No Bee is an Island : A look at the micro-ecosystem within the
beehive, and some experimental data with regard to formic acid and
by Laurie Ramona Herboldsheimer and Dean Stiglitz

As students of the hive, we share in the understanding that an
individual bee is not quite an entity itself, and conversely, the
whole of the hive is more than just the sum of its individual bees.
Easy to overlook are the multitudes of yeasts, bacteria, and other
microorganisms that also inhabit, interact with, and contribute to the
health and functions of the hive super-organism.  Microorganisms enter
the hive from the air, on pollen, on bees, in nectar, in water, and
from drifting bees.  There is, in fact, an active culture that it made
up of thousands of known microorganisms that inhabit a healthy
honeybee colony.  It is our thesis that this complex environment is
sensitive to chemical contamination, and that the introduction of
antibiotics, fungicides, miticides, organic acids, essential oils, and
other contaminants by beekeepers specifically, and otherwise through
the environment, have contributed to the declining health and numbers
of honeybee colonies seen in the U.S. since the mid-1980’s.

The microbial ecosystem that exists in honeybees and within honeybee
hives includes some 8,000 microbes [1] including hundreds of strains
of yeasts in both pollen and nectar foraging bee intestines [2], and
at least 107 molds, 81 yeasts and 29 bacteria in beebread [3].  Martha
Gilliam posited that fermentation of pollen is necessary to open the
outer shells of pollen granules so that the encased proteins and
nutrients are released and accessible for the bees to digest [4].
Emerging adult bees acquire intestinal micro-flora through food
exchange with other bees in the colony and through consumption of
yeast containing pollen [5].  In this way, the colony maintains its
microbial culture over time and from queen to queen.

Pollen is necessary for development in older larvae and for longevity
in young adult bees.  Young worker bees ingest large amounts of pollen
in order to make royal jelly which is the sole food for queen
development and the food for the first few days of the worker and
drone larvae.  Bees regulate hive temperature to kill pathogens using
their flight muscles to raise temperatures [6].  Strong fight muscles
are also necessary for over-wintering, foraging, and mating.  Flight
muscles are built from pollen and good general nutrition. Without
digestible pollen, young bees cannot develop properly, nor can nurse
bees properly care for the young.

Pollen that has not properly fermented into beebread is not digestible
by honeybees. It should be noted that irradiation of pollen
supplements to eliminate risk of disease kills beneficial microbes as
well as what are thought of as pathogens.

Simply as a thought experiment, think of your favorite fermented foods
(pickles, beer, wine, sauerkraut, cheese, mead, etc).  Knowing that
the natural fermentation process is one in which yeasts, bacteria,
fungi, etc all interact, would one expect that the direct applications
of fungicides, antibiotics, organic acids, or other chemicals would
not upset such a system? [7] What impact does contaminating this
environment have?

Balanced biological systems go awry when contaminated.  A pond where
detergent (phosphates) accumulates will often grow an “algae bloom”,
choking out fish, insects, plants, and the ones higher up (and lower
down) the food chain that rely on them, their dead matter, or their
waste.  Taking an antibiotic can upset the balance of flora in ones
digestive tract, and an upset stomach (and associated, unpleasant
symptoms) is expected with high doses.  The “Dust Bowl” of the 1930’s
was simply massive erosion caused by a combination of drought, and
farming practices that didn’t respect the natural systems that prevent
such erosion (grasses, micro-flora of untilled soil, etc.).
Equilibrium in the above examples is undone by interfering with
natural systems, when it is the natural systems themselves that we
rely upon, and are ultimately incorporated within.

It occurs to us that despite periodic large scale domestic honeybee
die-offs, beekeeping in the U.S. was thriving until the introduction
of varroa mites.  Since this time (mid 1980’s), the number of bees,
and the number of beekeepers in the U.S. has been declining.  With
official reports of near 40% die offs in some of the major commercial
operations so far this year and unofficial reports of some localities
faring much worse, this trend does not appear to be changing.
Encouragingly, bee school attendance in this area (Massachusetts) has
been in record numbers, and doubtless there are hundreds of first year
beekeepers, all hoping to keep their bees alive both with and without
treatments.  Although the influx of new beekeepers is good news, dead
bees and discouraging statistics are likely to cut short the number of
years they stay involved.

