AN HES ‘the swarm’ August 2008

The newsletter of the West Cornwall Beekeepers Association

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From the Editor

Three weeks ago I looked inside my hives and thought the season might go well; plenty of bees, lots of work going on in the supers and the clover and blackberries starting to flower. Since then, things have been wet, very wet and all those bees have been doing one thing and it’s not foraging! I have one of my colonies on a double brood box and a month ago it was bulging with bees and brood; with no sign of swarming they were storming ahead and I anticipated the bumper crop to come. Sadly all the queen’s efforts have produced is more mouths to feed. Luckily I have some honey left from last year.

Our recent bee safari was enjoyed by all attending (photo below showing President, Chair, Editor and wife plus one other member). As always when visiting other members’ bees it was good to see that our fellow beekeepers are not “perfect beekeepers” and have to do the best they can with the time and equipment available. Just like we all do. Sue Hoult was on hand and showed us what she looks for as she inspected each of the hives for signs of disease. It was a busy day and we managed to visit three apiaries plus squeeze in a brief stop at the pub. Perfect planning really.

As some of you will be aware, Feadon Farm, our usual venue for winter meetings will no longer be available to us due to redevelopment of the site. This means we are looking for a new venue for the September and subsequent winter meetings. The committee are investigating other venues which will be more central and therefore accessible to the membership. Full details in the next An Hes.

Tim Batten

Beekeepers hard at work during the recent Bee Safari

Forthcoming Meetings

Saturday 16th August 2008 starting at 1400(ish)

Barbeque with David McIntosh

Bring your own main course – some salads, rice and rolls will be provided.

Directions: David lives at–5 North Parade, Penzance. Drive up Market Jew Street, follow the road around the building at the top of the hill, and turn left into the car park after the off licence. North parade is the small road to the right. Remember to buy a ticket as I’m told the traffic wardens are especially fierce at the weekends. Alternatively look for spaces on the roads nearby.

Monday 29th September – Venue to be confirmed

Adam Vevers SW Regional Bee Inspector

27th October – AGM

24th November – Honey Show and Christmas Social

‘A World Without Bees’

By Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum

ISBN: 978-0-85265-092-9 Guardian books

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left” Albert Einstein

A friend of mine totally unconnected with bees pointed me towards this book. I promptly bought it and consumed it almost in one sitting! Why? Because I had missed all the T.V. and radio programmes on Colony Collapse Disorder (C.C.D.) As a novice beekeeper it seemed everyone else was well briefed on the subject, asking me questions, showing concern and I felt I should really know more…..I had vaguely heard of the situation in the U.S. but was totally ignorant of the known claims and counterclaims of what was possibly behind this catastrophe that was beginning to devastate the bee population globally.

Now I feel enlightened by this fascinating and very commendable read. I am in awe of the swiftness of the research, writing and bringing to print by the authors Alison and Brian both keen amateur apiarists themselves from London.

Emphasing the enormous contribution that the honeybee has toward the Worlds pollination of key crops and thus their importance to the maintenance of humankind. The book explores all the possibilities of C.C.D. which started on November 12th 2006 in Florida when commercial beekeeper Dave Hackenbery discovered his bees had vanished, closely followed by others reporting losses of up to 90% of their colonies. The authors refer to history when equally devastating phenomena worldwide (albeit in isolated places) has hit the humble honey bee populations in order to search for an explanation. The dreaded Varroa, Genetically Modified crops, massive monoculture in the name of huge agribusiness profits, pesticides, herbicides, environmental changes, paralysis virus etc, all come under the spotlight. Alison and Brian spoke to scientists, researchers and those actively engaged in disease prevention with especially interesting research work being carried out on the bees adaptation to Varroa….no stone is left unturned.

So as modern and concerned beekeepers I am sure this cannot be missed. It couldn’t be more up to date but let us hope that it goes out of date very soon and this scourge becomes only a distant memory as we take care of our important nature workers who do such a magnificent job…..Give it a read I’d like to know what others think especially those who have practised beekeeping a lot longer than a year!

