Vita Bee Health Global Honeybee Health Experts

Blog – bees, beekeeping & other sticky subjects

Those invading hornets

The media and others have been having a difficult time talking about hornets and showing the correct photo ID. It’s not that surprising because they are new insects come from other lands – and picture editors seldom sit beside the reporters. Here’s a quick referesher on some of the hornets.

Vespa crabro aka European hornet

Native across much of Europe and introduced to North America in about 1840, Vespa crabro is Europe’s largest native hornet. It is very distinctive because of its size and flash of yellow as it passes but it’s not seen very often (in Britain). It occasionally takes a bee or two but hardly ever poses a serious threat to honey bee colonies. (In contrast the common wasp [the yellow jacket in North America], Vespula spp., is much smaller, more numerous and sometimes attacks and destroy weak honey bee colonies.)

Vespa crabro workers c25mm long

Vespa crabro (courtesy AfroBrazilian)

Vespa velutina aka Asian hornet, yellow-legged hornet

Velutina is the hornet that arrived in pottery near Bordeaux in 2004 and has since spread at an alarming speed throughout France, around the north of Spain into coastal Portugal, into Italy, Germany and now seems to have been able to become established in the southern Netherlands. The tale of the fight back by the residents of the Channel Island of Jersey has become something of a legend on Facebook.

Velutina is now well established in parts of north-west Europe and eradication is deemed impossible, though many attempt to stop its spread into new territories.

Vespa velutina, up to 25mm in length (courtesy NBU)

Vespa mandarinia aka giant Asian hornet, murder hornet

Mandarinia is the one that the American media has delighted in dubbing the murder hornet – and British picture editors have been googling Asian hornet and, thinking they’ve found it, published an incorrect photo. It goes under various other names including the northern giant hornet and the Asian giant hornet. Whatever its name, it does look scary, as do its nest removers.

Vespa mandarinia nest removers, courtesy Washington State Dept of Agriculture

Vespa mandarinia is native to south and east Asia and was seen in the USA’s Pacific North West in 2019 and then in and Canada’s British Columbia. Nests were found and destroyed in 2021, but in 2022 there were no confirmed sightings and optimistic hopes that it may have been eradicated.

Vespa orientalis aka the Oriental hornet

Native to south-west Asia, Vespa orientalis has been spreading across Italy and was seen in Marseilles, France, in 2021 and Barcelona, Spain in 2022. On Malta, where it is now regarded as native, reports say it wiped out 70% of the island’s honey bee colonies. Vespa orientalis feeds on adult honey bees and larvae and plunders nests.

Vespa orientalis 25-35mm long

A confused and confusing swarm

Vita Bee Health’s guest blogger writes:

This afternoon, I cycled around my apiaries on the downland of north Hampshire, England, checking to see if the harvest was ready to be brought in. As usual, on my way back, I detoured slightly to visit a a wild colony that I have been watching for two years now. (I think the original colony may have died during the winter and a swarm reoccupied the nest this spring.) Instead of the usual to-ing and fro-ing, I was greeted by this heart-warming sight at almost exactly 4pm (very late in the day for swarming in these parts):

Needless to say, I stopped to watch what was happening. Bees were pouring out of the nest in the beech tree but few were taking to the air. They just gathered around their entrance — in a very loving heart shape. I watched for 45 minutes as they continued to gather — quite thickly, as they were buffeted by the strong breeze:

Then at last they took off, leaving the entrance almost free of bees. But not for long. They circled for about ten minutes. I watched to see where they might hang up — half wondering if it would be on my bike at the foot of the tree:

But they never did hang up and, instead, after about ten minutes, returned to the entrance — although some went to a false door (lower right).

I’ll try to make time to visit tomorrow to see if they make a second attempt to swarm. My best guess is that the queen could not or did not want to leave.

Causes of high Canadian winter losses

Winter honey bee colony losses in Canada have been enormous, much higher than normal even for a country with such cold winters. Losses of 50% have been reported by some beekeepers in the key beekeeping province of Alberta and up to 90% in Manitoba. Last winter was one of the harshest winters of recent years, especially in the Prairie provinces, but there were other underlying causes.

