Thursday, 31 December 2015

The chemical behind the great bee dieoff

The chemical behind the great bee die off 

During these hectic weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, many of us think a lot not only about family, but about food. As we gather around tables to talk, so many of our holiday rituals centers around eating: cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving, applesauce for Chanukah latkes, honey-glazed ham for Christmas and — especially in the South — black-eyed peas and greens for good luck on New Year’s Day. Kwanzaa literally translates to “first fruits.”

Yet many of these holiday favorites are endangered, because the bees they depend upon are dying by the millions.

You may have heard about this crisis years ago and filed it away in your mind as probably another hysterical overreaction by environmentalists.


Not so. The threat is real and present. We all know bees make honey, and are therefore critical to the honey-baked ham and baklava that many of us have recently been enjoying. What everyone may not know is that in the process of making honey, bees pollinate more than 70% of the world’s most common crops, from fruits and nuts to the alfalfa eaten by dairy cows.

All told, bees are responsible for one in three forkfuls of the foods we love , from pumpkin pie and cheesecake to collards and Brussels sprouts; from chocolate and coffee to apples and strawberries. And here in New York, bees pollinate more than $300 million worth of crops such as apples, grapes and pumpkins.

But across the world, bees are dying at unprecedented rates, and beekeepers, farmers and scientists are sounding the alarm. U.S. bee populations have reached historic lows, and we’re losing nearly a third of our bee colonies each year — a rate that more than triples what was once considered normal.

Scientists point to a complex web of factors, including climate change and habitat destruction, to explain the massive collapse of colonies here and across the world.

But a certain class of insecticides, used on three-quarters of U.S. farms each year — and on about 140 different crops, including corn, canola and soy — has emerged as a clear culprit in the dieoff.

Sharing the same chemical properties as nicotine, neonicotinoids are neurotoxins that can kill bees off directly. These chemicals can also disorient bees and make it harder for them to pollinate and get back to their hives.

We need more bees

The insecticides may actually be addictive to bees, just like nicotine in tobacco is addictive to humans. Bees have been shown to actually prefer food sources treated with these pesticides to natural alternatives like sugar water.

Numerous lab studies have shown that these pesticides are a danger to bees, and last month the journal Nature published the first study to establish a direct causal link between neonic exposure and bees’ ability to do their job as pollinators.

By one estimate, these chemicals are 6,000 times more toxic to bees than DDT, which was banned in the United States in the 1970s over concerns that the common pesticide was poisoning wildlife and the environment, and endangering human health.

Based on this mounting science indicating the danger of neonics, the European Union has already banned the three most widely used neonicotinoids.

There’s been no equivalently bold action here, as pesticide manufacturers have managed to derail regulatory efforts.

The fact that our government is failing doesn’t mean the rest of us are powerless.

Major garden retailers like Lowe’s and Home Depot are already beginning to phase out the sales of neonics and plants treated with them. Some grocers like Whole Foods are beginning to label appropriate foods “bee friendly.” And some U.S. cities and states are limiting the use of neonicotinoids.

As consumers, we can plant gardens full of native, flowering herbs and vegetables, and decline to use bee-killing pesticides. As chefs, we can use produce grown on bee-friendly farms and use our menus to educate customers.

As citizens, we can and must pressure our leaders to get far, far tougher on a chemical that is imperiling the very future of an insect that is vital to the food we eat.

Leibowitz is director of Environment New York.

