Items of interest to beekeepers 9 December 2017

Supplied by Fran Bach Editor of both WAS and Washington State Beekeepers newsletters








RURAL CRIME INNOVATION CHALLENGE WINNERS HELP KEEP THINGS WHERE THEY BELONG Saskatchewan beekeeper and technology innovator Jeff Shirley is named the winner of the Canadian province’s first Rural Crime Innovation Challenge. The challenge is focused on addressing rural crime in Saskatchewan. Shirley, owner and principal consultant of Rivercity Technology Services Ltd., will work on a project to develop prototypes to improve the safety and security of rural citizens and property. The device has it origins back when bears began raiding his 200-hive apiary and he set out to solve the problem with a software solution.  “I built an app for helping track assets in the bee yard – the bees themselves and the boxes,” he tells the Regina Leader-Post newspaper. Then Shirley teamed up with William Topping, a hardware engineer with Brand X Technologies, to design a motion-sensing device that farmers can attach to their property. “It’s a small little box that uses a combination of modern cellphone technology, accelerometers, GPS, a few other cool gadgets inside,” Shirley said. If its is moved in anyway, it sends a text to the farmer. Farmers can view the location of the disturbance on Google maps. The GPS lets them track the movement of their property in real time. “It is waterproof, and it works in Saskatchewan weather,” Shirley said. If the prototype meets the needs identified by the Ministry of Justice, it will be deployed in a pilot project, refined as necessary and eventually commercialized. Innovation Minister Steven Bonk says the Rural Crime Innovation Challenge is a new approach to helping Saskatchewan address crime. “The response to this program by tech companies and researchers speaks to the opportunity that exists to use technology to help solve everyday challenges in our province,” he says. Winning the challenge means a C$10,000 (US$7.880) grant to work on the prototype. And Shirley and Topping will participate in a 16-week residency program with the Ministry of Justice. The goal is for rural residents to be able to use the device to log the events in an application that would immediately alert law enforcement officers. The GPS would make the device, which can be placed on property, trackable on mobile devices. “If it’s two in the morning, and your combine is going on a drive all by itself, you would flag that as suspicious,” Shirley said. A software component will help police aggregate and analyze data about rural crime, based on the activity the boxes pick up. “They will have the ability to monitor specific events and react accordingly and live-map them,” Shirley said.  “We are excited to see the technology sector’s involvement in addressing crime in rural Saskatchewan,” Justice Minister Attorney General Don Morgan said. “This will help us find creative solutions to make Saskatchewan a safer place to live and raise a family.” —– DISCOVERY OPENS POSSIBILITY OF DESIGNING NEW CHEMICALS THAT TARGET SODIUM CHANNELS OF PESTS BUT SPARE BEES Researchers at Michigan State University’s entomology department have unlocked a key to maintain an insecticide’s effectiveness in eliminating pests without killing beneficial bugs, such as bees. The study, featured in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that molecular tweaks can make the difference. Pyrethroids target the voltage-gated sodium channel, a protein found in nerve and muscle cells used for rapid electrical signaling. Pyrethroids basically work by binding to the voltage gate of the sodium channel and prevent it from closing. The nervous system becomes over-stimulated and the insect is killed. These pesticides, however, don’t have the same effect on humans, or other mammals for that matter. Ke Dong, MSU insect toxicologist and neurobiologist and co-author of the paper, honed in on a single protein that could afford bumble bees the same resistance as humans — tau-fluvalinate, a pyrethroid insecticide. Dong worked with Shaoying Wu, lead author from Henan Agricultural University (China), who conducted the research in Dong’s lab as a visiting scholar. “For the first time we are showing that unique structural features in bee sodium channels interfere with the binding of tau-fluvalinate to bumble bee sodium channels,” said Dong. “This opens the possibility of designing new chemicals that target sodium channels of pests but spare bees.” Sodium channels are large transmembrane proteins of more than 2,000 amino acid residues. Dong’s lab spent many years unraveling this groundbreaking advance. The scientists initially started with sodium channels from other bugs, such as mosquitoes, fruit flies, cockroaches, mites and ticks, to find where pyrethroids bind on insect sodium channels to effectively kill them. They got some help from nature. “By examining wild mosquitoes that have become resistant to pyrethroids, we were able to help narrow down the potential sites on which to focus,” Dong said. Specifically, in a previous study, Dong and the team identified mutations that made the channels more