Co-incident to the introduction of the mites (and the devastating
impact they had on beekeepers and feral populations), was the increase
in the use of chemicals inside the beehive.  It seems that the varroa
crisis has placed us firmly on “the treatment treadmill” for varroa,
tracheal mites, nosema, foulbrood, etc.  This trend towards using
chemicals (and “natural” or “organic” treatments) in the hive could
be, at least in part, responsible for upsetting the microbial balance
within the hive.  The fermentation of pollen into beebread is but one
example of how chemical contamination can affect essential processes
within the hive in ways that are difficult to observe directly.

Formic acid is recommended as a “softer” treatment than fluvalinate or
coumaphos, and is supposed to be effective against both varroa and
tracheal mites.  It is widely available and used in a trickle or
vaporized from a pre-made or home-made pad.  We obtained a small
amount of formic acid in liquid form (unknown concentration, but
formulated for beekeeping use on a pad as mixed), and did some simple
kitchen experiments to measure the effect of formic acid on the
fermentation of bread yeast.

Into 6 sterilized 4 oz. baby food jars, we put 2 teaspoons of sugar
and distilled water to just below the rim of the jar.  One jar had no
formic acid (control), and each of the other 5 jars had 1, 3, 5, 7,
and 9 drops (from an eyedropper) of formic acid.  The jars were held
in a water bath (100-110F), and to each was added 1 teaspoon of
yeast.  Surgical gloves were secured around the necks of the jars, and
inflation of the gloves was used to indicate the amount of

Fermentation was non-existent at 9 drops (less than 1/8 teaspoon) and
very slight at 5 (~1/16 teaspoon) and 7 drops. Results are pictured
above; control is at far left.   Photo was taken a couple of hours
after inoculation took place.  No further fermentation appeared to
occur over the next 8 hours.  Note the small amount of formic acid
needed to retard or prevent fermentation in bread yeast.

Although formic acid is recommended as a safer alternative to other
chemical treatments, we were able to stop yeast fermentation with only
a few drops.  A Mite-Away II pads contains almost 51 teaspoons of 65%
formic acid [8].  This simple experiment leads us to many questions:

• Has anyone studied the effects of various formic acid treatments (on-
label and off-label) on pollen and beebread fermentation inside the
• What are the effects of other treatments on pollen and beebread
fermentation inside the hive, both alone and in combination?
• What are the effects on pollen fermentation from other agricultural
chemicals coming from the environment?
• Is beebread ever tested for levels of fermentation and active yeast
• Is beebread pulverized before being analyzed in the lab?  (It occurs
to us that unfermented pulverized beebread might look similar in
analysis to pulverized fermented beebread in the lab, but that the two
might have very different nutritional yields to the honeybee in the
• It is understood that various microorganisms have differing
tolerances to acids, alcohol, and other toxins.  What are the traits
of microorganisms that are involved in the fermentation of pollen?
What of the microorganisms involved in other processes within the

At least one of the early reports on CCD observed: “cursory
examination of the gut contents revealed many pollen grains of unknown
origin. The pollen grains seemed largely intact and many did not
appear to be digested (which is abnormal).” [9]

To us, this seems to suggest that perhaps the pollen grains were not
properly fermented before being ingested.  Another puzzling (and thus
far not well explained) reported symptom of CCD is the hive not being
robbed out by wax moths or small hive beetles.  It is known that both
pests are attracted to fermented pollen, could it be that unfermented
pollen does not act as an attractant?

