Blog – bees, beekeeping & other sticky subjects
Why do bees make different sounds in different languages?
Here’s a video from www.mentalfloss.com that explains what’s happening — even though it doesn’t talk about bees.
And don’t forget that the core parts of Vita’s website are available in French, Russian, Spanish (see the drop-down menu at the top) and there’s an Italian website too.
Tell us about your beekeeping year
As beekeepers start planning for the forthcoming season and before 2015 slips from the mind, we invite you to send us your completed My Beekeeping Year infographic for 2015.
Send yours to email@example.com
We will publish a selection online and have some excellent bee-related prizes for the best ones.
Turlough, Vita’s Beekeeper Blogger, has supplied his as a prompt, but we are sure there are lots of interesting examples out there!
And if you have forgotten what weather your bees faced, here’s a stunning reminder:
Hiving Apis florea
Besides the dammer bee, India and South Asia has another tiny bee: Apis florea, also known as the dwarf honeybee. Measuring 7-10mm long, it requires only a mini-hive, although unmanaged they nest in the open on tree branches.
The hive pictured on the right dates from the 1950s is like a miniature Apis mellifera hive used in Europe, but it just happens to be constructed with teak. I think it’s even heavier than a cedar Langstroth hive!
The owner of this hive on a coffee estate in Coorg, near Mysore, is hoping to start beekeeping, but has had no luck in attracting a colony yet. A Vita swarm lure may be in order!
Apis florea usually follow the forage and are regular absconders. In that way, they can probably avoid the heaviest of the monsoon rains and probably cleanse themselves of unwanted hive pests and pathogens every now and again.
Apis florea is a very good pollinator and will therefore thrive on the coffee blossom when it appears in a few months’ time.
The hive has obviously seen action on the estate before. A hive stands await with a specially designed trough for water at the base to deter ants.
The dwarf bee has at least one distinct trait to the western honeybee. Its dances to indicate forage locations are not on the vertical comb, but on the horizontal tops and the waggle dance is a straight run in the direction of the forage. I wonder how they cope with man-made framed hives as a result.
Vita’s Guest Beeekeeper Blogger
The smallest honeybee?
I thought India had four types of honeybees, but on a trip last month I discovered a fifth which is so small it is all too easy to overlook, but its honey is highly prized in Indian medicine.
Alongside Apis cerana, Apis dorsata, Apis florea and Apis mellifera (non-native), India has the dammer bee or Melipona irridipennis.
It’s very tiny (3mm long), has no sting and I was shown two nests: one in a house wall and another in an electric fuse box. I had walked past both without noticing them at all.
They can produce up to 700 gm of honey each year, but this small amount can fetch very good prices: about twenty times the price of other honeys because it is favoured in Ayurvedic medicine. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to taste any, but it is said to be not overly pleasant.
The dammer bee has no sting, but it can fend off unwanted intruders with its bite, sometimes mixed with propolis for added irritation.
As well as producing valuable honey, the dammer bee is of course a very good pollinator. Both of the nests I was shown were on coffee plantations in southern India, one in Coorg, Karnataka, and the other at Ecoscape in Tamil Nadu.
Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger
Why hasn’t SHB spread further in Italy?
Small Hive Beetle (SHB), which appeared in Italy in 2014 and in the same area again this year, poses a serious threat to beekeeping, but it seems not to have spread very far in Italy yet. Action by the Italian authorities and a fortunate quirk of the local topgraphy seem to be helping to contain it.
In September we reported on the reappearance of SHB in southern Italy. It was a great disappointment, but there has been relief that it doesn’t yet appear to have spread from the area in which it was originally discovered.
At the Hampshire Beekeepers Autumn Convention last weekend, Nigel Semmence, of the UK Plant and Animal Health Agency, has responsibilities to try to keep out non-native species and revealed why the spread hasn’t happened as well as a very curious characteristic of SHB.
Fortunately, SHB’s first appearance was in a valley surrounded by mountains and the sea in Calabria, Southern Italy. No-one yet knows how or when it arrived, but the mountains may well have provided a barrier to its spread. In addition, the Italian authorities imposed a surveillance zone (even larger than required by regulations). The appearance of SHB on Sicily seems to have been a result of colony movement by a Calabrian beekeeper before the beetle was discovered.
Nigel also revealed some quirky habits of SHB. When attacked by bees, they close their legs and therefore find it difficult to move. At which point, the bees often encase them in propolis. But SHB can generate signals that persuade the bees to feed them! So the bees often leave a little hole in the propolis tomb through which they can feed their enemy! Ah, the wonders of nature!
There is an excellent SHB leaflet from the Animal and Plant Health Agency (not yet online, I think).
If SHB does arrive in Britain, plans are afoot (including the use of nematodes) to try to prevent its spread. There are sentinel apiaries throughout the country at possible entry points.