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Blog – bees, beekeeping & other sticky subjects

Sebastian visits Taiwan

Postponed for three years because the pandemic, Sebastian Owen of Vita Bee Health visits Taiwan to better understand beekeeping in the country. Here’s a short video of his trip. How many differences can you spot? Moving hives two at a time is a nice trick.

Do bees learn waggle dancing from other bees?

In a new video from Inside the Hive TV and sponsored by Vita Bee Health, Humberto Cristiani discovers new research about the honeybee waggle dance. In a cunning research design, it’s been discovered that bees do in fact learn how to dance accuately from other bees. He also discusses the effects that pesticides can have.

First DCA of the season

Vita Bee Health’s blogger is back on the DCA hunt. Here’s one near Vita’s offices in Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK.

Drones often get a bad rap. Varroa mites prefer their cells to breed in, they gather no honey, they use up hive resources … but, surprise surprise, without them there would be no more colonies. And, left to their own devices, free-living colonies will produce lots more drones than a managed colony, which is provided with worker foundation.

Although it’s known that many colonies in this area suffered badly (and died) in the winter, there are still plenty of drones around and they came out to do their patrol duty in a nearby drone congregation area (DCA).

A drone’s working day is short. At 16:41, drones were seen returning to one colony quite nearby at the rate of two every five seconds – obviously their day’s work was done.

What’s in a name? Honey Field and Wax Hanger

Just a few miles from Vita offices is the church of the father of English beekeeping, Rev Charles Butler. This year is the 400th anniversary of the publishing of the influential and landmark second edition of The Feminine Monarchie, so we’ve been doing a little research.

Rev Charles Butler’s church is in Wootton St Lawrence in Hampshire and, as in most places in England, the fields around his church have names. Many are mundane – The Four Acres, Three Acres, Church Yard Piece ­– but two have resonance – Honey Field and Wax Hanger. Could they have been named by Butler or during his time at Wootton?

Rev Charles Butler’s church in Wootton St Lawrence, Hampshire, England

The earliest reference we have found for the names so far is on the tithe map of 1840. (Tithe maps were created when payments for land were measured in cash rather than goods.) The two fields have since been merged but have retained the name Wax Hanger, an unusual name in any context. Hanger in Hampshire is a common name for a steeply wooded slope, but the one behind the church is just a gentle southeast-facing side of a shallow dry valley in the Hampshire chalk downland.

Looking across Honey Field to Wax Hanger on the western side

Honey Field is a relatively common name found in many parts of the country, but it is all too easy to jump to a honey bee connection. True, Honey Field can mean a place where bees are kept or where a rich nectar source grows. It’s certainly the latter this year as it is planted with oilseed rape. But it mightn’t have anything to do with nectar at all. Honey Field is sometimes an ironic name for a muddy, gloopy field. I asked the local shepherd about the field. Oh yes, it can be sticky, he said. The chalk there is covered by a clay cap and, when it gets wet, walking in it can be a boot-sucking experience.

Could Wax Hanger then be another ironic naming, suggesting that it’s the drier field? That would be such an anti-climax and we don’t want to believe that just yet! Surely the Butler connection must be implicated? Investigations continue.

There’s even a Mead Cottage Field nearby that seemed quite exciting. But that’s a definite disappointment. The use of the word mead in this context is almost certainly an abbreviation for meadow.

In August there will be special quadecentenary celebrations at the church: charles-butler400.co.uk

Foulbrood kits identify the disease and help analysis of foulbrood strains

Vita Bee Health’s foulbrood diagnostic test kits are routinely used by Britain’s National Bee Unit (NBU) to give fast results in the apiary when European or American foulbrood are suspected. And their usefulness doesn’t stop there.

Positive samples are then sent to the laboratories of the British government agency Fera Science Ltd where they are further analysed to see what strains of the disease are present. The results often show quite distinct geographical distribution of specific strains.

From 4,706 European foulbrood (EFB) samples taken over nine years, 30 EFB strains have been identified in Britain (a total of 45 when other countries are included). Sixteen strains are so frequent that they are subject to intense analysis. Their distribution often shows clustering and may point to how the disease spreads. The evidence suggests that one strain in particular will quickly spread around an apiary.

All this data can help to point towards more effect treatment and management strategies.

Hiveside testing with EFB diagnostic kit — immediate results
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