You cant find a cure until you know what the symptoms are exactly, and now, finally, we do.
Weve mentioned Jerry Bromenshenk here before. Hes involved in more projects than most and has even more on the back burner waiting for some of his time. Hes been involved with Colony Collapse Disorder from the very beginning, and has kept his nose to that grindstone ever since. He and his colleagues at the University of Montana, the U.S Armys Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center, his own company Bee Alert Technology, and BVS, Inc. have ferreted out an amazing amount of information on this Disorder. Not yet the final answer, but they are much closer to understanding the problem than even a few weeks ago.
One windfall of all of this is that they have figured out how to examine honey bee samples for essentially every disease and problem that has been documented and do it rapidly and inexpensively. This service is just coming online for beekeepers and it will be a boon for them without question. Already this is showing beekeepers what management procedures are effective in both the short and long run, thus enabling them to make cost effective, efficient and healthy decisions regarding how they manage their bees.
Already the beekeeping community is more aware of the best management practices over time to combat the worst of the regular pests and diseases bees have, and this year, it appears so far anyway, the almond orchards should have an ample supply of bees for pollination. Of course its only late December and bees are fickle, fragile creatures ... and in bee time, its a long way to February.
These discoveries have been extremely beneficial to beekeepers, but the basic act of taking good notes and gathering lots of data over time and from many places has been perhaps even more helpful for understanding CCD, and in helping beekeepers. Over the two years that Colony Collapse Disorder has been a recognized problem, no other researchers that I am aware of have visited as many beeyards suffering CCD, in as many locations, and over as long a time. In a full report prepared by this team to be released in the February issue of Bee Culture magazine, Bee Alerts Scott Debnam and Jerry Bromenshenk from Missoula Montana, David Westervelt from Floridas Apiary Inspections Bureau, and Randy Oliver, a commercial beekeeper with real-world honey bee research experience from Grass Valley, California detail the symptoms of CCD with respect to where it hits, and when it hits. This information is critical in making a diagnosis as the symptoms change as seasons progress and knowing what to look for, and when to look for it, is absolutely necessary in making a correct diagnosis. So far, to even answer the simple question: Is this colony dying from CCD, or something else? has been difficult to answer.
To review whats commonly known:
In collapsed colonies
Complete absence of older adult bees in colonies, with few or no dead bees in the colony, on the bottom board, in front of the colony, or in the beeyard.
Presence of capped brood in colonies during time of year when queen should be laying.
Presence of food stores, both honey and pollen, unless a drought or time of year restricts availability of food resources.
Absence of pest insects such as wax moth and hive beetle.
Lack of robbing by other bees
Robbing and return of hive pests is delayed by days or weeks.
In collapsing colonies
Too few worker bees to maintain brood that is present.
Remaining bee population predominately young bees.
Queen is present.
Queen may lay more eggs than can be maintained by workers, or is appropriate for the time of year.
Cluster is reluctant to consume supplemental food such as sugar syrup and pollen supplement.
However, these are the terminal symptoms. By the time colonies reach this point it is far too late to do anything but bury the dead. Whats needed is being able to spot colonies that are in the early stages of CCD. This could be a real plus because perhaps beekeepers could turn them around if they were discovered early enough. Even though they still dont know the cause, proper and appropriate management techniques go a long way in helping.
Heres what the team has found:
One year out:
Colonies are just not doing well with few other visible symptoms. They seem healthy, but have lackluster honey production.
Six months out:
Symptoms are vague and easily missed. Monthly inspections and careful comparisons are needed. Brood nests are slow to expand, with most in a single hive body. Mid-day inspections show bees dispersed in the colony, but this varies. Population growth slows to stops during growing season when compared to other colonies in the same yard. Honey stores remain untouched, bees are feeding on nectar recently collected. These symptoms are difficult to spot due to the careful comparisons needed.
Three months out:
CCD colonies appear slow to grow and are outpaced by non-CCD colonies in the apiary. There is a noticeable population decrease going from 3 to 2 boxes, or 2 to 1, and often the bees are on only a few frames in the bottom box and they appear restless. Brood patterns are shot gun pattern because of dead brood removal, and honey stores begin to diminish if its late in the season, but if early, the honey remains untouched. Routine maintenance goes undone and no propolis seals are noticeable.
One month out:
Usually 8 frames of bees or fewer remain and they decline rapidly. Brood is produced, but cant be supported, queen replacement is often tried, and abandoned brood is common. Stored honey depends on the season ... in summer it may all be depleted, in winter untouched.
Remaining bees fail to eat supplied food or medications, and its mostly young bees that remain now, as the older bees are gone. Queens continue to lay excessively, and the colony usually lacks any aggressiveness at all.
Just days before its collapse the colony seemed to be strong and fully functional
Mostly young bees remaining in the hive
Bees are not aggressive
Queen is present
Eggs are present
Full frames of brood may be present
Brood may show signs of shotgun pattern
Capped honey and fresh nectar are often present, although not in summer collapses, which are uncommon
Fresh pollen has been stored in the hive recently, if external resources are available
Supplemental feed (syrup and extender patties) if supplied, are ignored
No robbing occurs
No secondary pests (small hive beetles, wax moths or ants) are found
No dead bees are noted around entrance of the hive
Bees do not show any signs of winglessness, paralysis or other adult bee diseases.
CCD tends to travel like a wave through a beeyard, and combining affected and unaffected colonies usually gives 2 dead colonies. Adding a package may help, and may not. There is a time lag until secondary pests will move in ... using equipment before that time for more bees is risky and the colony may die again. Once these secondary pests move in the equipment seems fine for bees, too.
The Cause of Colony Collapse Disorder remains unknown, but the diagnosis is getting better all the time.
For the full article with additional information see the February issue of Bee Culture on our web site www.BeeCulture.com.
Thanks to Scott, David, Jerry and Randy.
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