As the seasons change, our hives face certain risks, such as attacks from parasites and being underprepared for the winter to come. From the mites feeding on our bees to the moths trying to destroy our hives, we have a lot of work cut out for us as we manage the safety of our bees. We must diligently check for signs of infestation and take steps to keep our hives as strong as they can be.
Around this time of year, with the changes in temperature and often damp weather, our bee populations are very susceptible to parasitic takeovers. With the boom in their numbers throughout the productive and pollen-abundant seasons comes a similar increase in the Varroa Destructor population. These mites latch onto the abdominal joints of passing bees and feed on their hemolymph, much like a tick feeds on a mammal's blood. They also get in the cells of honeybee larvae and feed on them as they develop. This stunts their growth and leaves them vulnerable to many viruses and diseases that negatively impact the colony’s productivity.
In addition to the Varroa mite infestation, hives can be weakened due to aging queens laying fewer eggs, the introduction of a virus or disease, diminishing stores of food, and sometimes due to robbery by another hive. If the population of a hive drops too low, the bees won't be able to protect the hive from larger parasites, like wax moths and small hive beetles.
When a hive weakens, wax moths and small hive beetles can move in, reproducing quickly and destroying the colony. These pests gain access through the entrance at the bottom of the hive. If the moths gain access to the hive, they will begin laying their eggs in an unguarded corner since there are not enough bees to guard every comb.
When wax moth larvae hatch, they will eat their way through the comb, killing the bees' young by disrupting their growth cycle and consuming their stored pollen. After reaching the end of their larval stage, the moths will spin a cocoon that is durable and highly corrosive to the bee box itself. A compromised hive will be full of webbing, destroyed combs, and hundreds or thousands of cocoons. These cocoons leave little indentations in the wood or plastic of the box when scraped off. With a little patience and a lot of work, these boxes can usually be returned to service.
Working Hard for our Hives
Of course, we do everything in our power to keep our hives safe and healthy. We check the health of our colonies often. If we catch a problem in time, we can usually save a hive from infestation. A well-populated hive can usually protect itself, so we make sure to add brood frames from healthy hives to weaker ones or combine hives when necessary. We also replace older queens that have started laying fewer eggs with properly mated youthful queens. Not only do bees need to fight predators, they also need a strong population in the fall to prepare for winter and survive until spring.
Throughout the entire year, we lose about 30% of our hives, and these numbers start to spike this time of year. Last winter, U.S. beekeepers lost nearly 40% of their hives, so our hard work is definitely paying off. Even so, these numbers prove that beekeeping is a difficult task that takes hard work and dedication. With the sharp decline in feral bee populations, the work of beekeepers is more important than ever.