Vita Bee Health Global Honeybee Health Experts

Blog – bees, beekeeping & other sticky subjects

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

Rwandan winner of Vita’s photo competition

The winner of Vita Bee Health’s annual photo competition is Vincent Hakizimana, who comes from Rwanda, so we were especially keen to find out more about his beekeeping and thrilled at what we learned…

In his winning photo, Vincent Hakizimana is seen holding a small swarm of honey bees – that’s how he demonstrates to young people how gentle Apis mellifera scutellata can be when well managed ­– that will come as a surprise to many in temperate climates who link scutellata with a highly defensive nature and with the so-called killer bee of the Americas when they crossed with other bees in Brazil.

Vincent, now 48, is a very experienced beekeeper, having begun the craft aged eight. He has even earned the name Kayuki, meaning Little Bee. With a degree from the National University of Rwanda, he now manages an apiary of 86 hives at the 200-hectare Arboretum Ruhande, which is linked to the university and renowned for its wildlife, seed gene bank and one third of a million trees of 178 different species.

Vincent is also field coordinator supporting research that involves students from University of Rwanda, University of Virginia in the USA, Trinity College in Dublin in Ireland, and from the Netherlands.

Keen to encourage beekeeping among young people, Vincent is involved in a programme that makes special efforts to include girls and overcome taboos and expectations that beekeeping is a man’s occupation. His message focuses on the importance of bee pollination for daily food, biodiversity and fighting poverty.

Beyond the university and arboretum, Vincent trains Rwandan beekeepers in modern techniques and helps establishing beekeeper cooperatives and facilitating their members in attending trade fairs in Uganda, Zambia, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and Rwanda.

The Ubwiza bwa Beekeepers’ Union, an umbrella of 15 beekeeping co-operatives around Nyungwe National Park, and the 722 members in South Western Province-Rwanda have gone on to win top producer prizes at ApiExpoAfrica 2016 and improve the lives of communities in their areas. The beekeepers, now much more aware of the importance of their environment, assist in its conservation. The Nyungwe National Park community is now committed to biodiversity conservation and helkps prevent illegal activities such as wild bush fires, tree cutting, snaring, poaching, mining and agriculture encroachment.

Sebastian Owen, commercial director at Vita, says, “Vincent’s competition entry fascinated all members of the judging panel to such an extent that we thought we really must find out more about him. That has proved to be very rewarding, and we plan to keep in touch with Vincent to discover how his enterprising activities in Rwanda are progressing.”

Interview with a varroa mite

The varroa mite (Varroa destructor) is one of the greatest threats to honey bees and has caused colony losses across almost the entire world. Small and secretive, it hides on bees and in brood cells, mostly out of sight of the beekeeper. To control the mite, miticides have been used since the earliest days of its discovery, but the mite fights back.

Gabrielle Almecija of APINOV (Vita’s partner in France) and IRBI, University of Tours, France asked a varroa mite how they do it.
Here are the mite’s answers in an article from BeeCraft magazine.


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