Strong Bees are Important

We drive about an hour north up the Hamakua Coast and a further mile into eucalyptus forest to reach the hives. The view from up here is spectacular. From the yard, I can see the hazy horizon where deep blue ocean meets lighter, clear blue sky. The sun is hot. I can already feel sweat prickling on my neck as a pull on my bee veil, but more than anything I feel lucky to be right here working the bees today.

Scott informs me these hives have recently been moved to this location because they were struggling with small hive beetles in their last yard. The objective today is to inspect the hives and, if needed, rebuild them so they can get stronger and defend themselves from these pests.

The Small Hive Beetle is a small brown or black beetle about five millimeters in length. The beetle lays larvae inside a beehive. A female small hive beetle can lay 1000 eggs in its lifetime. Both the larvae and adult beetles defecate in honey. This causes the honey to take on a slimy texture and is no longer suitable for bee or human consumption. A large population of small hive beetle may cause a colony to abscond or abandon the hive. A strong hive should be able to deal with a small amount of these beetles. It is almost impossible to completely avoid Small Hive Beetles in the areas they are now present. It is best for us as beekeepers to try to help manage their populations in beehives. Today we will be adding microfiber towels inside the hives. The beetle’s legs get stuck in the fibers, so the towel serves as a trap.

The first hive I open is doing well. I do see some small hive beetles, but there is a strong population of busy buzzing bees. I find three frames of even, compact brood. I spot the Queen on a frame near the brood nest and having done so, replace the frames, add a microfiber towel, and close up the hive.

The second hive I visit, I notice a few bees that are a brighter shade of yellow than the rest; Or what I first thought were bees. As I look closer I realize they are wasps. The honey bees are golden, almost the color of their honey. These wasps are neon yellow in comparison. The bee’s bodies are rounder and fatter than the wasp’s. The bees are covered in hair to help collect pollen. Wasps are not hairy. When a wasp attacks a bee it will rip off it’s head, legs and wings, then it will bring the bee thorax to feed its young. However, a strong hive, with many adult guard bees can defend itself from wasps. This colony is well populated, so I believe they will be able to fight off these wasps.

As I pull off the lid of the third hive I see a huge cockroach at least the size of my open hand! I almost drop the cover in shock. The roach is certainly unsightly to say the least, but it does not pose a real threat to the hive. Just to me!

The next hive I check is empty. There are basically no bees inside. I pull out a frame and see a thick white webbing, like a tangled spider web on the comb. Scott confirms this is evidence of the Wax Moth.

An adult Wax Moth lays eggs in or near a beehive. The larvae tunnel through the combs, not looking for wax, as their name suggests, but eating pollen and bee brood. By doing so the Wax Moth larvae plasters the comb with webbing which can destroy a hive within days. A strong colony will usually be able to remove Wax Moth larvae when they clean the hive, but a weak colony can quickly succumb. Maybe this hive was weakened by the Small Hive Beetle and became vulnerable to the Wax Moth. Scott shows me how to clean the frames by tearing out the damaged comb. Together we rebuild this hive adding frames of brood and honey from the stronger colonies in this yard.

After we finish inspecting all of the hives I start to appreciate how strong and resilient bees are. I admire their natural ability to fend off these pests in most circumstances. I feel humbled watching them fight to survive.

Come back next week when I’ll discuss some of the underlying causes of weak hives.

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