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Vita Bee Health Global Honeybee Health Experts

Blog – bees, beekeeping & other sticky subjects

Small Hive Beetle returns

Thanks to some translating work from the International Bee Research Association (IBRA), we have an update of the latest on the spread of Aethina tumida, the Small Hive Beetle (SHB).

Last autumn we reported on the first appearance of SHB in southern Italy. The last case was found on 23 December 2014 and, since there were no further reports until now, the hope was been that it hadn’t spread. But the latest news is not good.

This week adults and larva were found in an Apiary in Figurelle, a village in San Martino di Taurianova, Calabria. SHB was found in eight of the 32 colonies in the apiary. Last year’s burnings appear not to have been fully effective.

Here, in Italian, is the list of SHB sightings to date and the map (original pdf  from Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie here) is below:

SHB sightings


Don’t forget, Vita’s Beetle Blaster gives early warning of SHB’s arrival.

Wasps beware, ApiShield is here

IMG_8665It’s autumn and here in southern England it’s been quite a year for wasps.

Although we do not think the Asian Hornet (Vespa velutina) has arrived, ApiShield is providing a very useful tool to stop wasps bothering the honeybees.

ApiShield not only lures wasps, but also robber bees. It’s a simple process to dispose of the carcasses on frequent or infrequent apiary visits.

Unwelcome visitors are lured into the sides of ApiShield by the smell of bees and honey, but then cannot escape.

You can find full information about ApiShield here.


Apishield- Ouverture de la trappe










In search of a Drone Congregation Area SatNav


Chalk country

Since the end of June, I’ve been pondering the factors that might describe a Drone Congregation Area (DCA), those mysterious locations where honeybee queens meet up with drones to mate.

Having found eight in my local area, I can only say that I have a good idea of where to look for DCAs in this area of chalk downland and that broadly my findings agree with South African research, rather than British or German.

The Ruttners working in Germany in the 1960s emphasised visual cues in the landscape (flying to maximum light intensity on the horizon and then coming to a visual dead end), while Cooper in Britain in the 1980s focused on rising air currents.  Belatedly I have come across GD Tribe’s work in South Africa in the 1980s in which he identified air turbulence and elevations.

My site findings tend to agree mostly, but not entirely, with those of Tribe in South Africa. A local peak in the landscape, no vertical obstructions and especially the presence of a breeze were the common denominators in my discoveries. Aspect didn’t seem to matter, light intensity didn’t quite match and I couldn’t quite measure rising air currents or identify where they might be.

Where my observations differed from almost everyone was that the drones seemed to prefer a height of about three metres above the ground, not the much greater heights up to 10 metres experienced elsewhere.

Locations of DCAs may be so difficult to define because honeybees may react differently in different topographical environments. Indeed even different types of honeybee may well have different behaviours: researchers have already discovered that Italian drones and Carniolan drones congregate at different heights above the ground .

In any event, in my study area populated by local mongrel bees, I wouldn’t be surprised if drones leave colonies and fly into the wind (to make sure they have fuel to return) until they find a suitable area to assemble. I also get the impression they like to chase queens into the breeze – presumably that makes mounting the queen rather easier (think of cycling as slowly as possible into and with a breeze!)

Next season, I plan to visit areas of different topography and areas where there are more known honeybee colonies. The area in which I have been looking is relatively sparsely populated, so I am intrigued to know if I will get an even greater drone response next year at the peak of the mating season and on the edge of a town where there are known to be quite a few colonies.

If you want to follow the 2015 story from the beginning, here are the links:

1 July 2015 In search of a mate

2 July 2015 Drone Congregation Areas

7 July 2015 Another Drone Congregation Area

20 July 2015 Video of Life in a Drone Congregation Area

28 July 2015 Do drones assemble above prehistoric sites?

3 August 2015 Drone Goal?

10 August 2015 Rediscovering the first recorded Drone Congregation Area

8 September 2015 In search of a Drone Congregation Area SatNav

27 October 2015 Hilltopping



Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger


A tale of two colonies

Two colonies side-by-side in one apiary display rather different brood patterns.

One (left) is healthy with empty cells only where the foundation wiring is, the other (right) has very pepper-pot like brood with some larvae looking suspiciously like foulbrood. It isn’t actually foulbrood, but the result of PMS: Parasitic Mite Syndrome. (Here’s a really good comprehensive look at PMS.) It’s Varroa doing its worst! the one on the left has Varroa too, but is managing much better.

