Rolling Bees In Powdered Sugar


How To Make Your Bees Really Angry, Yet Really Popular In The Hive!

Hey, I found a way to soothe a bee sting. Make an apple pie from apples the bees pollinated. That puts you in a forgiving mood.

So, periodically, I have to check the bees for varroa mites. They have actually been a problem for the last 15 years or so and could be part of the problem with Colony Collapse Disorder. They can seriously weaken your colony. And if you're wondering why I don't talk about CCD much in the blog, here's why: every few years, the media likes to find some disease and use it to scare the pants off of us, "this could wipe out the human race" ie SARS, West Nile, Bird Flu, and now CCD. I want to wait and see before I run around like Chicken Little. Anyway, in some recent photos, I thought I was seeing mites on a bee or two. Case in point, check out the bee just emerging from the cell in the above photo. See the brownish spot on top of the head coming out? I'm fairly certain that is a varroa mite.

So, I have two ways for testing for mites. One is getting 250 bees, soaking them in alcohol (killing them), and sifting the dead mites from the dead bees. The other is to fill a jar with 250 bees, put screen over the lid, drop in a tablespoon of powdered sugar, roll the bees around in it (not killing them), and letting them sit for a minute. Apparently, the powdered sugar causes the mites to fall off. After a few minutes, I shake the jar and sugar and mites fall through the screen and I return the sugar coated bees to the hive, mite free...although a tad angry. I decided to go with the powdered sugar method, I'd rather have angry bees than dead bees.

I took out some frames to gather the bees. You're probably wondering how you know when you have 250 bees in a jar? Apparently, one fluid ounce roughly equals 100 bees, so we poured in two and a half ounces of liquid in a jar, marked it with tape. Then we took a bee brush and used that to brush bees into the jar. Once we had them n the jar, we slammed on the lid with the screen, and bonked it to make the bees fall to a pile. Fortunately, we estimated well, and the pile reached the 250 mark. For the record: bees REALLY do not like this at all. I'm pretty sure if someone could translate the buzzing coming from the jar, they would have recorded much profanity and threats of bodily harm.

It's at this point where you pour in the powdered sugar and roll the pile of bees around to get completely coated. Boy, if I thought they were unhappy before, that's nothing compared to this.

You let them sit in there to give the varroa mites a chance to fall off. Isn't this just the coolest photo? It's like you're looking into a tunnel of ghost bees. It's like what you might find in the closet of the movie Poltergeist. It's even freakier when you see this image moving around each other.

After a few minutes we shook the sugar out onto a white plate and we found about three or four varroa mites in each hive. So, we have an infestation, not a bad one and I am choosing not to treat it this fall, but next spring we might take some action, I want read up to see what the latest is. In some areas, the mites are developing a resistance to antibiotics, but there are some other options to look into. So, after the mites are counted, we have to release the sugared bees back to the hive, here's a video, it reminds me of when the ghosts joined the battle in the Lord of the Rings series:

Isn't that freaky. The other workers swarmed around the sugared bees to lick of the sugar. Here's a photo:

The bees get cleaned off fairly quickly. Here's an up close shot:

Now, you may be wondering if powdered sugar causes the mites to slide off, why not dump a bunch all over the hive from time to time? Some bee experts say that powdered sugar gives the bees too much starch and can cause problems. Although, I hear there are some beekeepers who do it with good results. Again, I have all winter to research our options before I make a decision.

Something else interesting we noticed in the Kitty hive, a few of the bees had a yellow mark on them. We did not see this on any of the Olga bees, just Kitty. NBB and I found about four bees with the yellow mark. It almost looks like someone took a tiny paint brush and slapped it down the thorax a la Pepe Le Pew cartoons.

I watched one of the marked bees for sometime, and I'm guessing that it's just some sort of pollen dust pattern. Maybe from going inside a hibiscus? I don't know, any experienced beekeepers have any input?

And I'll end with one more bee video that NBB shot of some workers trying to clean off a bee. It's a really sweet video, the sugared bee almost falls over and the others rush in to lick off the sugar. Maybe they are trying to help or maybe they are taking advantage of the food, but either way, it's cool: