

 Dennis

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“Zombie” Fly Parasite Killing Honeybees

A heap of dead bees was supposed to become food for a newly captured praying mantis. Instead, the pile ended up revealing a previously unrecognized suspect in colony collapse disorder—a mysterious condition that for several years has been causing declines in U.S. honeybee populations, which are needed to pollinate many important crops. This new potential culprit is a bizarre—and potentially devastating—parasitic fly that has been taking over the bodies of honeybees (Apis mellifera) in Northern California.

John Hafernik, a biology professor at San Francisco State University, had collected some belly-up bees from the ground underneath lights around the University’s biology building. “But being an absent-minded professor,” he noted in a prepared statement, “I left them in a vial on my desk and forgot about them.” He soon got a shock. “The next time I looked at the vial, there were all these fly pupae surrounding the bees,” he said. A fly (Apocephalus borealis) had inserted its eggs into the bees, using their bodies as a home for its developing larvae. And the invaders had somehow led the bees from their hives to their deaths. A detailed description of the newly documented relationship was published online Tuesday in PLoS ONE.

The team performed a genetic analysis of the fly and found that it is the same species that has previously been documented to parasitize bumblebee as well as paper wasp populations. That this parasite hasn’t previously been reported as a honeybee killer came as a surprise, given that “honeybees are among the best-studied insects of the world,” Hafernik said. “We would expect that if this has been a long-term parasite of honeybees, we would have noticed.”

The team found evidence of the fly in 77 percent of the hives they sampled in the Bay Area of California, as well as in some hives in the state’s agricultural Central Valley and in South Dakota. Previous research has found evidence that mites, a virus, a fungus, or a combination of these factors  might be responsible for the widespread colony collapse. (Read more about colony collapse disorder in our feature “Solving the Mystery of the Vanishing Bees.”) And with the discovery that this parasitic fly has been quietly killing bees in at least three areas, it might join the list of possible forces behind colony collapse disorder.

The parasitic fly lays eggs in a bee’s abdomen. Several days later, the parasitized bee bumbles out of the hives—often at night—on a solomission to nowhere. These bees often fly toward light and wind up unable to control their own bodies. After a bee dies, as many as 13 fly larvae crawl out from the bee’s neck. The bees’ behavior seems similar to that of ants that are parasitized—and then decapitated from within—by other fly larvae from the Apocephalus genus.

“When we observed the bees for some time—the ones that were alive—we found that they walked in circles, often with no sense of direction,” Andrew Core, a graduate student who works with Hafernik and a co-author on the new paper, said in a prepared statement, describing them as behaving “something like a zombie.” (Read about other parasites that turn their hosts into zombies in the article “Zombie Creatures.”)

Bees from affected hives—and the parasitizing flies and their larvae—curiously also contained genetic traces of Nosema ceranae, another parasite, as well as a virus that leads to deformed wings—which had already been implicated in colony collapse disorder. This double infection suggests that the flies might even be spreading these additional hive-weakening factors.

The research team plans to track bees with radio tags and video cameras to see whether infected bees are leaving the hive willingly or getting kicked out in the middle of the night—and where the flies are finding the bees in which they lay their eggs. “We assume it’s while the bees are out foraging because we don’t see the flies hanging around the bee hives,” Hafernik said. “But it’s still a bit of a black hole in terms of where it’s actually happening.” Most of the parasitized bees found so far have been foraging worker bees, but even if other groups of bees within a hive are not becoming infected, a decline in the number of foragers in a hive could have a large impact on a hive as a whole. Models of colony dynamics suggest that “significant loss of foragers could cause rapid population decline and colony collapse,” the researchers noted in their paper.

Hafernik and his colleagues hope that the simple way they made their discovery “will enable professional and amateur beekeepers to collect vital samples of bees that leave the hive at night”—with a light trap, for instance—and keep them around for a week or so to observe for any signs of emerging larvae. Pinpointing the extent of this strange bee behavior could be key to stemming colony collapse disorder by possibly allowing keepers to isolate affected populations. If the parasitic fly is just starting to infect honeybee populations, this could be an important move, especially given the newly prevalent mobile commercial hives, which mean that honeybees—and their ailments–are on the move in much greater numbers than ever before.

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Honeybees 'entomb' hives to protect against pesticides, say scientists

Honeybees are taking emergency measures to protect their hives from pesticides, in an extraordinary example of the natural world adapting swiftly to our depredations, according to a prominent bee expert.