In addition to the possible effects on fermentation, there are other
well known consequences of using pesticides, antibiotics, fungicides,
etc. in biological systems that might explain some of the “modern
problems” facing beekeepers.  Secondary infections are common causes
for problems when treatments are used.  In some cases, the treatment
affects an organism that keeps another potentially threatening
organism in check, unleashing a secondary infection.   As an example,
streptomycin administered to adult honeybee diets increases the yeast
population in the bees, suggesting that bacteria are responsible for
keeping yeast populations in check [10].  In other cases, when
microbes and/or pests are eliminated, their food supply is suddenly
available to other microbes and/or pests that are not susceptible to
the same treatments as the target species.  Again, the use of
treatments within the hive has been growing since the first impact
from varroa.  Does it seem unreasonable to consider that some of the
problems we are seeing in our hives industry-wide (CCD and otherwise)
could be caused by, or be related to, such secondary infections?

Some molds and bacteria produce an antimycotic compound that attacks
chalkbrood [11].  The fungus that causes stonebrood kills nosema
[12].  The treatment for nosema (Fumidil) is a fungus produced toxin
[13], and the fungus that causes chalkbrood kills European foul brood
[14].  It quickly becomes clear that there is a balance that must
exist between all of these organisms (including honeybees), as they
all support and protect each other.  How has the introduction of
antibiotics, fungicides, essential oils, organophosphates,
pyrethroids, and even refined sugar, artificial pollen supplements and
high fructose corn syrup affected such intricate balances within the
hive?  Can such relationships survive such interference intact?  What
are the consequences?

As a personal anecdotal observation, every year we have seen some
chalkbrood and sacbrood in our over-wintered hives.  We do not treat
with anything.  This year, we have more over-wintered hives than any
other year, and the only significant difference in our management
practice is that this year our bees are on small cell comb.  We have
not to date (mid-May), seen any chalkbrood or sacbrood in any of these
hives, which we find interesting.

Honeybees have at their disposal many anti-microbial agents.  In
addition to toxins produced by microorganisms in the hive, bees use
propolis and full strength honey to combat many types of infection.
Dilute honey can of course also be used as a medium to grow
microorganisms.  One can imagine that with such tools, bees are
capable of stimulating and retarding the growth of specific
microorganisms based on need.  In fact, honeybees are known to
actively remove undesirable microbes [15].

What we have written here is not a comprehensive overview with regards
to what happens on a microbial level inside the beehive, what
beekeepers have been putting into hives, or what this might actually
be doing to the bees.  People who buy honey (especially from a
beekeeper) have no concept that anything at all goes into the hive.
In some ways it is the only food left that is seen as “pure”.  This
disconnect between public perception and reality in the field is of
great concern.  The bulk of the contamination found within the hive is
put there by the beekeeper, and is not the result of “chemical lawns”,
farming chemicals, or environmental pollutants in general.  This is a
problem that is within the scope of the beekeeping community to solve
from within.  Only when the beekeeping industry (commercial, sideliner
and hobbyist alike) puts a stop to the practice of putting foreign
substances inside the hive will we be able to have a sense on what
role contamination in the rest of our environment plays in the lives
of honeybees.

1 http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/aug98/bees0898.htm?pf=1
2  Carlos A. Rosa and Gabor Peter (eds.), Biodiversity and
Ecophysiology of Yeasts, (Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg, 2006) p.
3  Wickelgren, Ingrid, “Scientist solves secret of bee bread”, Science
News, (11/05/88)
4  Gilliam, M., “Identification and roles of non-pathogenic microflora
associated with honey bees” (abstract), FEMS microbiology letters,
1997, vol.155, n 1
5  Ibid.
6  Milius, S., “The whole beehive gets a fever”, Science News, (May
27, 2000)
7  Many fermentation processes do use a single inoculant after
sterilization.  This is simply a refinement of natural fermentation.
These processes use sterilizing agents that are removed before being
inoculated with a specific culture, which is quite different than what
we see in the beehive, or in an old fashioned pickle
8  http://www.miteaway.com/Mite-Away_IIi/mite-away_iii.html
9  http://www.doacs.state.fl.us/pi/plantinsp/apiary/fall_dwindle_report.pdf
10 Carlos A. Rosa and Gabor Peter (eds.), Biodiversity and
Ecophysiology of Yeasts, (Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg, 2006) pp.
11  Gilliam, M., “Identification and roles of non-pathogenic
microflora associated with honey bees” (abstract), FEMS microbiology
letters, 1997, vol.155, n 1
12  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nosema_apis
13  http://www.bushfarms.com/beespests.htm
14  http://www.beesource.com/forums/showthread.php?t=216617&page=3
15  Wickelgren, Ingrid, “Scientist solves secret of bee bread”,
Science News, (11/05/88)