Canada’s Prairie Provinces beekeepers hit hard

We have been asking our contacts in Canada what they think the causes might be and they suggest several possibilities but point to the varroa mite as being high on the list of suspects.

Mites have developed tolerance to amitraz-based treatments, so beekeepers would do well to pay even more attention to integrated pest management (IPM) principles, monitoring mite drops and using a rotation of different products to gain better control of mite populations.

There were reports in spring 2021 of high mite loads, even after spring treatments, and it becomes increasingly difficult to treat for mites during the honey flow. So, colonies were already damaged by mites going into the fall of 2021. Those who treated for varroa in the fall using formic and/or oxalic acid were often successful in saving their bees.

The summer of 2021 in Canada was very hot and dry. Honey crops were down by 25-60%. That also meant there was a lack of pollen sources for developing winter bees. Pollen supplements, such as Vita feeds could have helped the development of healthy winter bees. Those who did feed supplements appear to have been more successful. 

There was also something of an illusion of strong colonies going into winter. Some strong colonies probably had high proportions of summer bees but few winter bees, thereby giving the impression that colonies were strong. They weren’t. Colonies like this are likely to keep their populations until mid-March in the following spring and then they perish.

Anecdotal reports also suggest that nosema may have been a factor. One beekeeper who had lost 60% of his colonies, recalled that his colonies had several million nosema spores when he tested them last July. He hadn’t used Fumagilin-B (now available in Canada) but he says he will now.


Vita’s Blogger writes:

Storm Eunice wrecked this colony’s unusual and partially underground home, but they are now rehoused and looking remarkably strong after their ordeal. All they need now is a boost from VitaFeed.

First inspection of the colony after being reported by startled chain-saw operators removing the storm-damaged tree.
At first it looked like a small colony, recently moved in, as indicated by the new comb.
But as the nest was excavated, its size became clear. And there were many more bees than expected.
There was just a little brood as it was so early in the year but still some stores, so the best comb was rescued and cut to size for fixing in the frames.
The bees were clinging to much of the broken wood, so that became a temporary part of their home. It was much too cold to try to disturb them. They were remarkably well behaved.
The bees and the best comb ready for a move to a new home. To the left is the large cavity, some of it below ground, that the bees had been occupying.
Rehoming a colony after Storm Eunice wrecks their home.
A new home, beneath another tree. The following day was warmer, the scraps of wood vould be removed and the bees had started investigating and foraging in their new territory.

New research demonstrates value of protein-rich feeds

Giving honey bees protein-rich feeds can produce large colonies, heavier bees and improve pollination efficiency, says new research focusing on colonies being prepared for Californian almond pollination. Amino acid content was deemed to be especially important in promoting stronger, more productive and healthier colonies.

Realising the growing importance being attached to pollen-rich feeds by such independent research, Vita Bee Health has been developing bee diet supplements suitable for feeding during almost any season. The increasingly popular supplements are GM-free and have been rigorously tested in real-world situations.

VitaFeed Patty is especially suited to autumn and spring feeding when it promotes sustainable and controlled colony growth. It is protein-rich and boosts honey bee health, enlarges brood area and increases honey production. Scientifically formulated, it is rich in vitamins, nucleotides and amino acids – the last of which has been shown to be so important in the recent Californian research. See table below to see where VitaFeed Patty rates in feeds.

VitaFeed Patty has a guaranteed minimum of crude protein of 16.3%, but is actually formulated to have a much higher content of at least 19%. It tops the table of similar products available in the USA.

As shown in the table below VitaFeed Patty has an EAAs balance similar to Global and Homebrew, but has the added advantage of not containing pollen which might carry bacterial disease.

As the latest research paper concludes: “dietary essential amino acid deficiencies relative to leucine were strongly correlated with colony size and average bee weight. This suggests that optimization of EAAs balance could improve protein synthesis by maximizing leucine utilization.”

DEGROOT %4.531.5311.54342.5 
DEGROOT %/%LYS1.000.670.330.670.220.330.890.670.890.56Total protein :
VITAFEED PATTY1.351.040.30.880.240.390.880.841.050.7919
% AAE / total protein7.115.471.584.631.262.054.634.425.534.16 
VITAFEED PATTY %/%LYS1.000.770.220.650.180.290.650.620.780.59Sum of EAAs deficiencies relative to Leucine

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