resistant to pyrethroids. Working with Boris Zhorov, a computer modeling expert from McMaster University in Canada, they identified two distinct pyrethroid binding sites on insect sodium channels. They also uncovered the molecular differences between mammals’ and insects’ differing reactions to pyrethroids. For the current study, the team focused on a longstanding enigma that bumble bees and honey bees are highly sensitive to most pyrethroids, but they were resistant to tau-fluvalinate. Currently, tau-fluvalinate is widely used to control agricultural pests and also varroa mites, which are one of the biggest threats to bees worldwide. Eventually, the team discovered that the channel is resistant to tau-fluvalinate but sensitive to other pyrethroids. Further mutational analysis and computer modeling revealed that specific amino acid residues in bumble bee sodium channels are responsible for the selective toxicity. Future research will examine sodium channels from various pest and beneficial insects to explore the features of pyrethroid binding sites, which could lay the groundwork for designing new and selective pesticides. It also will shed light on how pests develop resistance to insecticides over time and how beneficial insects respond to them in the field. Journal Reference: Shaoying Wu, Yoshiko Nomura, Yuzhe Du, Boris S. Zhorov, Ke Dong. Molecular basis of selective resistance of the bumblebee BiNav1 sodium channel to tau-fluvalinate. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2017; 201711699 DOI: 1073/pnas.1711699114 —– An interesting blog concerning the information available using a digital hive scale – HIVE WEIGHT & HONEY PRODUCTION By The Beekeeper / August 18, 2017 I have written before regarding the use of technology in the apiary. A little over a year ago, was the first honey producer in North Carolina to incorporate Patrick O’Keefe’s WiFiHiveScale. This combined with thermal imaging, gave me greater insight into the workings of one particular hive during the winter and early spring. The hive is ruled by Queen Regina Margherita (We call her Marge, but not to her face). Queen Marge and her subjects survived a mild winter on our mountaintop. By March 20 and midway into a red maple bloom, the hive weighed 45.82 lbs. Its weight steadily rose throughout April as the spring wildflowers began to bloom. Then there was an explosive bloom of a specific floral source nearby. I thought the dramatic increase in hive weight was due to tulip poplar, but the bees were coming in with a greenish yellow and raison brown pollen. I had never seen this pollen before. Furthermore, the open cells of nectar were very light colored. Tulip poplar is a dark, mineral rich honey. Nonetheless, the bees were rocking a particular pollen/nectar source in the Pisgah Forest. By mid July, Marge’s hive weighed 127.3 lbs. let me do the math for you – that’s an increase of 81.5 lbs. A bee lives only six weeks in the summer. The last two weeks of her life is dedicated to foraging. She only produces ½ of a teaspoon of honey during this short period. Queen Marge’s subjects produced eight gallons of honey in four months. The scientific expression for the number of honey making insects to accomplish this feat is called, “A Shitload of Bees.” I, along with a visiting Albanian bee keeper (a future blog) harvested three supers of spring honey off of Marge’s hive. It was July 15, the peak of the sourwood flow. I placed an empty medium super on her hive July 1st. It was ⅔ full with pure sourwood by mid July. Its weight after the harvest was 95.8 lbs. By the end of July, they had filled it with 21 more pounds of sourwood. I did not immediately harvest the honey. I wanted to see how many pounds of honey the bees would consume during the dearth of summer. Within 20 days they had consumed ten pounds of honey. Yesterday, on August 17, I lifted the last, 40 lb. honey super off the hive. The WiFiHive Scale has been a tremendous learning tool. Last fall I was able to equate the health of the hive by watching its daytime vs. nighttime weight (1.5 lbs. of bees). During the summer, I could quantify the two honey flows. —– From the Pollinator Stewardship Council – COURT HOLDS EPA APPROVALS VIOLATED THE LAW Center for Food Safety—A Federal Court has ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) systematically violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) – a key wildlife protection law – when it approved bee-killing insecticides known as neonicotinoids. In a case ongoing for the last four years, brought by beekeepers, wildlife conservation groups, and food safety and consumer advocates, Judge Maxine Chesney of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California held that EPA had unlawfully issued 59 pesticide registrations between 2007 and 2012 for a wide variety of agricultural, landscaping and ornamental uses. “This is a vital victory,” said George Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety legal director. “Science shows these toxic pesticides harm bees, endangered species and the broader environment. More than fifty years ago, Rachel Carson warned us to avoid such toxic