Scientists have found numerous examples of a new phenomenon – bees "entombing" or sealing up hive cells full of pollen to put them out of use, and protect the rest of the hive from their contents. The pollen stored in the sealed-up cells has been found to contain dramatically higher levels of pesticides and other potentially harmful chemicals than the pollen stored in neighbouring cells, which is used to feed growing young bees.

"This is a novel finding, and very striking. The implication is that the bees are sensing [pesticides] and actually sealing it off. They are recognising that something is wrong with the pollen and encapsulating it," saidJeff Pettis, an entomologist with the US Department of Agriculture. "Bees would not normally seal off pollen."

But the bees' last-ditch efforts to save themselves appear to be unsuccessful – the entombing behaviour is found in many hives that subsequently die off, according to Pettis. "The presence of entombing is the biggest single predictor of colony loss. It's a defence mechanism that has failed." These colonies were likely to already be in trouble, and their death could be attributed to a mix of factors in addition to pesticides, he added.

Bees are also sealing off pollen that contains substances used by beekeepers to control pests such as the varroa mite, another factor in the widespread decline of bee populations. These substances may also be harmful to bees, Pettis said. "Beekeepers - and I am one – need to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask what we are doing," he said. "Certainly [the products] have effects on bees. It's a balancing act – if you do not control the parasite, bees die. If you control the parasite, bees will live but there are side-effects. This has to be managed."

Honeybees are taking emergency measures to protect their hives from pesticides, in an extraordinary example of the natural world adapting swiftly to our depredations, according to a prominent bee expert.

Scientists have found numerous examples of a new phenomenon – bees "entombing" or sealing up hive cells full of pollen to put them out of use, and protect the rest of the hive from their contents. The pollen stored in the sealed-up cells has been found to contain dramatically higher levels of pesticides and other potentially harmful chemicals than the pollen stored in neighbouring cells, which is used to feed growing young bees.

"This is a novel finding, and very striking. The implication is that the bees are sensing [pesticides] and actually sealing it off. They are recognising that something is wrong with the pollen and encapsulating it," saidJeff Pettis, an entomologist with the US Department of Agriculture. "Bees would not normally seal off pollen."

But the bees' last-ditch efforts to save themselves appear to be unsuccessful – the entombing behaviour is found in many hives that subsequently die off, according to Pettis. "The presence of entombing is the biggest single predictor of colony loss. It's a defence mechanism that has failed." These colonies were likely to already be in trouble, and their death could be attributed to a mix of factors in addition to pesticides, he added.

Bees are also sealing off pollen that contains substances used by beekeepers to control pests such as the varroa mite, another factor in the widespread decline of bee populations. These substances may also be harmful to bees, Pettis said. "Beekeepers - and I am one – need to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask what we are doing," he said. "Certainly [the products] have effects on bees. It's a balancing act – if you do not control the parasite, bees die. If you control the parasite, bees will live but there are side-effects. This has to be managed."

Studies he conducted found that bees in areas of intensive agriculture were suffering from poor nutrition compared with bees with a diverse diet, and this then compounded other problems, such as infection with the gut parasite nosema. "It is about the interaction of different factors, and we need to study these interactions more closely," he said.

The entombing phenomenon was first noted in an obscure scientific paper from 2009, but since then scientists have been finding the behaviour more frequently, with the same results.

Bees naturally collect from plants a substance known as propolis, a sort of sticky resin with natural anti-bacterial and anti-fungal qualities. It is used by bees to line the walls of their hives, and to seal off unwanted or dangerous substances – for instance, mice that find their way into hives and die are often found covered in propolis. This is the substance bees are using to entomb the cells.

The bees that entomb cells of pollen are the hives' housekeepers, different from the bees that go out to collect pollen from plants. Pettis said that it seemed pollen-collecting bees could not detect high levels of pesticides, but that the pollen underwent subtle changes when stored. These changes – a lack of microbial activity compared with pollen that has fewer pesticide residues – seemed to be involved in triggering the entombing effect, he explained.

Pettis was speaking in London, where he was visiting British MPs to talk about the decline of bee populations, and meeting European bee scientists.

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 Have We Really Solved the Mystery Behind the Shocking Die-off of Bees?

The New York Times essentially called it 'case closed' on Colony Collapse Disorder, but there is good reason to be wary about their reporting.

Scientists and Soldiers Solve a Bee Mystery

It has been one of the great murder mysteries of the garden: what is killing off the honeybees?