Nina Ducker

Bee Space and what happens if you ignore it!

In the first season of beekeeping it’s often difficult to keep track of everything you have to do and are expected to know. One of these things is bee space; ignore it and the bees won’t mind one bit – but as beekeepers we will create loads of unnecessary work and mess.

The basic idea is simple:

Modern movable frame hives are designed to utilise this bee space to ensure the frames remain movable. If you look around the sides of the frames and between the frames vertically you will see this same bee space gap, about 6mm. So as long as you have made your boxes accurately or bought them from somebody who has, no problem.

But what about the space between the frames?

This is especially important in the brood box and a number of devices come to our aid. What we need to arrive at is a spacing which will allow the bees to draw out enough thickness of comb to provide cells to raise brood, but still leave the all important bee space between adjacent combs. Two methods commonly used to achieve this. The first is to fit specially made plastic spacers over the lugs on the top bars; when the frames are pushed together until the spacers touch, the correct spacing is achieved.

The second method is to use “Hoffman” frames. These have the spacing device incorporated into the side bars of the frame itself – if we push the frames together until the pointed bit on one frame touches the flat face of the next, all is well.

So that’s it, bee space under control?

Well it should be but sometimes things don’t work out the way they should. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we are stuck at an out apiary and have to make up a new brood box but don’t have the correct number of frames. The temptation might be to “spread” the spacing a little, hoping to return tomorrow with extra kit tomorrow to sort things out. Don’t do it! When you return in a week’s time the bees will be fine and will have either drawn the comb out in several places to leave the correct bee space or drawn extra layers of comb between the frames, and joined to the existing comb in all sorts of odd places. In all probability they will have done both these things and you will be stuck. There will be no chance of squeezing up the frames to the correct spacing without squashing comb, brood and bees. If you opt to do nothing there will be no chance to remove individual frames to inspect the bees due to the odd shape and numerous ad hoc attachments the bees will have created. You will be back to skep beekeeping but without the rustic charm of a straw container.

The only way out is to progressively place new frames of foundation in the centre of the box and gradually work the sqiffy frames to the outside for removal and scrapping. This process will take ages (it took me a whole season).

So the moral of the tale is always make sure that brood frames are correctly spaced. If you don’t have enough to fill the whole box, ensure the frames you do have are correctly spaced and leave a big gap at one end. If this is full of comb when you return you can cut the whole lot out and won’t have to scrap any frames.

Tim Batten

Articles from other Associations’ newsletters are reproduced courtesy of BEES (Bee Editors Exchange Scheme)

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How Drones Find Queens

This article was Adapted from materials provided by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Odorant Receptor For Queen Bee Pheromone Identified I well know that the mating ritual of the honey bee is a mysterious affair, occurring on the wing and usually out of sight and hearing in what are known as Drone Congregation Areas. But I’ve always wanted to know how drones find the queen in the vastness of the open sky. Now a research team led by the University of Illinois has identified an odorant receptor that allows male drones to find a queen in flight. The receptor, on the male antennae, can detect an available queen up to 60 meters away. This is the first time an odorant receptor has been linked to a specific pheromone in honey bees. The “queen substance,” or “queen retinue pheromone,” was first identified decades ago, but scientists have only recently begun to understand its structure and role in the hive. The pheromone is a primary source of the queen’s authority. It is made up of eight components, one of which, 9-oxo-2-decenoic acid (9-ODA), attracts the drones during mating flights. It also draws workers to the queen and retards their reproductive growth.

Principal investigator Hugh Robertson, a professor of entomology, said the research team pursued the receptor for the queen retinue pheromone because it was the “lowest hanging fruit” of the known honey bee odorant receptors. Robertson was among the research group that last year published the entire honey bee genome, a feat that allowed his lab to identify 170 odorant receptors in honey bees.

Robertson and his colleagues knew that male drones probably had little use for most of these receptors. The drones don’t forage and so do not need to detect the subtle scents of flowers. Their social role within the hive is virtually non-existent. They have only one task: to find and mate with a queen. Once they have accomplished this, they die.

