Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bee Meeting

Last Saturday I spent the whole day talking bees. The local beekeepers club was able to get two fabulous smart scientists to discuss their research.

Dr. Marla Spivak is well know for her work in to Minnesota Hygienic bees. Getting her to come to our meeting was no small feat. Hygienic bees are not girls who take more showers - they actually were selectively breed to keep the hive cleaner and groom each other. Mites that attach to larvae in the hive give these bees some small signal that gets them to remove the larvae with heavy mite loads. This does kill the larvae but also the mites. These bees also groom each other more and remove the mites from adult bees. Both of these behaviors can help to reduce the amount of medications that beekeepers use to keep bees alive.

She's moving out of this work and spoke at length about her new passion: Propolis. Wild bees line their nest cavitiesn with it and bees in boxes use it like caulking. Propolis has amazing properties including being an antibacterial, anti viral and anti fungus. Now this part is a bit complicated but essentially coating your house with propolys is like sealing it in a protective bubble that keeps nasty microbes on the outside. This allows the bees individual immune systems to relax a bit. Now how do I paint my house with it!

The second researcher is fairly local - Dr. Heather Mattila from Wellsley. Honeybees, unlike most other social insects, mate with many drones. And I am talking A LOT! Some species of honeybee queens make -on average - with more than 60 drones. Yep - SIXTY. My own girls tend to be a bit more modest mating with between 6 and 20 drones. She was studying the question is more better?

Well, more is ... more - in human terms the sluttier the better. The more drones a queen mates with the better for the colony. The bees are more active and the queen lays more babies. I am thinking, from the way she described the difference between a queen mated with one drone and a queen mated with many drones that both Red and Pink were not well mated queens.

In her second talk, Dr. Mattila talked about life in a swarm. This was soo cool. She and her students studied the waggle dances of new home-foragers. It was just amazing to see how each new space was "talked" about by the forager to the swarm, then how the swarm carried on the conversation about different potential new homes. It looked just like a social networking site on the Internet!

So what did I take away from this meeting:
1. I need to collect propolis as a hive product and now have the knowledge to do so - now I need to learn more about marketing and using it
2. Pink is not as well mated as Sun and should be the queen who overwinters
3. I want to more scientifically monitor my mite levels so I can better track which medications are needed and when to most effectively apply them

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