Wedding Trip

Dean Stiglitz
email : deknow [at] beeuntoothers [dot] com

Laurie Ramona Herboldsheimer
email : lrherbodsheimer [at] hotmail [dot] com

Golden Rule Apiary : Our Honey

“Because of our natural management practices, our honey is free of
chemicals that are recommended by nearly every industry group,
university research lab, and guide to beekeeping.  Even bees kept by a
local backyard beekeeper are likely to have Apistan (a pesticide)
Terramycin (an antibiotic), Fumigilin-B (another antibiotic), and/or
Checkmite (another pesticide) used in the hive much like they are in
raising commercial livestock (routinely rather than only when
needed..as a prevention rather than a treatment).  It’s much easier to
overmedicate based on the calendar in order to mask numerous problems
than it is to evaluate each colony constantly throughout the year and
take more natural and subtle measures to correct problems before they
become serious.  Bees that cannot survive without chemical treatments
are best not tolerated, as they influence the gene pool in ways that
insure they will require such treatments in the future, and they breed
for stronger diseases.  We feel strongly about not subjecting our
customers (or our bees) to chemicals that we don’t feel are safe being
around.  We are committed to spending time working with the bees
rather than spending money and squandering the opportunity to breed
for stronger bees by medicating them.

Most honey is heated to 110-160ºF (and higher!) in order to facilitate
extracting, filtering, bottling, and to reduce crystallization.  Our
Honey is never heated. This makes processing more time consuming and
labor intensive, and it allows the honey to crystallize more quickly,
but it avoids diminishing thcryse floral flavors, the denaturing of
enzymes and killing of yeasts that are an integral part of the health
benefits (and pleasures) of honey.  Many beekeepers consider heated
honey as “mere sweetener.”  Good honey should be enjoyed the way the
bees have made it for millions of years…raw, unfiltered (so that
pollen and small wax particles are present), and chemical free!

The bulk of our bees are located at Stillman’s Farm in New Braintree,
MA.  There is an abundance of wildflowers, as well as 300 acres of
“Conscientiously Grown” crops sold in and around Boston at over 16
farmers markets and CSAs.  Our bees significantly increase the per
acre yield, as the flowers are more densely pollinated (which means
more flowers fruit, and the plants are stimulated to make more
flowers), and farmers in surrounding land should also see the benefit,
as the bees will fly up to 3 miles.”

Golden Rule Apiary : Our Bees

“With the spread of both tracheal and varroa mites into the northeast
United States over the last 20 or so years, beekeeping practices have
had to change.  These two pests can kill a domestic or feral colony on
their  own, but more commonly, they slowly weaken the hive, shortening
the lifespan of each individual bee until some opportunistic infection
finishes the job.  Many longtime beekeepers have gotten out completely
after devastating winter losses several years in a row, and feral
colonies are just beginning to come back in many places.

For the most part, solutions coming from the research labs and
universities have revolved around chemical treatments.  Almost
universally, several pesticides and antibiotics are used inside
commercial and hobbyist hives regularly.  Just as one would expect,
resistance has become commonplace, and evidence that these chemicals
can accumulate in the comb and cause problems with queen performance
is clear.  It is naive to assume that all large and small producers
(here and abroad) use only safe and approved treatments, and use them
only according to label instructions…doubtless some of these
substances occasionally make their way into honey.  This is all
somewhat beside the point, as these substances are toxic to the bees,
and most certainly, the reasons that the bees are succumbing to the
mites or other disease is not fundamentally, “a lack of chemical

We keep in close touch with our hives, and mostly can avert larger
problems by taking simple and natural measures that stimulate the bees
to help themselves.  Sometimes this means that we must let a weak
colony die…as treating will only propagate genetic traits that are
not suitable to our environment, and sometimes what appears to be
weakness is acually an advantage.  This does not mean that we check
for disease and only treat when necessary…we do not treat.

