Items of potential interest to beekeepers 26 September 2018

Rosanna Mattingly Editor, Western Apicultural Society Journal Editor, The Bee Line, Oregon State Beekeepers Association Author, Honey-Maker: How the Honey Bee Worker Does What She Does (Beargrass Press)


Weed Killer and Bees Honey Bees Blowing in the Wind Sick Honey Bee Brood Fall Cleanup and Protecting Pollinators Mind of an Anthill Moth Drinking American Foulbrood Study Smithsonian Bee Playground

FROM CATCH THE BUZZ 1. Pollinating Robot 2. New Zealand Proposed Levy 3. Misuse of Pesticide Exemption 4. USDA Special Purchases FROM ABJ EXTRA Almond & Sweet Cherry Trade Mitigation

Common weed killer—believed harmless to animals—may be harming bees worldwide

Warren Cornwall

Glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide and one long touted as harmless to animals, might be taking a toll on honey bees. The chemical appears to disrupt the microbial community in the bees’ digestive system, making them more vulnerable to infection. The discovery adds another potential reason for the alarming decline of honey bees in parts of the world, as well as that of other pollinators that live in colonies, such as bumble bees.

“This is really critical,” says Fred Gould, an entomologist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh who was not involved in the work. The study challenges the conventional wisdom that animals are immune to glyphosate because it targets a cellular mechanism particular to plants and some bacteria. “I was surprised.”

Glyphosate kills plants by blocking an enzyme they use to make several key amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Animals don’t produce this enzyme, but it is used by some bacteria.

This sparked the interest of Nancy Moran, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Texas in Austin, who has spent a decade examining the gut microbiome—the population of bacteria that inhabit the intestines of animals—of honey bees (Apis mellifera). She and colleagues took approximately 2000 bees from a hive and fed some a sugar syrup and others syrup dosed with glyphosate at levels similar to those they might encounter in the environment while foraging for food. Three days after returning to the hive, the guts of glyphosate-fed bees had lower levels of a bacterium known as Snodgrassella alvi than those bees that were not exposed. Some of the results were confusing; bees that got the most glyphosate had a more normal looking microbiome after 3 days than those that had lower doses. Moran says it’s not clear whether that’s because more bees with the higher dose died, leaving behind ones that better withstood the herbicide.

In further tests, bees that consumed glyphosate had five times less of the bacterium. In a petri dish, most strains of S. alvi either slowed or stopped growing after a high dose of glyphosate.

This change in a bee’s microbial inhabitants appears to make it more vulnerable to lethal infections. In tests on several hundred bees, only 12% of insects fed glyphosate survived infection from Serratia marcescens—a bacterium widely found in trace amounts in beehives and bee guts that can cause infections by invading other parts of a bee’s body—compared with 47% not fed glyphosate.

It’s not clear why a glyphosate-disrupted microbiome would make the bees more susceptible to infection, Moran says. S. alvi lines part of the gut wall, and could create a protective barrier. It also secretes a chemical that could attack invading bacteria, she says.

The findings—reported today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences—add a new factor to a constellation of potential reasons for the decline of honey bees witnessed in recent years, says Gene Robinson, a honey bee geneticist at the University of Illinois in Urbana who was not involved with the study. In recent years, U.S. commercial beekeepers have seen almost a third of their hives fail during the winter, more than twice the historic rate. Researchers believe that pesticides, pathogens, parasites, and nutritional problems all play a role. A major strength of the new paper is that it points to a mechanism—the disruption of gut microbes—for how a pesticide could affect the bees, he says.

The discovery also raises questions about whether glyphosate is affecting the microbiome of other animals, including people. The role of microbes in the human gut has a lot of similarities to bee guts, Moran says. More research is needed; humans have different microbes in their guts, they have vastly larger bacterial populations and are likely exposed to much lower doses of glyphosate than are bees.

The new research is certain to make a controversial herbicide even more of a flashpoint. Some have also warned it could sicken people. Public health agencies have offered conflicting assessments of whether the chemical is a likely carcinogen.




Here’s how clumps of honeybees may survive blowing in the wind

Emily Conover

A stiff breeze is no match for a clump of honeybees, and now scientists are beginning to understand why.

When scouting out a new home, the bees tend to cluster together on tree branches or other surfaces, forming large, hanging clumps which help keep the insects safe from the elements. To keep the clump together, individual honeybees change their positions, fine-tuning the cluster’s shape based on external forces, a new study finds. That could help bees deal with such disturbances as wind shaking the branches.