Oxalic Acid

Telegraph - 31 December 2015
Bees have been in steep decline in Britain in recent decades due in part to the varroa mite, which is widely blamed for the mysterious “colony collapse disorder” causing the decimation of entire hives around the world. 
But a current treatment could kill up to 98 per cent of varroa mites in a hive without harming any of the bees inside if it is used correctly, and would offer a cheap and simple solution to the problem, experts claim. 
Although oxalic acid is known to be deadly to the mite, it is often applied in quantities which are too low to be effective, or so high that it harms the bees as well as the parasite. 
Now researchers have found that when applied as a vapour rather than a solution, and at a particular dosage, the treatment can remove virtually all traces of varroa from hives without any harmful outcomes for bees. 
Because the treatment is simple and cheap, costing about 10p and taking 10 minutes to apply, it could present an effective and affordable solution to the crisis affecting Britain’s bees, it was claimed. 
Honey bees are vital to Britain’s economy because of their role in pollinating crops, but a third of our colonies were reported to have died out last year, prompting calls for urgent action. 
Researchers from Sussex University conducted a study of 110 hives, using oxalic acid in different quantities and application methods to determine whether it could effectively tackle the virus. 
Results from the trials have not been officially published, but Prof Francis Ratnieks told the Telegraph that in the most effective format – a vapour at a particular concentration – the treatment was 97 to 98 per cent effective. 
He said: “What we have found is that different methods do have different effects on the mites and the bees, but the best method does not harm the bees and is deadly to the mites. 
“You would only have to use it once a year because if you knocked the mites down to a small proportion then they would take a long time to build back up again. It is very cheap, effective and easy to use.” 
More drastic suggestions for solving the crisis have included crossbreeding European honey bees with “killer” African cousins, in the hope of transferring the African bees’ apparent immunity against varroa to our domestic species. 
But Australian researchers attempting to produce a suitable hybrid must first work out how to give honey bees their African relatives’ resilience without inheriting their ferociousness.

Sussex University Research

Scientists determine how to control parasite without harming bees

A "phoretic" Varroa mite on the body of a honey bee. Photo courtesy of Alex Wild. 
A honey bee hive being treated with oxalic acid via sublimation. The oxalic acid vapour is normally confined to the inside of the hive but is shown here for illustration. 
Scientists at the University of Sussex have determined the best way of controlling Varroa mites – one of the biggest threats facing honey bees – without harming the bees themselves. 
A team from the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects (LASI) has determined the best dose and method for treating hives with oxalic acid, a naturally occurring chemical already being used by beekeepers to control Varroa. 
The study, published today (Thursday 17 December 2015) in the Journal of Apicultural Research, shows that two of the three methods used by beekeepers to apply the chemical cause harm to bee colonies, resulting in reduced winter survival. 
But one method – sublimation, by which the chemical is vapourised inside the hive using an electrically heated tool – has no negative effect on the bees. In fact, colonies treated in this way had 20% more bees four months later than untreated colonies. 
It is also the easiest to use, the deadliest to the mites - killing 97% with one application - and is effective at lower doses than the other methods. 
What’s more, it only costs a few pence to treat each hive. 
Professor Francis Ratnieks, head of LASI, says that beekeepers should cease using the other two methods ("trickling" and "spraying", in which a solution of oxalic acid is used) as they are harmful to the bees and less effective at killing Varroa. 
Professor Ratnieks says: “It is almost too good to be true that sublimation, the best method for killing Varroa with oxalic acid, also has no harmful effects on the bees, and is the quickest to apply. 
“Beekeepers should only use the sublimation method. If they apply oxalic acid in this way, they can be confident that it will kill most of the mites and will not harm the bees.” 
Varroa mites harm honey bees directly and also spread virus diseases that kill colonies.
Controlling Varroa was at first simple, as the product Apistan could be used. Apistan contains a synthetic chemical that kills 99% of the Varroa but is not harmful to the bees. However, Varroa have now evolved resistance to the active ingredient. 
Previous research has shown that oxalic acid is able to kill Varroa but nobody had compared different doses and application methods, nor quantified the proportion of Varroa killed. 
LASI’s research, which was funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Rowse Honey Ltd,  filled these important gaps. 
Notes for editors 
For further information, please contact Francis Ratnieks at +44 (0) 7766270434 or 
University of Sussex Media Relations contacts: James Hakner (01273 877966) and Jacqui Bealing (01273 877437) – 
‘Towards integrated control of varroa: comparing application methods and doses of oxalic acid on the mortality of phoretic Varroa destructor mites and their honey bee hosts’ by Hasan Al Toufailia, Luciano Scandian and Francis Ratnieks is available at:- 
About the research 
The study used 110 bee hives in Sussex, UK, in the winter of 2012/3 and another 90 in winter 2013/4. 
The hives were all without brood, as occurs naturally in winter. Broodlessness is important. Varroa are found in two locations in a hive: 1) In sealed brood cells (i.e., a cell with a pupal bee), where the female mites lay their eggs and where the young mites develop by feeding on the blood of the pupa; 2) Phoretic: clinging to the body of adult worker bees. Oxalic acid only kills Varroa in position 2. 
Three application methods already being used by beekeepers were compared: 1) sublimation, in which crystals of oxalic acid are vaporized using a special heated tool inserted into the hive entrance; 2) trickling, in which the lid of the hive is removed and a solution of oxalic acid is poured onto the bees; 3) spraying, as in trickling, except the frames of bees are sprayed with the solution. 
Three doses were used, 1.125, 2.25 and 4.5 grams per hive. 
The proportion of Varroa killed was determined by extracting mites from a sample of approximately 300 worker bees, taken immediately before treatment and again 2 weeks later. The mites are extracted with a jet of water and counted. If the first sample had 25 mites per 100 bees and the second 1 mite per 100 bees, then the mortality is 24/25 or 96%. 
In addition, the project quantified possible harmful effects of oxalic acid, both in terms of the number of worker bees killed at the time of treatment and the mortality and strength of the colonies four months later in spring. 
The project was led by PhD student Hasan Al Toufailia, whose PhD was funded by the University of Damascus, and Professor Ratnieks with the assistance of beekeeping technician Luciano Scandian.