Generally, beekeepers provide sheets of foundation (a sheet of beeswax
with hexagons embossed on both sides).  The foundation is wedged and
wired in the center of the frame, and the bees “draw out” the embossed
hexagons on both sides into comb in which they raise brood, and store
both honey and pollen.  It seems that based largely on an untested
theory, the size of the embossed hexagons has been enlarged a couple
of times industry wide…the idea is that a larger cell will raise a
larger bee (true), and that a larger bee will bring in more honey (not
true…the larger bee is bigger and heavier, but has the same size
flight muscles).  There is  evidence to suggest that this larger cell
size contributes to susceptibility to varroa.  Another issue with
foundation, is that it is usually purchased from supply houses, and is
made from wax that potentially has all kinds of chemical residue.

We don’t use foundation at all.  Most beekeepers don’t know that bees
can be kept without foundation in a movable comb hive, but obviously
this is how bees evolved (and were kept before 1842, when foundation
was invented).  There are some things to keep in mind when using a
foundationless system, and some details can be found here.

There are credible (and profitable) cases of regressing large cell
(LC) bees in stages down to their natural cell size using foundation
with progressively smaller hexagons as a way to combat varroa mites
and other disease.  We believe that the bees should make whatever cell
size (and sizes) they feel they need, as natural comb has a variety of
cell sizes and using foundation dictates a fixed cell size.  Our bees
make comb as they would in nature, without foundation, and sized
according to their own needs.  Very few beekeepers even know that this
is possible, and it does require more labor, attention and time than
using foundation.  “Foundationless frames” also allow us to keep bees
more closely according to their own nature, and it also seems to be
affording us the same kind of varroa and disease resistance that the
small cell beekeepers are seeing.  This year, we used a product called
Honey Super Cell (HSC), which is a fully drawn, food grade
polypropolene, small cell comb.  The purpose of this is not to keep
bees on artificial comb, but to regress the bees in size quickly.
After the first generation is born in the plastic comb, they draw
small cell comb on their own.  HSC is used by us only as a tool for
regression of LC bees to SC.  We are committed to let the bees draw
comb as they see fit, in a foundationless system.”

Getting off the Treatment Treadmill    /  by Dean Stiglitz

“The only way to get off treatments is to stop treating”

Laurie and I have been committed to keeping bees without chemical
treatments for the last several years.  With some success, some
failure, and many hours of research, we decided to do things on a
larger scale this year.  Our priorities were to not use treatments,
and to keep healthy bees.

Chemical Free
When we attended Bee School several years ago, we were both surprised
by the number of chemicals that were recommended for use inside the
beehive.  We did treat with Apistan and menthol our first year,
experimented with both formic and oxalic acids for mite control a
couple of times, and occasionally used unmedicated grease patties.

After joining the Organic Beekeepers email list last year, we became
aware of a growing number of beekeepers that were successfully keeping
bees without any treatments and without significant problems.  They
claimed that the key was to “regress” the bees and their comb down in
size for “small cell beekeeping.”  I’m skeptical by nature, and didn’t
really believe this was the reason for their success.

What does make sense is that any treatment to reduce any pathogen or
pest will prevent the selection of bees that can withstand the natural
occurrences of these challenges, as the more susceptible bees
reproduce successfully. At the same time, parasites and hosts
generally find an equilibrium (as a parasite that is too damaging or
aggressive towards its host will kill its “meal ticket” without having
the opportunity to reproduce, culling both its own genes, and those of
the host, from their respective gene pools).  Many of the “stress
diseases” like chalkbrood and European foulbrood are present in the
background of many, if not most colonies.

When the bees are strong, the virus or bacterium can survive and
reproduce in peace without damaging the host.  But when the colony is
under stress and weak, it is no longer a good host (it can’t insure
the survival of itself or the parasite).  The parasite attacks the
host aggressively, and the bees become, like any compromised organism,
prey.  By suddenly increasing the population of the infection, the
parasite both dooms the colony, and increases its chance of spreading
to another colony either on a flower, in the wind, by robbing, or by
drift in a relative explosion.  (Interestingly, the bees do a striking
similar thing when hopelessly queenless, in that laying workers create
a suicide flurry of drones, hoping to spread their queen’s genetics in
one last burst of energy).

