Back to the Future of Varroa

This week was January 19, 2023, the day Marty McFly arrived in the movie Back to the Future. The movie was released in 1985, and did so well that it became a trilogy that included trips to the future and the past. In Marty’s 2023 they had real hover boards and self-fitting clothes and other things that seemed futuristic back in the 1980’s.

It occurred to me that that’s about when the varroa mite invaded the United States as well, long before I took up beekeeping. The mite first appeared in Florida and then quickly spread to the rest of the country. With a scientific name of Varroa destructor, Varroa is an ectoparasitic mite that lives and feeds on the adult and pupal stages of honey bees. They have proven surprising resilient and very adaptive to the various treatment methods tried over the years.

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Growing-Degree Days – Spring is Coming

We are starting to see early signs of flowers in Virginia. It has been abnormally warm this year, and the bulbs are starting to peek up from the soil. There a science called phenology that is the study of periodic cycles in biology. One concept that has come from this field of study is growing degree days, or GDD. The idea is that plants and insects require a certain level of warmth before they sprout and bloom, or emerge in the case of insects. You can calculate the GDD for your area as an estimate of when different plants might bloom for spring flowers or agricultural management

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Day 8: Queen larva capping

The Twelve Days of Honey Bees, Day 8. A honey bee queen larva is capped around day 8 of her lifecycle.

We leave the world of bee anatomy to talk about the lifecycle of a honey bee. A queen lays an egg in a honeycomb cell, which hatches around day 3 or 4. The rest of the lifecycle depends on the type of bee. A growing queen larva is typically capped on day 8, while workers and drones are capped on day 9 and 10, respectively. There is some variation, of course.

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Day 7: Spiracles

The Twelve Days of Honey Bees, Day 7. A honey bee has seven pairs of spiracles on their abdomen.

Matching up these daily numbers is starting to get interesting. A spiracle is an opening in an insect or spider that enables the exchange of oxygen with the body. Honey bees have ten pairs of such openings: three on the thorax and seven on the abdomen. Yay for seven! The spiracles form part of the respiratory system in honey bees, as discussed in this post Do bees have lungs?

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Day 4: Wings

The Twelve Days of Honey Bees, Day 4. A honey bee has four wings.

While we often think that flying animals have a pair of wings, as in birds, most insects have four wings that work together during flight. Bees, in particular, have a forewing and a hind wing that fold up separately against their body while at rest. During flight, a row of hamulus, or small hooks, link the two wings together so they operate in concert.

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Day 1: Stinger

Welcome to Day 1 of the Twelve Days of Honey Bees, conveniently aligned with the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Honey bees, at least if they are female, have one stinger. The stinger in Hymenoptera insects, including bees, is a modification of the ovipositor gland, and as such only appears in females. Drones, or males, have hairy butts in place of a stinger. and you can distinguish a drone from a worker by looking at their rears. It’s not a common approach, since there are other more obvious differences, but next time you look at a drone’s butt you can think of me.

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Book: Swarm Essentials

Winter is the time for reading in beekeeping. The colonies are clustered in their hive,s and we have time to think about and plan for the coming year. I recently finished the book Swarm Essentials by Stephen J. Repasky. I picked it up at the Virginia Beekeepers Fall meeting in November. I always struggle to prevent swarms, so this seems like a good book for me.

Repasky is a long-term member of the Eastern Apicultural Society (EAS) and was Director of the EAS Master Beekeeper Program for many years. So even though this was published in 2013 I was interested to see what the Repasky had to say.

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Honey bees use propolis to cover and protect their hive. It is a special concoction of resin and bee enzymes, and has been found to be have antibacterial and other properties that help a colony stay healthy and well. Small openings in a hive tend to be filled with the stuff, including the spaces between boxes, covers, and other aspects of the modern hive. This is one reason beekeepers love their hive tool, as it is often the only way to pry apart boxes or covers to gain access to the hive.

Propolis is also used in the winter to reduce the size of an entrance to keep wind and other insects out of the hive.

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Insulated Hives

Note: I have decided to drop the date from my post titles. It seems unnecessary and in the spirit of keeping this simple, I don’t have to remember what day it is anymore. I hope my readers don’t mind.

New beekeepers often ask whether they should insulate their hives or not. I mentioned previously that I use an insulated cover on my hives to help prevent water from collecting above the bees. Virginia does not normally have cold winters, so whether or not to insulate hives in Virginia is really up to the beekeeper. I generally don’t insulate my normal hives (other than the tops), although I do try to insulate the few nucleus colonies (nucs) I overwinter.

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