Since 2006, 20 to 40 percent of the bee colonies in the United States alone have suffered "colony collapse." Suspected culprits ranged from pesticides to genetically modified food.

Now, a unique partnership -- of military scientists and entomologists -- appears to have achieved a major breakthrough: identifying a new suspect, or two.

A fungus tag-teaming with a virus have apparently interacted to cause the problem, according to a paper by Army scientists in Maryland and bee experts in Montana in the online science journal PLoS One.

It's easy to miss, but in that last sentence, reporter Kirk Johnson takes a wrong turn. In essence, he confuses proximate and efficient causes (i.e. what bees ultimately succumb to vs. what makes hives susceptible to collapse) and from that logical error, a whole series of cascading failures ensue. But don't take my word for it. Go read Katherine Eban's crack piece of reporting for Fortune that dissects the problematic nature of the Times article; the underlying study; its lead author, Jerry Bromenshenk; and the role in the whole debate of the pesticide company Bayer CropScience.

The enigma wrapped in a mystery coated with pesticide

Let's be clear: The study itself makes no conclusive claims about the causes of colony collapse disorder. Eban quotes from the paper that the research does not "clearly define" that the virus/fungus combination is "a marker, a cause, or a consequence of CCD." A scientist interviewed by Eban very helpfully offers the metaphor of HIV to describe what's going on with bees. HIV doesn't kill you -- it's the opportunistic infections and diseases that follow HIV's dismantling of a sufferer's immune system that do. In the case of bees, the virus/fungus combo are most likely the follow-on infections that kill off an already weakened hive.

The Times blunder goes beyond whether Johnson or his editor misinterpreted the results of new research. Unfortunately, as Eban details -- in part drawing on an unpublished piece she wrote for the now-defunct Portfolio magazine --  the Times left out key pieces of the real story of the fight over research into what's killing the bees.

As I wrote last January, many scientists believe that a novel class of pesticides called neonicotinoids -- which are insect neurotoxins -- has played a major role in CCD worldwide. An Italian entomologist at the University of Padua, Vincenzo Girolami, has research currently undergoing peer review showing that bees can be exposed to lethal levels of these pesticides through the use of seeding machines that sow neonicotinoid-coated seeds. These devices throw up a toxic cloud of pesticide as they work: bees fly through the cloud and either die or take the pesticide back to the hive. Once inside, even at low doses, it can cause disorientation or, as Girolami calls it, "intoxication" of whole hives.

The maker of this pesticide is Bayer CropScience. What does a corporation do when it discovers it may have developed and marketed a dangerous and potentially devastating product? Here in America, you confuse, you obfuscate, and you buy off scientists.

And as Eban skillfully details, that's exactly what Bayer has been doing for the last decade or so.

Beeing clear

Which brings us back to Bromenshenk. He was an expert witness for a group of beekeepers that in 2003 sued Bayer over the pesticide Imidacloprid. Bromenshenk later backed out of the lawsuit and, soon after, Bayer gave Bromenshenk a "research grant." But it gets worse. Eban reports something the Times piece doesn't: that Bromenshenk's consulting company, Bee Alert Technology, is developing diagnostic tools for "various bee ailments." The company stands to profit from curing bee diseases -- and thus it's rather convenient that Bromenshenk has published research that points the finger towards "treatable" conditions, rather than pesticides, as the primary culprit in bee deaths. Indeed, he had admitted as much to Eban while she was researching her Portfolio piece.

While this tremendous potential conflict doesn't necessarily invalidate Bromenshenk's findings, it certainly warrants a mention.

So where does this leave us? In an email exchange with me, the Italian scientist Girolami said he agrees with many of the experts Eban interviewed: The virus/fungus combination is secondary. In Girolami's opinion, the underlying causes of CCD -- the factors that are weakening the hives and making them susceptible to infection and die-offs -- are most likely neonicotinoids along with the Varroa mite, a parasite that can infect and destroy hives all on its own.

In fact, last year Italy banned neonicotinoid-coated corn seeds and, according to this report, after the first non-neonicotinoid sowing, nary a hive was lost, although neonicotinoid spraying is still allowed in some areas -- and still linked with bee deaths. France has also banned coated seeds -- though there, as in Germany, the pesticide lobby has fended off total bans for now. As for the U.S., Bayer successfully convinced a judge to throw out crucial evidence in the beekeeper lawsuit and has, to date, prevented the EPA from releasing the data the agency used to approve neonicotinoids in the first place.

