Bugfest

By | May 31, 2012

I mentioned last week we saw a Varroa mite in the Rua Tekau hive.
Varroa is a parasitic mite that lives in beehives, and feeds on bee larvae. It can multiply quickly, killing large numbers of larvae, and cause the colony to collapse.

It is so widespread in England that beekeepers perform varroa management, rather than elimination. Throughout the year, beekeepers monitor for varroa levels, and determine a relevant course of action. Unfortunately, Varroa once introduced will always be present. I now understand why New Zealand bee keepers were so zealous about keeping it out, though I understand it is slowly making its way in and around NZ.

Returning to Varroa management,
in our case, we have an open floor hive. The varroa mite crawls on bees backs (as well as living in larvae filled cells). Bees are quite clean creatures, and groom regularly – when they groom, they brush the varroa off, and the mite should fall through the open floor onto the ground, unable to climb back into the hive.

Last week we put in a monitoring board, which collects the falling mites, so we can count and determine the number of mites in the hive. To our, and our experienced tutors surprise, we found this week that we had an infestation ten fold the “colony collapse threat” level. Its not looking good for Rua Tekau due to this massive infestation. There are some methods we can perform to manage the mites, but unfortunately we might be too late.

What we did do is lightly sprinkle a dusting of icing sugar all over the bees. The intention is to force the bees to groom off the icing sugar, and in the process groom off the mites too.
However this doesn’t remove the mites that are in the larvae cells, waiting to emerge..

Another effective method to get rid of a large mite infestation is to move the colony onto entirely new foundation, so there is no infested brood. However there is also the matter of the adult bees having varroa on their backs when we moved them to a new hive..

Another alternative normally performed at the end of Summer, is to install chemical patches, which fumigate the hive. We cant do this now, as we have only just started collecting honey stores, and the chemical patches would taint the honey. This chemical treatment is performed at the end of Summer when the honey harvest is complete, so honey is not tainted.

With a large infestation amongst a large apiary, we are introducing the likelihood that Varroa will transfer over to other nearby colonies.

I fear that Rua Tekau will only survive until the end of the practical course, for the sake of our learning, when the executioners axe will swing…
But then I got stung on the eye lid, so my care factor dropped as fast as I wished that axe to fall.


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