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After six full seasons of collecting data every two weeks, people ask us, what have we learned? There are trends which have remained constant through the study so we can give the subjective summary of these as bulleted highlights. (To view our Inspection Sheet and a discussion of our protocol please click here.) It must be stressed that these apply to our colonies in Western North Carolina under consistant equipment and management protocols:   

 

 

 

* ratio of good and bad colonies and queens


                   Project Genesis does not attempt to equalize or "improve" colonies, but to document how they progress. It seems each year the clonies display a ratio along the lines of 25% exceptional, 50% average, and 25% poor.

 

 

* the number of mites remains relatively constant within colonies located directly next to one another. 

 

              If a colony has relatively few mites, the count increases or decreases consistant with that count, regardless if a colony with high counts is immediately alongside. This finding seems to go against the notion that drifting bees will soon equalize the mite load in colonies sharing the same yard.


 

* mite populations peak in late summer and then go down


                Mite counts reach a peak in late summer. If the colony is left untreated these counts go down until they ultimately reach the same levels as colononies treated before Autumn. Previously it has been represented that mite populations increase until the colony perishs. If mites are the cause of eventual colony mortality it does not appear to occur sooner than 2 months after the mite population peaks and begins to go down.

 


* mite COUNTS go up as amount of brood goes down


                 This is logical but often goes unconsidered. The majority of mites are within capped brood and the number of phoretic mites counted only indirectly indicate their total population. In WNC available forage is greatly reduced in late summer, resulting in a reduction of total brood raised. There are more mites out of brood cells - resulting in increased counts on boards or by sugar-shake. This is often mis-interpreted as an abrupt increase in mite population.

 

 

* queens lay an average of 8-10 deep frames of brood during good conditions

 

                      In double-deep 10 frame Langstroth hives in WNC quuens average about 9 frames of brood when there are sufficient resources. These frames average about 66% brood under an arch of pollen and honey. One deep frame thus contains appox. 4500 cells of brood, counting both sides. This suggests a rate over the 21 day brood cycle of 2,000 eggs per day.

 

 

* total stores peak in mid-July


                 This is likely specific to the Southern Appalachians, Western North Carolina, or possibly even Asheville - but colony weioghts have consistently increased throughout spring and summer until July 15th. After that point we have never recorded net gains without feeding. In fact, colonies lose on average half a pound per day from mid-summer to mid-October. 

 

 

* comparison of survival treated vs. untreated


                 The first 4 seasons we saw no statistical difference between treated and untreated colonies. However, the last two seasons have seen a 66% higher over-winter mortality in the untreated yard.  Our method of treatment has always been thymol gel.

 

 

* miticide action of thymol gel is delayed


The affect of thymol in killing mites does not appear to be immediate. Our counts following completion of treatments intially show reductions of 25-40%. However, 4- 6 weeks after treatment mite populations have been down to acceptable limits. This suggests the effect is indirect. Rather than killing mites outright, perhaps it interferes with mite reproduction in the cells?

 

 

* excess pollen in lower frames in Fall


                   We're not sure if this has always been true of colonies and just not noted in the written record, or if it is a more recent response to something in the environment. We find beginning around September that bees tend to move their reduced broodnest to the upper box and begin collecting pollen which is stored in the middle frames of the lower box. This behavior differs in that these frames consist of nothing but pollen and are isolated from the brood rearing. Is this insurance for Winter and early Spring, or do bees  consider this pollen suspect?

 

 

* the "grunge"

 

                  We have identified a syndrone which seems to be consistant year after year and which is similar if not the same as "European Foulbrood", "Parasitic Mite Syndrome", "Idiopathic Brood Disease Syndrome" and various other. Usually these designations are applied without lab analysis, so it's impossible to confirm the accuracy of most attributions. At one point we applied Vita kits to test for European Foulbrood. The samples came up negative but our testing was very limited and samples were not sent for lab confirmation. We have seen this syndrome in many colonies which are known to have never experienced high mite counts.


What are the indicators? First, the colony seems to have a lower population than colonies of the same age in close proximity. They often have fewer resources of honey and pollen. However, there is usually a similar amount of eggs and brood, indicating Queens are laying as well as healthy colonies. Sometimes but not always scattered larva will appear yellowish and dry. Frames of capped brood may initially display a good pattern but as they approach the 21 day hatch period the pattern grows increasingly shotgun where bees remove pupae. The white of uncapped pupae often dot the surface. This pattern grows progressively worse with earlier frames abandoned while the broodnest appears to migrate away from them. Frames contain scattered capped brood which has failed to hatch. In the latter stages adult bees may be found which died in the act of hatching from their cells.


The colonies can persist over a period of months, but we have found "the grunge" to be fatal in approximately 90% of the cases. Some with a "low grade" infection persist until cold weather. We have seen colonies recover from the condition naturally but it is rare. Oddly, treatment with thymol gel has seemed to help, but we need to investigate that further. 

 


 

* identifying "crawlers"


              In late Spring to early Summer we often see bees on the ground, far from colonies. They are not near flowers and their presence is puzzling.  If picked up and held in the palm they will walk briskly off as if they have somewhere to be. They don't appear sick or damaged in any way. In fact many have the  fuzzy appearance of newly hatched nurse bees - but those are not supposed to leave the colony for at least two weeks after hatch. If lofted into the air, these bees buzz down to the ground. They can not fly. We suspect these bees are from the colonies experiencing "the grunge".

 

 

 

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