My Quest to Figure It Out
by Michael Lund
The last couple of years there have been several articles about robbing, and some studies. So, I think it is appropriate to reprint my article from March 2017 ”My Quest To Figure It Out”. My Quest to Figure It Out, was my Grand Finale, the last article for the BYBA newsletter. After Jeff Shwartz, the editor at the time, talked me out of quitting the club, he gave the article a new title. I called it Theories: The Proven, the Probable, and the Crazy. Jeff also got me to write more articles, because he felt I had a lot to offer the beekeeping community.
At the February 2018 BYBA meeting Kirsten Traynor talked about European Intensive Hive Management and, being the new American Bee Journal editor, she asked for articles. I sent some article in and most were too short. ABJ did print Will the Hive Survive in the July issue under Letters to the Editor. I was working and did not have time rewrite the articles so, on April 9th 2018, I decided to send My Quest to Figure It Out. I did not hear from Kristen for over a month and on May11th she responded that it was too speculative. The idea of the article was to make people think and look for new ways to fix problems, an improvement on a community level. 3/11/2023
My Quest to Figure It Out
Theories: The Proven, The Probable, The Crazy
Exploding the Mite Bomb Theory
MITE BOMB! The concept of beekeepers neglecting their hives, as a result the hive gets weak due to
varroa mites and eventually gets robbed out. The “robber” bees bring mites and viruses back to their
home hive which eventually crashes, then the cycle repeats itself.
The “mite bomb theory” depends on the theory that every hive that is weak, is so because of varroa mites. Anybody that has ever read a beekeeping book or observed their own hives know hives can be weak for many reasons. A new package, nuc , split, swarm or mangled queen are such examples. The real reason for crashing hives is kleptomaniac bees…bees that can’t help but take advantage of weak hives!
Rise of the Klepto Bee
Bees that rob ,Klepto bees. Basic breeding practices – breed bees with a trait, you get that trait! If your
bees always seem to have mites no matter what you do, those bees are robbing! Where else can that
many mites come from? Maybe both the bees and mites drastically reduced their reproductive cycle? I
haven’t read anything of this nature. I’m going with robbing. What penalty do they get for their robbing
behavior? Most people use chemical treatment and they propagate the robbing genetics.
At meetings I hear recommendations to treat 3 times a year. Yet in an old article I read “ the infestation
starts slowly and by the third or fourth year the mites have a large enough population to substantially
damage the colony. “February 1986 Gleanings in Bee Culture Page 51 Resistance to Varroa”
In 1986 treat once after 3or 4 years 2016 treat up to 3 times a year. That sounds like modern beekeeping
is failing. Were screen bottom boards in use back then? (1986)
Screen Bottom Board Disorder
My theory that bees rob through a single layer of screen, mostly screened bottom boards, but any place
screening is used. I’m not sure of the mechanism, do foreign bees get in and hand off the goods? Do
robber bees cling to the screen and beg for food then get fed?
I’ll use the introduction of a queen into a package as an example .The queen is introduced to bees from
various sourced hives. A queen is in a small box called a queen cage which has a screen and an escapable
port . This port is sealed or filled with sugar for a timed release. The queen in her cage is placed in the
hive along with the bees from the package. The bees from the package lick the cage/ queen and get to
know their new queen .While screened in her cage during the introduction process, bees feed her, remove
royal poop , communicate and if need be, kill her. If food is passed through a screen to feed a queen then
why can’t robbing be done in the same way.
You’re feeding your bees (assuming you have more than 2 hives). All are expanding in both brood and
food, except one hive . This hive has no food and a small amount of capped brood. What is happening to
the food you’re feeding ??
A) A hole in the feeder, food is dripping on the ground
B) failing queen
E) Hive Getting robbed out
Rise of the Mighty Mite!
Basic breeding practices breed mites with a trait and you’ll get that trait. Breed mites with a short reproductive cycle and you get mites that will reproduce in either worker or drone brood.
Method 1: Remove mites with a long reproductive cycle, the mites most likely to use drone brood.
Trap those mites and remove, that leaves the mites that reproduce in worker brood. Drone brood removal!
Method 2: Breed mites with a shorter reproductive time. Don’t give the mites any drone brood. This
way the mite stock you have is the stock that reproduces just fine in worker brood.
Let’s assume you treat. As you install the treatment, can the mites detect this substance and drop to the
bottom board to make an escape? If They drop on the mite count board with nothing to trap them (sticky
stuff) they can walk right off. Can they walk to a hive not being treated? Perhaps move in with the bees
hanging around the front of the hive, and dissipate as bees leave for food. If the temperature drops can
they walk back into the hive, suck the life out of a bee then move out as temps go up and start to volatilize treatment? Are mites programmed to move away from a toxic environment, such as animals run from a forest fire to sustain their lives? I assume mites would also. Fast treatment such as vaporizing oxalic acid may kill
more mite because they don’t have time to escape.
What if, upon treatment, the mites get a one way ticket on a bee exiting the hive . These mites could infest
other hives. If this is the case then mite bombs are actually the opposite, mites leave hives in treatment
mode and infest other hives.
Big Boomer Crashed Big
After losing all my hives my second year of beekeeping I was done. Thanks to Jeff Shwartz, I’m still in
the game. What happened that winter ? According to my books my hive was great . Good queen, loads of
brood and stores . Most of my books at that time were over 40 years old. (pre-varroa) Varroa was
mentioned at meetings . But I made splits and had swarms, I thought I was good on the varroa thing. The
last swarm was the first week of July. July to winter – is that long enough to build a deadly mite load?
As I look back, was the Big Boomer the source of the cling-on bees that systematically drained the life
resources from my nuc? Did Big Boomer supply the massive swarm size cluster of bees under the screened
bottom board of hive #2. I dumped them in hive #2, I thought they belonged there. Was Big Boomer
harassing my other hives also? What about neighboring hives or feral bee trees? Big Boomer brought
loads of varroa home, but I’m sure they shared mites and viruses as well. If Big Boomer died in warm
weather this would fit the current mite bomb definition. Big Boomer died in winter, probably from varroa
it robbed from other hives. I see many new hives fall apart from robbing, they didn’t have time to build a
mite population. Are Klepto bees the reason for high failure rates? Are most Big Boomers home to
1) Combative: These are the bees you see in hand to hand combat at the entrance. You’ll see a pile of
dead bees in front of the hive.
2) Friendly Robbing: Bees that seem to have unlimited access to the robbed hive. Maybe the robbed
hive was beaten up so long by combative robbers they gave up? The robbing has been going on
so long the pheromone is shared? Did the robbers steal the identity of the victim hive?
3) Screened Bottom Board Disasters: At first I put this in with friendly robbing. Now I wonder if its a stand alone phenomenon – could be as simple as bees begging for food and receiving food.
This article is derived from subjects I’ve addressed in other Back Yard Beekeepers
Association Newsletters, Queen rearing project, New bees/ not-so-new-bees and conversations with other members. Except “Mite Exodus” which I made up to go with the crazy theme in the title. As I developed
“Mite Exodus”, it turned out to be a scary subject.
At some point it would be nice if I had some scientific backing. When I mention things like robbing
through the screen, people look at me like I’m crazy. I am the void of scientific training and rely mostly on
observations. The whole science thing is time consuming, with having to take notes, comparing stats, and the
“what ifs” .. I’m more a brute force beekeeper!
Michael R. Lund