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For Good of the Colony, Sick Honey Bee Brood Sounds the Alarm

Kaira Wagoner

Pollinator health is a top priority these days, and everyone seems to be asking, “What can be done to save the bees?” Since most of the current challenges to pollinator health can be attributed to humans, there are several things we can do, from restoring pollinator habitat by planting pollinator-friendly natives to curbing our use of harmful pesticides.

This work is both ecologically and economically important, as honey bees are the most agriculturally important pollinator worldwide, contributing over $15 billion to annual crop yields in the United States alone. But honey bees have flourished on Earth for over 100 million years, so perhaps it is also worth asking, “What can honey bees do to help themselves?”

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Protecting pollinators during fall garden cleanup

WASHINGTON — Time to rake up the yard, deadhead the perennials and till the vegetable garden? Not so fast.

Popular opinion is swinging toward letting things stay just as they are through winter — decayed and drab but serviceable.

Displaying a messy yard may not win any good-neighbour awards, but entomologists say our vital but dwindling insect pollinator populations would be much better off.

“People are increasingly recognizing the value of having good habitat throughout the seasons,” said Deborah Landau, a conservation ecologist with the Maryland/D.C. chapter of the Nature Conservancy.

“Sometimes it’s hard to make the connection with the insects you see in the garden in the warm months with the dried litter remaining when it cools, but it’s important to keep that structure going through winter,” Landau said.

Such structure includes standing stalks of dead plants, especially under flower heads, where butterflies seek shelter. It also includes layers of leaf litter that collect to protect larvae, egg masses, hibernating wild bees, dormant spiders and many other beneficial insects.

“Cavity-nesting bees may have made their home in old canes of raspberries and perhaps some ornamental grasses,” said Rebecca Finneran, a consumer horticulture educator with Michigan State University Extension.

“These two items usually are not cleaned up until spring anyway, but they also can be preserved by placing them (upright) in an out-of-the-way location such as behind a compost pile, and the larvae will still hatch.

“The main thing is not to destroy the stems,” she said.

Pollinator cautions aside, which autumn landscape chores are most important, and which can safely be left until spring?

Build a priority list. Consider . . .

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The mind of an anthill

Bob Holmes

Can we use the tools of psychology to understand how colonies of social insects make decisions?

Colonies of social insects, such as honeybees and ants, are often regarded as “superorganisms”: They have specialized parts — the individual workers — that act together for the common good. Insects in a colony work in concert to reproduce, migrate and sense their environment, and even make collective decisions about what to do next.

The creatures’ hive-mind nature led Stephen Pratt, a behavioral biologist at Arizona State University in Tempe, to see if he could study the behavior of ant colonies the same way psychologists study human behavior, such as with experiments forcing the ants to make difficult decisions and trade-offs. In the 2018 Annual Review of Entomology, Pratt explores the usefulness of this approach.

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Watch a moth drink tears from a bird’s eye

Richa Malhotra

In November 2017, ecologist Leandro Moraes of the National Institute of Amazonian Research in Manaus, Brazil, was in the middle of a research expedition in central Amazonia when he spotted something strange: a black-chinned antbird (Hypocnemoides melanopogon) resting on a branch with an erebid moth (Gorgone macarea) on the back of its neck. The moth was probing one of the bird’s eyes with its proboscis and appeared to be drinking from it. About 45 minutes later, Moraes came across a different moth drinking from the eye of another resting antbird.

Butterflies and bees also drink the eye secretions of other animals . . .

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American Foulbrood Study

My name is Diane Yost and I am in search of apiarists willing to participate in a case study. The deadline to participate is November 2, 2018.

As a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas from 2011-2013, I studied an alternate method of treatment for American Foulbrood disease for my master’s thesis.  I am now pursuing further graduate courses at Colorado State University, and am interested in gaining insight from the viewpoint of apiarists concerning how widespread AFB is compared to other diseases, the economic loss associated with AFB compared with the loss associated with other diseases, and determining how feasible incorporating a prophylactic treatment for AFB would be.

I have created a survey to better understand the concerns associated with AFB and am interested in gaining this knowledge by asking for apiarists’ input.

Please fill out the Word document survey here: AFB_Survey_YOST_2018 then email the survey back to with the e-mail subject “AFB Survey”.

Thank you for your time!

Diane Yost


Me and the Bee Playground Now Open at Smithsonian’s National Zoo

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo is buzzing over a new pollinator-themed playground: Me and the Bee, sponsored by Land O’Lakes Inc. Adjacent to the Kids’ Farm and Conservation Pavilion, Me and the Bee encompasses 4,900 square feet of space where children of all ages can climb atop honeycomb steps, slide down a tree stump overflowing with golden honey and crawl inside hollow trees where bees make their abodes. The playground was made possible by support from farmer-owned cooperative Land O’Lakes Inc. Open to the public during regular Zoo hours, Me and the Bee is an inclusive playground with ADA-accessible features.