Using a functional genomics approach, entomology postdoctoral researcher Kevin Wanner was able to determine which odorant receptors were more dominant in males than females. He found four receptors that were expressed in much higher quantities in males than females.

“These proteins are expressed in the membranes of the olfactory neurons way up in the tips of these little sensilla in the antennae of these males,” Robertson said. “A neuron goes all the way from there to the brain. Now the brain gets a signal that says, ‘I’ve smelled this chemical.’ If the chemical is 9-ODA, for the drone that means one thing and one thing only: ‘There’s a queen somewhere!

Determining which of the four primary receptors in males was actually responding to 9-ODA was a formidable challenge. By chance, at a conference on the science of olfaction, Wanner met Charles Luetje, a neuroscientist at the University of Miami who had expertise with precisely this type of problem. Luetje had perfected a technique for expressing mammalian odor-sensing receptors on the outer membranes of frog oocytes (eggs) and testing them to see which compounds activated them. When he heard of Wanner’s work in honey bees, Luetje offered to use this technique to test the four primary odor receptors of honey bee drones.

After refining and testing the technique in insects, the researchers exposed each of the drone odorant receptors to 9-ODA. Only one of the four receptors responded. When it bound 9-ODA, the protein receptor’s conformation changed, setting off a measurable shift in the membrane potential. None of the four primary male odorant receptors responded to the other components of the queen pheromone. Only the 9-ODA elicited a response in one of the four. Of course, ultimately, there are another 169 receptors to go. Scientists have spent decades exploring the mysteries of insect smell, but the newest tools make such research much more promising. “Like so many biologists, we are wonderfully caught up in the genomic revolution,” he said. “We can sequence genomes. We can use functional genomics to narrow it down. We’ve got these assays, such as the frog oocyte, and other assays. And the genomic revolution has opened up this black box of the molecular biology of insect smell. Finally now we can peer inside.”

Reproduced from Apis-UK, online beekeeping newsletter

Criminal bee-haviour

Researchers are using a model developed to hunt down serial killers to study foraging behaviour in bumblebees.

At first glance, bumblebees and serial killers don't have much in common, but scientists at Queen Mary, University of London are using geographic profiling, a technique used to catch serial killers, to identify different types of foraging in bees.

It is hoped the research will help fine-tune geographic profiling, which is used across the world to predict where a serial killer lives from where the crimes are committed.

In the study, Dr Nigel Raine and Dr Steve Le Comber from Queen Mary, University of London worked with Professor Kim Rossmo, the former detective who invented geographic profiling. The technique has already been used with foraging data to predict where bats roost, but the current study is the first time geographic profiling has been tested in the laboratory.

In a real-life setting with a criminal, detectives may have information on what actually happened, but not on the other 'potential' crimes or choices available to the criminal. In the experimental set-up, the researchers were able to give the bees a fixed number of choices–in this case, of different flowers to visit.

The team observed how the real bees responded to the different scenarios. By comparing the bees' behaviour to different theoretical models of foraging using geographic profiling models, the researchers were able to fine-tune the technique and hopefully improve its accuracy when it is used to hunt criminals. The results also showed that researchers should be able to predict the location of bee nests by applying geographic profiling to their foraging behaviour. Like criminals, bees seem to create a 'buffer zone' around where they live. Just as criminals tend not to commit crimes within a certain area around their home, bees appeared not to forage in the area directly surrounding their hive, probably to reduce the chance of parasites and predators locating it.

This story was published on the Wellcome Trust website


Members of West Cornwall Beekeepers Association have been invited by Cornwall Beekeepers to a talk from Dr Declan Schroder at 7.30 on Friday 19th September at Lanhydrock Memorial Hall, which is on the road from Lanhydrock to Lostwithiel. He is a virologist and he is talking about his studies on bee viruses in Devon

West Cornwall Beekeepers Association

For further information about membership and events contact:

WCBKA Secretary

An Hes Editor

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