A strong host is a good host (likely to provide food and to spread)…
but parasite populations, like all life, are always evolving into
their changing environment.  When treatments are added to the system
in order to harm the pest, you increase the pressure on the parasite,
and its evolutionary defenses push back towards equilibrium.

This insures only that more and/or different treatments will be needed
as the pest evolves, and it means that its population will likely
explode if treatments are suddenly removed. This is largely the
situation we are in today.  Bees are genetically coddled (and
poisoned) with medication, and parasites and other disease organisms
are being bred for strength.  To us, it seems fairly self evident that
the only way to get off treatments is to stop treating, and to be
willing to take the loss of bees that can’t survive without

For over 100 million years, bees have been facing “new threats” and
old ones.  Bees have not been eradicated in all that time (not even by
the asteroid blast that wiped out the dinosaurs), and are still the
cornerstone and shapers of the ecosystem that we inhabit.  Not using
chemical treatments will not wipe out the bees, but artificially
coddled stock that can’t sustain itself without chemical intervention
is (in our opinion) worthless….Mother Nature would never suffer such
bees! I have scrutinized much of the research done on the history of
foundation cell size and have come to accept the following as

1. Before Gottlieb Kretchmer in 1842, there was no foundation, and
bees made natural comb with no influence from humans as to cell size.
2. In 1893, Prof U. Baudoux advocated larger cell sizes in order to
produce stronger bees that could forage further, and carry more
3. Baudoux was able to convince much of the industry that larger bees
were better, and in the 20’s through the 40’s, foundation cell size
was increased well above its natural size.

Baudoux’s theories have been disproved…yet we are still stuck with the
large cell size.

What is somewhat ironic is that Baudoux was a Lamarckian, and believed
that environment and activity directly affected the traits of the next
generation. (The classic example being that a giraffe has a long neck
because when a giraffe stretches its neck to get the higher leaves,
its offspring have longer necks.  This is in contrast to the Darwinian/
Mendelian explanation that individuals with long necks are the ones to
survive and reproduce and that mutations that lead to a longer neck
are beneficial).  I can’t think of many other populations on which one
could appear to demonstrate Lamarckian theory successfully, as bees
raised on large comb will use surrounding comb and their own body size
as gauges when building new comb….so Large Cell (LC) bees will make LC
comb when shaken down into an empty box or when given empty frames.
Given a number of years, they will slowly regress back to natural
size, but in the short term, the offspring seem to have been changed
in a way that they pass on to the next generation.  This is
demonstrably not a genetic change.

So, why should cell (and bee) size impact anything?  Proponents of
Small Cell (SC) make claims ranging from the well documented to the
almost mythical.  Certainly there are beekeepers that use SC, don’t
use any chemicals or treatments whatsoever, and don’t have any
significant disease problems (despite others in their areas having the
usual laundry list).  Claims are made that once regressed, SC bees
forage in a wider variety of flowers, thoracic spiracles are too small
for tracheal mites to enter the bees easily, smaller drones fly faster
and are more successful at mating, SC bees get capped a day earlier,
and emerge a day earlier…giving varroa less time to reproduce inside
the capped cell.  SC bees are more likely to chew out varroa…and the
list goes on.  I’m not convinced of every claim, but some things have
become clear enough that we feel we can say with confidence:

1. LC bees are artificially overweight bees.  Overweight organisms are
not successful, and LC bees seem to require some treatments from
beekeepers in most cases.
2. LC bees are genetically identical to SC bees (although there may be
some evolutionary pressure from the number of LC bees kept, or the
mating success of SC bees).
3. The flight muscles (“the engine”) are the same size in SC and LC
bees.  If you picture putting a car engine in a truck, you would not
imagine the result to be a very good truck…and trucks don’t fly!
4. Natural cell size varies with latitude and altitude, but seems to
center at about 4.9mm.  Common foundation in the U.S. is 5.4, and I’ve
heard reports of almost 6mm foundation in Russia.
5. The difference between 4.9 and 5.4mm is huge, especially when
considering 3 dimensions (volume).