One big difference: the colony on the left was swarm managed back in May and now has a new queen. The one on the right has had the same queen all season and therefore hasn’t had a brood break that might help curb the growth of the Varroa mite population.

Both are now being treated with Apiguard. The one on the right is expected to recover even from its very poorly state which only became evident after the summer flow finished.


Good brood pattern


Pepper-pot brood pattern with some unhealthy larvae.

Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

Rediscovering the first recorded Drone Congregation Area

Turlough, Vita’s Blogger, has gone in search of the first recorded Drone Congregation Area:

The first documented record of a Drone Congregation Area (DCA), where drones assemble in the hope of mating with a honeybee queen, was by the eighteenth century naturalist Gilbert White. He heard a buzzing noise on Selborne Common in Hampshire, England but had no idea what it was:

Humming in the Air

There is a natural occurrence to be met with upon the highest part of our down in hot summer days, which always amuses me much, without giving me any satisfaction with respect to the cause of it; and that is a loud audible humming of bees in the air, though not one insect is to be seen. This sound is to be heard distinctly the whole common through, from the Moneydells, to Mr White’s avenue-gate. Any person would suppose that a large swarm of bees was in motion, & playing about over his head. This noise was heard last week on June 28th.

Gilbert White in A Natural History of Selborne in the late 1700s

Beowulf Cooper says he found it in 1973, but didn’t give a precise location. Phil, a blogger, went in search of it in 2012, but didn’t succeed in locating it.

Yesterday, I went in search of the Selborne DCA and met with success, though not quite as dramatic as Gilbert White’s experience.

Selborne Common is on a 200 metre high Greensand plateau on the edge of chalk country. The best way to reach it is up the beautifully conserved Zig-Zag path first created by Gilbert White and his brother in 1753.

Selborne Common with the Zig-Zag Path on the far right.

Selborne Common with the Zig-Zag Path on the far right.


Looking down the 75 metre high Zig-Zag Path.










Selborne Common today is quite heavily wooded with many beech trees and some small clearings. In White’s day it is likely to have been less wooded and more open mainly because of the many sheep that grazed there.

Armed with my extra-long fishing rod and queen lure, it wasn’t going to be possible to get above the trees to test for the DCA, so I headed for the various clearings in the woodland. The clearings are mostly quite small except for one of about two or three hectares on Sheep Down – and that is almost the highest point of the Common where White says he heard the buzzing.

The clearings on the side showed up nothing, but in a small clearing just before Sheep Down two drones were attracted to the lure.

On Sheep Down the presence of drones was unmistakable with the lure. In fact I was hit on the head a few times by wayward drones, an indignity which I don’t think White suffered.

The Selborne DCA has significant differences to the others I have discovered especially because it is enclosed by trees. But altitude and exposure to the breeze fitted the pattern.

Looking east in Sheep Down clearing on Selborne Common.

Looking east in Sheep Down clearing on Selborne Common.


Looking west in Sheep Down clearing on Selborne Common.

Yesterday, the number of drones attracted to the lure was quite small (not nearly as many as in the image below), but then August is late in the honeybee season and many drones have now been expelled from colonies that are ‘queen-right’ and beginning to prepare for winter after the end of the summer honey flow.

Finally, here is the sound from late yesterday afternoon. What Gilbert White heard in the 18th century was obviously much louder. Perhaps there were more bees back then and no twentieth century intrusive noises. Also, he dates his experience to the end of June when there is likely to be much more drone activity. Next June is already marked in my diary.


For the story of the DCA searches so far:

1 July 2015 In search of a mate

2 July 2015 Drone Congregation Areas

7 July 2015 Another Drone Congregation Area

20 July 2015 Video of Life in a Drone Congregation Area

28 July 2015 Do drones assemble above prehistoric sites?

3 August 2015 Drone Goal?

10 August 2015 Rediscovering the first recorded Drone Congregation Area

8 September 2015 In search of a Drone Congregation Area SatNav

27 October 2015 Hilltopping

Tailpiece: it’s not just a honeybee mating area. This pair landed on my arm:








Vita’s Guest Beekeeper blogger

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