Homemade Oxalic Acid Vaporizer

AGM 2016

Nomination form:  click here 

20 January 2016  
The Oakhouse, Maldon CM9 5PF 

Following the AGM,

Guest Speaker:  Mike Barke, Harlow Division
Presentation on Mead, Melomel and Methiglin

All members welcome. 

Non members welcome. 

For further information and nomination forms 
07979 862952

To be nominated for any position, must be
A fully paid up member of DMBKA as at
1 January 2016

Please ensure you send in your membership subscriptions for 2016
By 31 December 2015
Details will be sent to all current members. 
New members, please contact the secretary
07979 862952 (text or audio)
01245 381577 (answerphone)


Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Paynes Newsletter

Merry Christmas
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Our Winter Sale has started with plenty of Bargains galore available on line.    Visit now or visit our shop when we reopen on the 4th Jan.

ON SALE - Our original 6 frame poly nuc with built in feeder.  
Polystyrene is a great material for beehives:
Its made from a very high density material, 100g/litre - upto 3 times stronger than the material used for packaging.
Its lightweight and durable.
Its insulation properties also makes it especially suitable for nucs and small colonies as fewer bees are required to maintain the heat required for effective brood rearing.

ON SALE - Softwood super for a National hive.  Available flatpacked or Assembled ready to use.

ON SALE - Part of out Poly National Range.   Totally compatible with both our wooden National hives and Poly National hive components.    Use your existing hive parts and take advantage of the polystyrene benefits:

its made from a very high density material, 100g/litre - upto 3 times stronger than what is used for packaging. 
Its lightweight and durable. 
Its insulation properties also makes it ideal as less bees are required to maintain the heat required for effective brood rearing, helps improve overwintering and early Spring buildup.


ON SALE - SWB 4 Frame Extractor

This extractor has a Stainless steel cage for easy cleaning and durability.   It holds 4 shallow frames and stands firmly on legs for ease of use.   Ideal for beekeepers upto 9 hives.   For further details click here
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