Beekeepers whom we trust are successfully doing what we want to do
(managing a large number of hives successfully without any
treatments), and they are attributing their success to SC practices.

Tried and True Methods for Regression
Most people reading this use foundation, and probably wire it.  You
may have noticed that in the last few years SC foundation has been
available from some of the major beekeeping equipment suppliers.  LC
bees will not be able to properly draw out 4.9mm foundation (their
bodies are too big).  The 4.9mm foundation can be used, and just
accept that the first box of comb will be a little irregular.  An
intermediate size is also available, 5.1mm, and one can do the
regression in 2 stages.  It’s generally recommended that bees be
“shaken down” onto SC foundation rather than replacing it over time.
I would say that the faster you can regress your bees, the better, and
that a shakedown is not overkill.

There are almost no drawbacks to doing either of the above methods.
Until regression is complete, however, the bees are not getting the
advantages from SC, and drawing out all of that foundation takes
time.  It’s also worth considering that foundation is made from wax
processed from other beekeepers with unknown management practices.
Chemical and pathogen contamination is a real concern here, and some
who use no chemicals make their own foundation for this reason.

Another way to accomplish the regression is to install or shake down
bees onto small cell comb.  Honey Super Cell (HSC) makes a fully drawn
plastic comb that is excellent for this purpose.  We installed all of
our packages onto 5 frames of HSC and they are doing wonderfully.
Once the first generation emerges from the HSC, either start adding SC
foundation, or, as we do, start adding foundationless frames and
really let the bees go natural!

Much of the information presented here (especially things that are not
from my first hand experience) come from the Organic Beekeepers list
(with 1500 members), Michael Bush, and Dee Lusby (who, along with her
late husband Ed, did most of the sleuthing into unraveling the history
of cell size, and pioneered SC beekeeping.  She manages 900 hives by
herself in Arizona).  All of these are valuable resources for anyone
interested in “getting off of the treatment treadmill”.  For more
information on some of our cost saving measures, some very old
beekeeping literature (including 1912 and 1913 WCBA programs) and the
ins and outs of foundationless frames and regressing with HSC, see our
website: http://www.beeuntoothers.com






Requiem for the Honeybee  /  BY Prof. Joe Cummins
Neonicotinoid insecticides used both in sprays and seed dressing may
be responsible for the collapse of honeybee colonies.

There has been a great deal of concern over the decline of the
honeybee across the US, Europe and Australia [1] (The Mystery of
Disappearing Honeybees, this series). The United States National
Research Council (USNRC) Committee of the Status of Pollinators in
North America report [2] focused on the impact of parasites, fungi,
bacteria and viruses, but did not pay much attention on the impact of
pesticides and genetically modified (GM) crops, which may have lethal
or sub-lethal effects on the bee’s behaviour or resistance to
infection. There have been strong responses to the report on that
account. On the other hand, any suggestion that GM crops and
pesticides may be causing the decline of honeybees is met with heated
denial from the proponents.

Certainly, honeybees are declining both in areas where GM crops are
widely grown, and in other areas where GM crops are released in small
test plots. Is there a common thread that links both areas?  Yes there
is, the universal use of systemic pesticide seed dressing in GM crops
and conventional crops; in particular, the widespread application of a
relatively new class of systemic insecticides – the neonicotinoids –
that are highly toxic to insects including bees at very low
concentrations. Systemic pesticide seed dressings protect the newly
sprouted seed at a vulnerable time in the plant’s development. Seed
dressings include systemic insecticides and fungicides, which often
act synergistically in controlling early seedling pests.