chemicals, and the court’s ruling may bring us one step closer to preventing another Silent Spring.” Seeds coated with bee-killing neonicotinoid insecticides are now used on more than 150 million acres of U.S. corn, soybeans, cotton and other crops – totaling an area bigger than the state of California and Florida combined – the largest use of any insecticides in the country by far. Additional proceedings have been ordered to determine the correct remedy for EPA’s legal violations, which may lead to cancelling the 59 pesticide products and registrations, including many seed coating insecticides approved for scores of different crop uses. The court’s ruling went against other claims in the lawsuit based on the plaintiffs’ 2012 petition and their procedural argument that EPA had not published several required Federal Register Notices. The beekeepers and others plaintiffs were relying on a petition filed in March of 2012, at which time the scientific evidence of the harm to bees, other critical species and the broader environment was far less developed. The original petition however is still lodged with EPA, and as such, its resolution is not yet fully decided. “Vast amounts of scientific literature show the hazards these chemicals pose are far worse than we knew five years ago – and it was bad even then,” said CFS attorney Peter Jenkins. “The nation’s beekeepers continue to suffer unacceptable mortality of 40 percent annually and higher. Water contamination by these insecticides is virtually out of control. Wild pollinators and wetland-dependent birds are in danger. EPA must act to protect bees and the environment.” The case is Ellis v. Housenger. The plaintiffs in the case are beekeepers Steve Ellis, Tom Theobald, Jim Doan, and Bill Rhodes; Center for Food Safety (CFS); Beyond Pesticides; Sierra Club; and Center for Environmental Health. They are represented by CFS’s legal team.  Beekeepers, Steve Ellis and Bill Rhodes, are Board members of the Pollinator Stewardship Council. —– CALIFORNIA ALMOND GROWER TRENDS and POLLINATION NEEDS FOR 2018 The 2017 almond crop was very good. Almond prices have dropped to around $2.50/lb – down from close to $4/lb 2 years ago, but still profitable ($2/lb is considered the break-even price).  Water issues continue to plague almond growers. New restrictions on ground-water pumping will cause problems for many growers unless we have another wet winter. Growers that don’t have a secure future supply of surface and/or ground-water are considering getting out of farming,  esp.  growers on the west-side of the San Joaquin Valley where the availability of surface water is unreliable and ground-water is degraded by salts. 2018 Bee Supply – There appear to be ample bee colonies available for 2018 almond pollination at this time. However, like every year, the true supply picture won’t come into focus until mid-January, after winter losses are determined. Wildfires in Southern CA have claimed some colonies. There has been a shortage of strong bee colonies for almonds every year, and 2018 will be no different. Please advise your clients promptly if it looks like you will come up short, so that they have ample time to secure replacement colonies.  Some growers were offered 10-frame bee colonies for $185/colony last year. Some seem to have been satisfied; some were not. —– DECEMBER THROUGH FEBRUARY WEATHER OUTLOOK ‘HEAVILY INFLUENCED’ BY LA NINA The National Weather Service’s (NWS) forecast for December through February signals a typical La Nina winter is ahead. The forecast calls for below-normal temps across the Pacific Northwest into the Northern Plains, while above-normal temps are expected across the South. Additionally, above-normal precip is expected across the northern tier of states, including eastern Iowa into the eastern Corn Belt, while below-normal precip is expected across the South. The NWS’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) says the December through February outlook is “heavily influenced by ongoing La Nina conditions that are forecast to continue through late winter.” It says the highest probability of above-normal temps is in the Southwest and Texas, while above-normal precip for the northern tier of states and below-normal precip for the southern tier of states is consistent with La Nina. “This footprint slowly decreases entering the core spring months before long-term trends become dominant during the warm season,” it states. —– From Dr. Christine Grazinger at POLLINATOR-L – BEE RESEARCH JOBS 1. PhD student position in Clare Rittschof’s lab at University of Kentucky – Starting in the Fall 2018 semester, the student will work on a collaborative, funded project studying the impacts of crop weed management practices on wild bee communities and honey bee colony health. Students interested in landscape or nutritional ecology, pollinator health or behavior, or sustainable agriculture are particularly encouraged to apply. Experience identifying wild bees is especially valuable but not required to be successful. Students interested in this position should contact Clare Rittschof ( Please be prepared to provide a one-page document