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Honeybee populations are declining. This poses a significant threat to agriculture, the economy, and pretty much life as we know it, due to bees’ crucial role as some of the natural world’s best pollinators. Could robots help?

That’s what researchers from West Virginia University (WVU) have been working to answer, via a new autonomous, bee-inspired robot that is designed to pollinate bramble plants — primarily blackberries and raspberries — in greenhouse environments. Its name: BrambleBee.

Unlike some of the nature-inspired, biomimetic robots we’ve written about in the past, BrambleBee doesn’t look too much like its buzzy namesake. It’s a ground-based robot equipped with a robotic arm, boasting a custom-designed pollination end-effector tip. It looks more like the kind of robot you might expect to find in Amazon’s warehouses, picking out your orders, than a next-gen pollinator. But that doesn’t mean it can’t do the job.

“BrambleBee works by first driving around the greenhouse to perform an inspection pass, where it uses its Lidar and cameras to map the environment and the locations of detected flowers,” Nick Ohi, one of the researchers on the project, told Digital Trends. “After that, it then uses the mapped flower locations to autonomously plan and execute the pollination pass.”

West Virginia University

This involves working out the optimal route to individual flowers, parking up, and then deploying its robot arm to carry out the pollination process. This is achieved by using the small brushes on its end-effector to transfer pollen from the anthers to the pistils of the bramble flowers. The task requires incredibly precise motion and gentle application so as to prevent damaging the flowers.

At this stage in the project, Ohi acknowledged that BrambleBee is not as fast or efficient as bees in performing this task — although this is to be expected at the current stage in development. Once the techniques have been fully tested, the researchers will work to increase speed and efficiency.

“We expect the real benefit of this kind of system to be realized when many of them are deployed in very large greenhouses or farm fields and are capable of pollinating entire farms on their own,” Ohi said.

Yu Gu, an associate professor of Mechanical Engineering at WVU, was keen to stress that this is not a project designed to replace bees. “BrambleBee can be seen as a backup plan in case there would be a bee shortage in the future, or work in places that bees are not applicable, [such as] inside greenhouse or in space,” Gu stated. ——


Many beekeepers are strongly opposing ApiCulture NZ’s proposed commodity levy.

The bee and honey industry group ApiCulture NZ is proposing a commodity levy to support producers, but the idea is controversial: many beekeepers strongly oppose it.

Levy talks are going on NZ-wide and a formal vote is planned for mid-October; opponents believe it could be a close call.

The plan is to levy beekeepers 10 cents/kg on their honey at the point of extraction from the hive.  Hobby beekeepers and honey packers would be exempt.

Commercial beekeepers are raising their voices in opposition.

Allan Pimm, acting president of NZ Beekeeping (mid-size professional beekeepers) says beekeepers’ concerns are many.

“The levy, seen as a tax on honey, would just be unfair,” Pimm says.  “Some producers of high-quality manuka honey are still commanding high prices. But most producers of other honeys are facing falling prices in a crowded and increasingly competitive market. Proportionally, non-manuka producers will pay a lot more than the lucky ones.”

And there’s more, Pimm says.

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Stephanie M. Parent and Nathan Donley

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY For years the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has routinely issued “emergency” exemptions for the use of certain pesticides across millions of acres in the United States, in ways that are known to be harmful to wildlife and in cases where the potential harmful effects haven’t been properly investigated.

These exemptions allow pesticide manufacturers to bypass the established pesticide-approval process intended to protect people, wildlife and the environment. For this analysis the Center for Biological Diversity examined those types of exemptions for use of the bee-killing pesticide sulfoxaflor.

One examination of EPA records reveals a chronic misuse of emergency exemptions for this pesticide. At least 78 emergency exceptions have been granted for sulfoxaflor over the past six years on just two crops: cotton and sorghum. The ongoing exemptions are notable because previous approval of the pesticide’s use on cotton was cancelled in 2015 due to its potential harm to pollinators;

It has never been approved for use on sorghum, which is attractive to bees. Our analysis also found that: · The 78 emergency exemptions issued for sulfoxaflor since 2012 allowed its use on more than 17.5 million acres of U.S. farmland. · Only eight of the 78 exemptions went through a public review process that allowed for comment and review by citizens and independent researchers. · The emergency uses of the pesticide approved for cotton were in response to an insect that has been a chronic problem for at least a decade and has already developed resistance to four different classes of pesticides. · The emergency uses on sorghum were granted in at least 18 states in response to an insect that has been a problem for the past five years. · Fourteen states were given emergency exemptions for sulfoxaflor for at least three consecutive years for the same “emergency.” These emergency exemptions have essentially allowed its use on millions of acres of crops where exposure to pollinators through contaminated pollen is high, for scenarios 1 The Center appreciates and acknowledges the work of Purba Mukerjee in drafting this report. Page 2 of 19 that are routine and foreseeable. In effect this facilitates widespread use of pesticides that are not eligible for approval on certain crops because of well-documented risks to the environment.

