Too few mites? I know the feeling.

The Doldrums

I setup a test yard of conventional hives and starting counting mites in 1996. Natural mite drop was counted daily in a few hives, twice-a-week in half the hives, and once a week in the rest. I’d count them this way about 9 months out of the year. And then I pick a couple of hives and check the mite fall once a week during the other three months.

The trays were divided into grid squares which simplified the process. I could have used a statistical approach to reduce the actual counting. But I counted them all anyway. Because, beyond the mite drop, I was interested in bee damaged mites.  I had a hand lens and was looking for potential breeding stock like the Europeans were doing at that time.

But I never found any damaged mites. I thought I might have seen a few with part of leg missing from a bee bite. But nothing definite.

Lightening Strikes

bald headed brood

Bald headed brood produced when pests are removed from the broodnest.

Then, five years later,  I put some bees on small cell comb and what a difference! They actively detected and removed mites from infested, sealed cells. And they did it with a vengeance. Whole areas of infested, sealed brood at the purple eyed stage were uncapped. Adjoining sealed cells had essentially no mite infestation.

And no need for a hand lens to spot damaged mites on a mite tray. All those mites were damaged! Missing legs and multiple, fatal bee bite marks were common. And those that survived, were cripple and moving in erratic circles as they expired. No more turbo charged, roaming, snap rolling mites waiting for another bee. That mite tray was the end of the road.

Seasonal DynamicsBroodnest cleansing was a new phenomena. And I wanted to document and share what was happening. But it was late in the fall. And I didn’t like to poke around inside the hives any later than needed. I didn’t know anything about digital cameras. And I lacked the necessary funds to do the macro film thing. Getting pictures of  cleansing behavior just wouldn’t happen that season.

So, I did take a mite tray and a brood comb in. Invert a scanner over it. And scanned a few images with poor results.

Then the Thunder

But next season things would be different. I bought a digital camera. Set up my procedures. And I was going to document it the scientific way.

Well – Not Quite

Only one little problem. Next season, no mites! The bees had so effectively reduced the mite population that few phoretic mites fell to the tray. And the bees continued to detect and remove what few mites remained sealed in the brood. That kept the mite populations low. No more areas of uncapped purple eyed pupa, or mite trays covered with damaged, dying mites. No dramatic photos!

The occasional uncapped pupa would be found. Maybe less that a half dozen in the entire broodnest. Not much to photograph there. What little evidence existed consisted of pupa parts and a few immature male mites in the mite trays. No photos there either.

Bummer

And my hives have been that free of mites ever since. No broodnest cleansing photos ever! It’s a bummer for a photographer. Those two images above are the only ones I have of the process.

But the bees are healthy and have remained treatment free.

And this beekeeper was and is still smiling. That lack of mites freed up my time and camera for another project. You see, I’d been thinking about building a top bar hive for several years. So I built one and starting shooting pictures of natural comb which took my beekeeping in a completely different direction. But that’s another story.

It’s surprising where the lack of mites can lead.

-bW

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2 Responses

  1. Gosh yes, what a bummer for the photographer.

    Thank you for your eloquent writing.

    🙂
    — Christy Hemenway
    GOLD STAR HONEYBEES
    207-449-1121
    http://www.goldstarhoneybees.com
    Bath, Maine, USA, Earth

  2. Gord says:

    That’s wonderful, Dennis. We haven’t done any regular mite checking because we haven’t seen any real need to: we did see two mites on mature drones last year and have only just spotted a “wingless wonder” this spring.

    If for no other reason than arming ourselves for the skeptical, we’re doing some regular mite drops this season: the baseline was good: 13 mites over 3 days. What we found interesting is that most of those mites (9 or so) were just inside the entrance of the hive (we’re using top-bar hives with a side-end entrance). DUnno what that means, but it looks intriguing.

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