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John the BeeMan's Blog - November 2014 - Health check & Microscopy

Apiary Up-Date

Surprise, Surprise, hive 5 is no longer queenless, it is often best to leave well alone!   Colonies have their own magical ways that keep us guessing.   It was at least 6 weeks ago since I first noticed the lack of brood.   I saw the new queen on 7th October and she had packed eggs into all available space left over between the winter stores.   This was after a kind member had given me a small queen right nucleus in response to my last Blog.

This fine warm weather has certainly helped the colonies continue breeding and building up the supply of young bees to last until the end of March next year.   There is still some pollen coming in.


Health Check

I was asked to check a members bees last week and 1 colony was weak and had dead bees showing in their cells with their proboscis extended?   This can be an indication that AFB is present.   However, there were also dead larva and some deformed wing workers.   I was not too sure about this, so phoned Julian Parker, our Regional Bee Inspector.   He said that if it was AFB, the pupae would be melted down and be sticky/stringy when being removed.   He was certain that it was 'parasitic mite syndrome' which is caused by excessive varroa levels, leaving the colony on the verge of collapse.   As varroa treatment had been done and there was plenty of new healthy brood, we left it for the winter and hope that the warm weather will help the build up.

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Microscopy

I’m the keeper of the association’s Dissecting and Compound microscopes.

The Dissecting microscope magnifies 10 and 30 times and is used to dissect insects and small animals.   It is also fascinating to examine insects generally, viewing their brilliant colours and intricate shapes, right down to the minute hairs on a bee’s eyes or on the back of a varroa mite.   I have a collection of many different insects that provide wonderful entertainment when seen magnified.

A beekeeper uses it to learn about the bee’s anatomy and checking it’s trachea for acarine mites.

Healthy trachea
Healthy trachea

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The Compound microscope can magnify between 40 and 400 times (some even go to 1000 times).   This is much more complicated as the object has to be prepared and set on a glass slide so that light can be shone through it.

Compound microscope with torch lighting
Juice from abdomens smeared onto glass slide
Compound microscope with torch lighting
Juice from abdomens smeared onto glass slide

A beekeeper uses it to see anatomical parts of a bee in much more detail.   The most usual use is to check for ‘nosema’ which is a very small fungal microbe that lives in a bee’s gut and can weaken the bee and cause dysentery.   Some very keen people use this microscope to examine pollen grains.

Abdomens ready in mortar to be ground up
Oval nosema spores
Abdomens ready in mortar to be ground up
Oval nosema spores

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My Limited usage:

I attended a two day course on microscopy which covered the general uses for a beekeeper.

Since then I have used the compound one and built up a collection of pollen samples from the usual forage plants and trees and occasionally looked at pollen that the bees are bringing onto the hive.   Pollen is very difficult to identify.   I have checked samples of bee’s guts for nosema and I am now confident of my ability to do this.

I find the dissecting microscope much more interesting for general use and have often shown my grandchildren the magic of insects.   I know how to dissect a bee, but do not have much experience.   The main use for a beekeeper is the checking of the trachea for acarine mites.   These now tend to be eliminated by the treatments we use for varroa and, consequently I have never found acarine in any of the samples I have examined.


November

I am expecting a quiet month to come, but who knows?   We have a lecture on the 'Barrier Management System' by Julian Parker.   New to me, so should be interesting.   There is a good explanation of it on our programme.

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