that describes your research interests, specifically how your past experiences and coursework have shaped these interests and your motivation to earn a PhD. 2. Wild Bee Behavior and Community Ecology Postdocs (2 positions), Rehan Lab, university of New Hampshire – Behavioral Ecology Postdoc – This postdoc will examine nutritional ecology of wild bees to determine pollen preference and nutritional requirements of native pollinators. There is increasing evidence that bee health is mediated not only by the quantity, but also quality of food provided during development. This researcher will conduct field and lab experiments to determine optimal diets for bee nutrition and pollinator health. We are also interested in the effects of maternally provisioned diet and mother-offspring interactions on social behavior. We encourage the postdoc to develop research projects on the social evolution and behavioral ecology of wild bees.   The successful candidate will have a PhD in a relevant area, and a strong background in behavioral ecology and evolution. Analytical and writing skills will need to be demonstrated with a history of first authored publications. Community Ecology and Taxonomy Postdoc – This postdoc will develop taxonomic reference material and field guides for the wild bees of eastern North America. UNH is home of the Insect Collection of over 700,000 insect specimens and 20,000+ bees. We have databased this material and are actively working to develop status assessments of wild bees in the northeast as well as understanding habitat requirements and floral hosts using a mix of historic reference data and ongoing field surveillance. This researcher will help manage a field crew, analyze complex ecological data, write manuscripts and field guides, and engage in public outreach and educate events across New England. The successful candidate will have a PhD in a relevant area, and a strong background in community ecology and bee taxonomy. Analytical and writing skills will need to be demonstrated and a background in GIS is highly desirable for this project. If interested, please send a CV, names of three references, and a short statement of interests to Sandra Rehan by December 20, 2017. Postdoctoral Fellowship positions are available for one year and renewable up to three years with successful progress and performance. 3. PostDoc position: Proximate and ultimate mechanisms of social niche choice and construction in the ant Pogonomyrmex californicus I invite applications for a PostDoc position to study the behavioural, physiological, genetic and epigenetic basis and evolution of a social polymorphism in the ant Pogonomyrmex californicus in the research group of Jürgen Gadau. The position is available for four years at the Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity at the University of Münster in Germany. It is part of the recently funded collaborative research centre (SFB/TRR 212) entitled: A Novel Synthesis of Individualisation across Behaviour, Ecology and Evolution: Niche Choice, Niche Conformance, Niche Construction (NC3), as granted by the German Research Foundation (DFG). The start date is from February 1st 2018 or soon thereafter. Qualifications: I search for a highly motivated Postdoc of any nationality in evolutionary or sociogenomics or evolutionary ecology. A background in any of the following subjects will be useful: previous experience with social insects, good molecular skills, experience with bioinformatics or genomic/transcriptomic data. Applicants should have excellent communication skills and be able to both work independently and as part of a multidisciplinary team. The working language of the institute and the lab is English and good proficiency in spoken and written English is a requirement. Please send your application in one single PDF file to Prof. Dr. Jürgen Gadau ( Included should be 1) a cover letter with a statement of your research interests and motivation (2-3 pages), 2) your CV including details of your research experience and 3) contact details of at least two referees. Applications should be written in English and the deadline is the 14th of January 2018. 4. I am recruiting highly motivated and independent graduate students with strong quantitative skills to join my lab. The position/s will begin with fieldwork in the summer of 2018, before progressing to graduate classes at CSU in the fall. Research projects are broadly structured to understand phytochemical bases of honeybee health and related aspects. Knowledge of beekeeping is not required but is a plus. Successful candidates are expected be comfortable working with honey bees, performing regular hive maintenance, conducting behavioral and chemical assays in the lab, interacting with stake holders and extension personnel. A combination of research and teaching assistantships are available. Interested candidates are encouraged to send questions or a preliminary application (CV, statement of interest, GRE scores, contact information for three references) to Arathi Seshadri, Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, Colorado State University, at  Candidates should apply to