Eban concludes with the observation that little neonicotinoid research is going on in the U.S .at the moment, thanks in large part to Bayer's efforts to "support" scientists who work in other, shall we say, less-sensitive areas. It seems it is up to scientists outside the U.S., in countries less beholden to corporate interests, to do the scientific heavy lifting.

Ah, America. Fighting hard for the freedom to spray toxic chemicals everywhere.

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 New Research Finds Queen Bee

Microbiomes are Starkly Distinct

From Worker Bees

 Indiana University

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- An Indiana University researcher and collaborators have published the first comprehensive analysis of the gut bacteria found in queen bees.

Despite the important role of gut microbial communities -- also known the "microbiome" -- in protecting against disease, as well as the central role of the queen bees in the proper function and health of the hive, similar analyses of honey bees have previously only been performed on worker bees.

Apis mellifera-- or the western honey bee -- contributes significantly to agriculture, including pollinating one out of every three mouthfuls of food globally. Understanding the role of microbes in the productivity of queen bees and health of bee colonies may provide critical insights into the decline of bees in recent years, with colony losses as high as 40 percent over winter.

The research, "Characterization of the honey bee microbiome throughout the queen-rearing process," appears online and will appear in print in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Also contributing to the study were researchers at Wellesley College and North Carolina State University.

"This might be a case in which 'mother does not know best,'" said Irene L.G. Newton, assistant professor of biology in the College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Biology at IU Bloomington, who is corresponding author on the study. "In many animals, transmission of the microbiome is maternal. In the case of the honey bee, we found that the microbiome in queen bees did not reflect those of worker bees -- not even the progeny of the queen or her attendants. In fact, queen bees lack many of the bacterial groups that are considered to be core to worker microbiomes."

The study's results are the opposite of microbiome development in many mammals, including humans, in which infants' microbiomes are influenced by their mothers. Babies delivered through natural birth possess microbiomes similar to those found in their mother's birth canal, for example, while babies born through cesarean section harbor gut bacteria that resemble bacteria found on the skin.

Honey bees, in contrast, acquire their gut bacteria from both the surrounding environment and the social context -- a phenomenon known as horizontal transmission.

In a healthy colony, worker bees typically acquire their gut bacteria through interaction with microbes inside the hive, including fecal matter from adult bees. But the most likely route of microbiome transmission in queen bees is the "royal jelly," protein-rich food source produced by worker bees and responsible for the development of queen bees during the larval stage. Unlike other bees, queens continue to feast on royal jelly through maturity, eschewing the honey and "bee bread" consumed by workers.

The queen's royal isolation from the dirt and grime of everyday life in the colony may account for the difference in her microbiome.

"In some ways, the development of the queen microbiome mirrors that of workers, with larval queens' associated bacteria resembling those found in worker larvae," Newton said. "But, by the time they mature, queens have developed a microbial signature distinct from the rest of the colony."

Newton's study tracked the development of the queen microbiome at every point in the commercial rearing process -- from the larval stage to their emergence as adults capable of reproduction. The scientists also tracked worker populations interacting with the queens at each point in their development, including the queens' introduction to new colonies, a common practice in commercial beekeeping. At the end of the process, DNA collected from the honey bees' guts were sequenced and analyzed.

Sequencing was performed at the Indiana Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics in Bloomington, Ind., as well as in Massachusetts. The field research, including honey bee collection, was conducted at the North Carolina State University Lake Wheeler Honey Bee Research Facility in Raleigh, N.C.

The study's discovery that queen bees' microbiome remains unaffected by workers' interaction with the queen, and by the movement of queens to different colonies, suggests that modern beekeeping practices -- in which queen bees are regularly removed from their home colonies and introduced into new hives -- may not detrimentally affect the health of the colony.

"Because the queen microbiome does not reflect the workers within a specific colony, the physical movement of queens from one colony environment to another does not seem to have any major effects on either the queen gut or worker gut communities," she said. "The research provides no evidence that beekeepers who regularly replace their queens from outside genetic sources harm their colonies by disrupting the gut microfauna of a particular colony. In many ways, these conclusions are very reassuring for the commercial-production apiculture industry."

In addition to Newton, authors on the study are David R. Tarpy of the W.M. Keck Center for Behavioral Biology at North Carolina State University and Heather R. Mattila of the Department of Biological Sciences at Wellesley College.

This work was supported by a grant from the National Honey Board, as well as support from the Knafel Endowed Chair in the Natural Sciences at Wellesley College.