A Honey Bee’s Versatile Defense
It is always a glorious sight to see a frame full of golden honey pulled out of a hive by a beekeeper. Few people are aware of all of the processes bees have to go through in order to produce this honey and to protect the colony from various threats, such as varroa destructors, Small Hive Beetles, Greater Wax Moths, and mice; all of which could infiltrate a hive and cause death to a colony.
Varroa mites are detrimental to honey bees. They feed off of the bee’s fat body (a part of the body that plays a part in energy production, growth, and immunity). This leaves open wounds which enable the Deformed Wing Virus to be transmitted. This virus causes the honey bee to have deformed or wrinkled wings, preventing the bee from being able to fly and forage (Ranasinghe, 2020). The mites invade a hive using stealth; a mated female varroa mite sneaks into a cell right before it is capped. After the female mite’s firstborn male mates with his sisters, one or two of these mated sisters, along with the mother, leave the cell when the bee emerges.
They then seek other cells to invade (Flotum, 2018). Fortunately, a new strand of honey bees, Saskatraz bees, has recently been developed. This strain of honey bee was produced by using Russian bees, known for tolerance to varroa mites, and German bees, known to be particularly hardy (Schneider, 2021). Saskatraz bees detect young adult bees that are infested with mites. They uncap and expel the infested pupae, which helps to control the mite population (McLaughlin, 2021). The Purdue bee, another type of bee that has been discovered, bites the ankles and chews the legs off of mites (Lopez-Uribe, 2020).
Besides having to defend against Varroa mites, honey bees also have to contend with Small Hive Beetles. A pest native to African honey bees, Small Hive Beetles are able to thrive in temperate climates. The first specimen in North America was discovered in South Carolina in 1996. Another specimen was found in Florida in 1998. They continued to spread to several continents (Holt). These beetles are attracted to disturbed colonies and lay eggs in locations that the bees cannot access. The eggs hatch, and these larvae tunnel through comb, excreting a liquid. When this liquid comes into contact with honey, it ferments and makes beetle slime, and these odors attract other beetles. When the beetle larvae matures, it burrows into the soil beneath the hive. Once it turns into an adult beetle, it reenters the hive and eats and spoils the bee’s food stores (Flottum, 2018). To counter this, bees harass and imprison the beetles within walls of propolis. Certain species like African bees, remove the beetle eggs and larvae (Holt).
Another threat to the honey bee, the Greater Wax Moths, prefer to attack weak colonies (Department of Jobs, 2021). A mated female moth sneaks past the guard bees at night. She then lays her eggs in boxes with brood. When the eggs hatch they turn into moth caterpillars that feed on beeswax, pollen, honey, larvae and pupae. Tunneling through brood comb, they leave excrement in their wake. Once they pupate, they spin tough cocoons that bees cannot remove.
The adults that emerge from these cocoons mate outside, and the females infest other colonies. To help prevent this, the house bees in a strong colony catch and remove the moths and the wax worms (Flottum, 2018).
In addition to the other threats mentioned, mice are a pest much larger in size. These pests present a problem during the fall and winter, as bees are more dormant and huddle together to keep warm; thus the mice are left unhindered. They eat the honey and pollen, and ruin the combs. In the summer time the bees are able to chase them out of the hive or sting them to death (Burns, 2013). Occasionally the bees will encapsulate the corpse with propolis and wall it off to prevent the bacteria from spreading throughout the hive (Rusty, 2016).
In responding to all of these threats, the honey bee shows its versatility in defending its colony. From uncapping and expelling the pupae of varroa mites, to harassing and imprisoning Small Hive Beetles, to catching and removing the Greater Wax Moths, and chasing out or stinging mice to death, honey bees remain vigilant in protecting their colony. This year, my family is awaiting the arrival of four packages of Saskatraz bees. After researching the strengths of this type of bee, my family and I are looking forward to watching these bees successfully defend themselves against these threats. We can hardly wait to give them a try!
Burns, David. LESSON 140: Protect Your Hives From Mice & Combine Hives If Necessary, 1 Jan. 1970, basicbeekeeping.blogspot.com/2013/09/lesson-140-protect-your-hives-from- mice.html?m=1.
Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions. “Wax Moth a Beekeeping Pest - Agriculture.” Priority Pest Insects and Mites | Pest Insects and Mites | Biosecurity | Agriculture Victoria, Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, 20 Jan. 2021, agriculture.vic.gov.au/biosecurity/pest-insects-and-mites/priority-pest-insects-and- mites/wax-moth-a-beekeeping-pest.
Flottum, Kim. The Backyard Beekeeper: an Absolute Beginner's Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden. Quarry Books, 2018.
Holt, Holly “Small Hive Beetles.” Plone Site, ento.psu.edu/research/centers/pollinators/resources-and-outreach/disappearing- pollinators/small-hive-beetles.
McLaughlin, Bill, et al. “Saskatraz Bees Review: An Indepth Look at Their Traits, Pros, & Cons.” Backyard Beekeeping 101, Backyard Beekeeping, 20 Feb. 2021, backyardbeekeeping101.com/saskatraz-bees-review/.
Lopez-Uribe, Margarite, et al. “Purdue Ankle Biting Honey Bees: What's the Buzz?” López- Uribe Lab, 20 Jan. 2020, lopezuribelab.com/2019/02/18/4236/.
Ranasinghe, Kashmi. “How Does Dr John Roberts Save Bees from Varroa Mites?” CSIROscope, 2 Oct. 2020, blog.csiro.au/bees-varroa-mites/.
Rusty, et al. “Do Mice Eat Bees?” Honey Bee Suite, 31 Mar. 2016, www.honeybeesuite.com/mice-ate-our-bees/.
“Saskatraz Bees Review: An Indepth Look At Their Traits, Pros, & Cons.” Backyard Beekeeping, backyardbeekeeping101.com/saskatraz-bees-review/#.
Schneider, Angi. “5 Honey Bees to Consider, Including Buckfast Bees.” Backyard Beekeeping, Backyard Beekeeping, 14 Mar. 2021, backyardbeekeeping.iamcountryside.com/beekeeping-101/honey-bee-types-buckfast- italian-carniolan-caucasian-russian/.
My name is Abigail Hackett. I am fifteen years old, and currently in the tenth grade. I live in New Ipswich, New Hampshire on a five-acre farm. I love animals, and currently have three horses, a llama, sheep, a goat, a dog and two cats. My interests include horseback riding and showing, reading literature, spinning wool and wool crafts, and drawing. My family has five beehives, and I help with these a little, as needed. I find bees to be very interesting, and I definitely enjoy the honey!