the graduate program at the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, College of Agriculture, ( before March 1 2018. Candidates can also apply through the Graduate Degree Program in Ecology ( by Jan 1 2018. —– WHY ARE MORE NORTH AMERICAN BEEKEEPERS OVERWINTERING THEIR BEES IN COLD STORAGE? By Phoebe Koenig More and more US beekeepers are starting to place their bees in sheds for the fall, for indoor wintering. While beekeepers in Canada have done this for decades, the popularity of the practice in the US is more recent. Beekeepers began by using structures already built for onion and potato storage in Idaho to house their bees in the fall. These beekeepers then remove the bees in January, and bring them to California for almond tree pollination. Many beekeepers are still using old potato and onion sheds in Idaho, but as the popularity of this practice has increased, some beekeepers have built sheds just for the purpose of overwintering bees. These sheds are far from the dirt floor, onion and potato sheds of Idaho. They are clean, new structures with air filtration and ventilation systems, vacuums, Carbon Dioxide and Oxygen monitors, temperature monitors, and cooling systems. Why are more beekeepers choosing to use cold storage and winter their bees indoors? I surveyed beekeepers on the Midwest Tech-Transfer Team, asking them why they put their bees in sheds. While the most candid beekeepers admitted they want a vacation for themselves after a long, hard year (they can take some time off instead of working to keep their bees fed and healthy in California), all the beekeepers storing bees in sheds believe the practice is good for the health of their bees. Here are some of the reasons beekeepers gave: 1.    Bees in sheds are dormant, so beekeepers don’t need to buy sugar or spend time feeding and working colonies. This can save beekeepers money, since the California landscape in Nov/Dec cannot support colonies without supplemental feeding. The bees in sheds are not flying, foraging, or rearing brood (activities that require a lot of energy), so they can conserve energy and build up body fat. 2.    Wintering sheds stay cold, so colonies are broodless. Some beekeepers consider this broodless period to be a mite treatment, because Varroa mites are not able to reproduce without brood. This means that mite numbers will not increase, and mites in the colony may die or get too old to successfully reproduce. Therefore, colonies could potentially begin almond pollination with low mite loads.   3.    Since the colony goes through a “winter,” and is dormant, the queen does not lay for a period of time. This gives the queen a break from laying eggs. Some beekeepers said that this break increases queen longevity. 4.    When the colonies are put on the ground in California, they experience a dramatic change in temperature. The queen starts laying again very quickly, which some beekeepers said leads to a population boom. If the colonies spend the winter in California, the temperature is variable, and increases slowly in February and March, causing the bees to ramp up their brood production through a slow process. Some beekeepers said their shed bees look healthier and bigger during almond pollination, and said this is likely due to the quick jump these colonies make to rearing brood again. 5.    Bees build up Carbon Dioxide within their colonies when they are in a confined space where ventilation is restricted. Letting CO2 levels build up too much can kill bees, but since mites are smaller, it takes less CO2 to harm them than it takes to harm a bee. Some scientists are working to find a “sweet spot,” meaning a CO2 level that is not harmful to bees but is to mites. While beekeepers are not relying on sheds as their main mite treatment right now, many beekeepers have hope that with further research, it could be the key to starting the year with healthy bees.  Thank you to all the beekeepers who answered my questions, and for Steppler Honey Farms for allowing me to use their photos. —– GOOD READING, NOT NECESSARILY BEE-RELATED 1. Faith and climate science: Union of Concerned Scientists An interview with Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist (professor in the Department od Political Science at Texas Tech University and director of the school’s Climate Science Center) and an Evangelical Christian. How does one reconcile the two? —– CATCH THE BUZZ 1. Major Crops To Increase Acres In 2018. Conservation Land Still Short – U.S. farmers will likely plant a record amount of land with soybeans in 2018 along with a boost to most other major crops, the U.S. Agriculture Department said Tuesday. Another year of bumper supply could prolong a global glut of grains that has kept prices of soybean and corn depressed for years. Low prices for basic grains have hurt farmers’ incomes worldwide. The USDA’s Office of the Chief Economist forecast that farmers will seed 91.0 million acres of soybeans in the spring, topping the record high set in 2017 at 90.2 million. Corn plantings should also rise, to 91.0 million acres, up from 90.4 million for 2017-18 but down from 94.0 million in 2016-17.