Conclusion: The EPA’s routine misuse of these exemptions for sulfoxaflor poses significant risks to pollinators such as bees, small birds and butterflies. Our analysis also reveals a larger, systemic problem that has gone largely unrecognized at the EPA with regards to widespread application of “emergency” exemptions.

Recommendation: The EPA should only grant emergency exemptions for a true emergency on a temporary basis and not as a way of continually insulating growers from the normal risks of agriculture. If a pesticide cannot gain approval under the normal pesticide-approval process, then agricultural practices must change to reflect that reality.





The U.S. Department of Agriculture will make special purchases of well over $400 million in fruits and nuts to help U.S. growers hurt by retaliatory tariffs.

The Food Purchase and Distribution Program is one of three USDA designed to help growers hurt by this year’s trade battles and will spend about $1.2 billion to purchase commodities, and it is most immediately relevant to specialty crop growers.

The other USDA programs for tariff relief are the Market Facilitation Program — giving direct payments to some grain and livestock producers — and the Agricultural Trade Promotion Program. The trade promotion program gives commodity promotion groups millions to help develop and expand export sales.

Purchase purposes

The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service will administer the Food Purchase and Distribution Program to purchase up to $1.2 billion in commodities, according to a news release. More than $400 million the targeted purchases are fruits and nuts.

The specific commodities to be purchased are those impacted by unjustified tariffs imposed by other nations.

According to the release, purchases will be spread over several months and the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service will distribute these commodities through nutrition assistance programs such as the Emergency Food Assistance Program and child nutrition programs. Amounts to be purchased are based on an economic analysis of the damage caused by tariffs illegally imposed on these crops by some trade partners, according to the USDA.

Gregory Iback, USDA undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, said in a press call Aug. 27 that the USDA will spread out purchases over four different phases and would try not to displace school food purchases that would normally occur.

The staggered purchases seek to accommodate changes due to growing conditions, product availability, market conditions and even the status of trade negotiations, he said.

The USDA also is seeking to attract new vendors in its procurement program, he said.

“We are tailoring the specifications of the (commodities) that we will be purchasing to line up with those high-quality, high-value crops and categories within the commodities that were destined for the foreign marketplace,” he said.

“For example, instead of buying just oranges, we’re going to be buying extra fancy oranges that were destined for the Chinese marketplace before the illegal tariffs were put in place,” he said.

The food purchases will be targeted to people who aren’t getting enough food on a daily basis. The school lunch program won’t be a primary target audience, he said.

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Almond & Sweet Cherry Growers Gain Access to Trade Mitigation

WASHINGTON, Sept. 21, 2018 – U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced the addition of commodities to the trade mitigation package aimed at assisting farmers suffering from damage due to unjustified trade retaliation by foreign nations. Starting Monday, Sept. 24, producers of shelled almonds and fresh sweet cherries may apply for Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments at their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office.

In July, the USDA announced it would act to aid farmers in response to trade damage from unjustified retaliation. President Trump directed Secretary Perdue to craft a short-term relief strategy to protect agricultural producers while the Administration works on free, fair, and reciprocal trade deals to open more markets in the long run to help American farmers compete globally. These programs will assist agricultural producers to meet some of the costs of disrupted markets.

The sign-up period for MFP for other eligible commodities is now open and runs through Jan. 15, 2019, with information and instructions provided at The MFP is established under the statutory authority of the Commodity Credit Corporation CCC Charter Act and is under the administration of USDA’s FSA. Eligible producers should apply after harvest is complete, as payments will only be issued once production is reported.

A payment will be issued on 50 percent of the producer’s total production, multiplied by the MFP rate for a specific commodity. A second payment period, if warranted, will be determined by the USDA.

The initial MFP payment rates starting Sept. 24:

Shelled Almonds – $0.03 per pound

Fresh Sweet Cherries – $0.16 per pound

MFP payments are capped per person or legal entity at a combined $125,000 for shelled almonds and fresh sweet cherries.

Eligible applicants must have an ownership interest in the commodity, be actively engaged in farming, and have an average adjusted gross income (AGI) for tax years 2014, 2015, and 2016 of less than $900,000. Applicants must also comply with the provisions of the “Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Conservation” regulations.

To locate or contact your local FSA office, visit