The neonicotinoid insecticides include imidacloprid, thiamethoxam,
clothianidin, and several others. Imidacloprid is used extensively in
seed dressing for field and horticultural crops, and particularly for
maize, sunflower and rapeseed (canola). Imidacloprid was detected in
soils, plant tissues and pollen using HPLC coupled to a mass
spectrometer. The levels of the insecticide found in pollen suggested
probable delirious effects on honeybees [3]. For several years since
2000, French and Italian beekeepers have been noticing that
imidacloprid is lethal to bees, and the insecticide is suspected to be
causing the decline of hive populations by affecting the bee’s
orientation and ability to return to the hive.

Confused and disoriented bees
A team of scientist led by the National Institute of Beekeeping in
Bologna, Italy, found that pollen obtained from seeds dressed with
imidacloprid contains significant levels of the insesticide, and
suggested that the polluted pollen was one of the main causes of
honeybee colony collapse [4]. Analysis of maize and sunflower crops
originating from seeds dressed with imidacloprid indicated that large
amounts of the insecticide will be carried back to honey bee colonies
[5]. Sub-lethal doses of imidacloprid in sucrose solution affected
homing and foraging activity of honeybees. Bees fed with 500 or 1 000
ppb (parts per billion) of the insecticide in sucrose solutions failed
to return to the hive and disappeared altogether, while bees that had
imbibed 100 ppb solutions were delayed for 24 h compared with controls
[6]. Imidacloprid in sucrose solution fed to the bees in the
laboratory impaired their communication for a few hours [7]. Sub-
lethal doses of imidacloprid in laboratory and field experiment
decreased flight activity and olfactory discrimination, and olfactory
learning performance was impaired [8].

Bayer corporation scientists reported that neither honeybees exposed
to imidacloprid in sunflower seeds dressed with the insecticide [9]
nor maize seeds dressed with the insecticide or released from the
seeds during planting [10] were detrimental to honeybees. The Bayer
studies did not deal with sub-lethal behaviour of intoxicated bees. An
independent study found that imidacloprid was released to the
environment from treated maize seeds during seed planting [11]. Bayer
eco-toxicologists directed harsh criticisms at reports showing lethal
or sub-lethal toxic effects of imidicloprid seed dressing and
concluded that imidacloprid does not pose any significant risk to
honeybees in the field [12], without, however, disproving the
findings. It is simply yet another case of the anti-precaution
principle being applied [13] (Use and Abuse of the Precautionary
Principle, ISIS News 6)

Turning to GM crops such as maize, canola, cotton and soybean it is
clear that all of these GM crops, with or without Bt genes, use seeds
most of which are coated with neonicotinoid pesticides highly toxic to
honey bees.  For example, Herculex maize with Bt genes to control
rootworm, like Yieldgard corn borer resistant maize, is planted with
seeds dressed with a neonicotinoid insecticide and a fungicide.
Furthermore, the GM planting requires setting aside plots of non-GM
maize making up 20 percent of the planted area as a “refuge” to
discourage the evolution of resistant insects.  But the “refuge” is
sprayed with neonicotinoid pesticide to protect its yield [14], and is
more like a death camp for insects. Monsanto’s US Patent 6,660,690
provides for coating GM seeds with chemical pesticides [15].

Toxicology known
The toxicology of neonicotinoid insecticides is well known. The
insecticides are inhibitors of acetycholine receptors (i.e., they are
nerve poisons).  They have low toxicity for mammals, birds and fish,
and are used to control fleas on dogs and cats [16]. The nicotinic
acetylcholine receptor gene family of the honeybee has been studied;
it has 11 subunit members, a larger number than the fruit fly or
mosquito. The genes for the subunits employ alternatively spliced
transcripts to increase receptor diversity, and the messenger RNAs are
edited to replace specific A bases with I bases. Information on the
receptor should allow for development of insecticides that are not
harmful to bees [17].

In conclusion, the US NRC Committee did not deal with the heated
debate over neonicotinoid pesticides and honeybee decline. Instead,
that it seemed to suffer from tunnel vision and to be overcautious
about matters that threaten large corporations.

We urgently need a thoroughly independent committee to consider the
full range of factors that may be contributing to the decline of bees,
including pesticides, GM crops and electronic devices, before the bees
become extinct.