New Website Released BBKA Spring Convention – Varroa Resistant Bees & Practical Guides

Today at the Spring Convention 2023. A new website has been released. Please check out the new website.

Varroa Resistant Website

This is very useful if you are looking at going down the route of treatment free and raising varroa resistant bees.

AFB Vaccine – How much will it help?

Everyone is talking about the new AFB vaccine. A vaccine for bees is a miraculous milestone in honey bee management, but how much will it help?

A vaccine for AFB (American foulbrood) in honey bees is a mind-bending achievement. But will it change the landscape of beekeeping or will colony loss continue unabated? To answer that question, let’s look at how the vaccine works.

How does the queen develop immunity?

To understand how the new AFB vaccine works, you need to know just one thing about the honey bee’s immune system. Simply put, insects do not make antibodies like those in humans and dogs and goats.

Instead, bees have “transgenerational immune priming.” Don’t worry about the offputting name; the idea is simple. It just means that when mom (the queen) develops an immune response to something in her environment, she can pass it on to her kids.

That’s it: the whole thing in a nutshell. The vaccine developers exposed queens to dead AFB bacteria so they could develop natural immunity and pass that immunity to their offspring.

There are no genetic modifications, no mRNA, and no freaky chemicals. The vaccine is even approved for organic agriculture.

How does immunity move from queen to colony?

Well, that’s simple, too. Here is a step-by-step description of the process.

  • Dead AFB bacteria are infused into a solution of sugar water that is fed to nurse bees. The nurse bees are unharmed because the bacteria are dead and, in any case, AFB does not affect adult bees.
  • After eating the dead bacteria, the nurse bees secrete royal jelly from their glands. This royal jelly is contaminated by little bits and pieces of dead AFB.
  • The nurse bees feed this contaminated royal jelly to developing queens.
  • Each queen remains unharmed by this, but her own immune system learns to recognize the contaminant and develops resistance to it.
  • After she digests the royal jelly, both the nutrients and the immunity information are stored in her ovaries and fat bodies.
  • When her fat bodies produce vitellogenin (a protein used to make egg yolks) the immune information moves from the queen into the yolk.
  • The yolk nourishes the baby bee and passes the immunity to the offspring.

That’s crazy cool, right?

How much immunity is passed on and does it last?

According to the research, bees raised by this method have a 30 to 50 percent increase in their resistance to AFB. That may not sound like much but it is a tremendous increase over what occurs naturally. Although field trials are ongoing, it appears the immunity lasts for the life of the queen. However, if the queen dies or stops laying, the colony will need a new vaccinated queen to maintain its immunity.

However, as vicious as the disease is, American foulbrood is not currently the biggest threat to honey bees in North America. Still, for those beekeepers with infected hives, this vaccine may well be a game-changer.

American foulbrood

American foulbrood (Paenibacillus larvae) is a bacterial disease spread by spores. It infects the guts of larval honey bees where it reproduces wildly until the bee gut splits open, releasing millions of new spores. The resulting mess has a molasses-like appearance and smells like death. The new spores spread easily throughout the hive and can survive for decades.

What causes the most honey bee losses?

According to the USDA, in April-June 2020, US colony losses (in operations with at least 5 hives) due to all diseases totaled just 5.5 percent. That small slice of colony loss includes AFB along with many other diseases such as EFB (European foulbrood), chalkbrood, stonebrood, paralysis virus, Kashmir bee virus, deformed wing virus, sacbrood, IAPV (Israeli acute paralysis virus), and Lake Sinai virus.

But during the same time three-month period in 2020, 43.1 percent of colonies were affected by varroa mites. As you can see, losses from AFB were only a fraction of the 5.5 percent, significantly less than those stressed by varroa mites.

In the next quarter, July-September 2020, 6.1 percentof colonies were lost to those diseases and 55.7 percent of colonies were affected by varroa mites. Unfortunately, colony losses from AFB are an afterthought compared to infection by varroa mites. Varroa mites don’t always kill the colony, but they can weaken them substantially.

Additional causes for colony loss

In addition to diseases and mites, other losses resulted from alternative parasites (such as tracheal mites, nosema, hive beetles, and wax moths), pesticides, queen loss, and miscellaneous mishaps (such as bad weather, starvation, predation, and hive damage).

As you can see from the lists, many of these conditions overlap and it’s often difficult or impossible to assign a category. For example, a queen could die from a viral disease causing the colony to collapse. Do we say the colony died from viral disease or queen loss? It’s not an easy call.

Likewise, did a colony collapse because of varroa mites or the diseases varroa mites carry? Some researchers hope that if we could control the viruses, the honey bees may slowly evolve to live with the mites. Such a breakthrough would buy more time to allow mite resistance to develop naturally.

A vaccine is an outstanding achievement

It is easy to see that American foulbrood is not our biggest problem, at least not right now. However, we must remember that in other times and in other countries, it has been a much larger problem, and it could be again.

AFB outbreaks here at home still happen, and they can be devastating to a beekeeper and to nearby apiaries. There’s no doubt that a vaccination that works is an exceptional achievement.

Hope for future interventions

I think the best news relates to the scientific breakthrough of a bee vaccine. Even if one vaccine doesn’t solve today’s worst problem, perhaps hope for other diseases is on the horizon. Even more exciting is that nearly all egg-laying creatures have vitellogenin, including insects, birds, fish, and, amphibians, so this technology has the potential to be used over and over in other species as well.

Already the scientists at Dalan Animal health who developed the AFB vaccine are at work on a similar vaccine for EFB. And after that, who knows? Can a vaccine for viral diseases be far behind?

Written by and credit to
Rusty Burlew

Scientists evolve a fungus to battle deadly honey bee parasite

A varroa mite sits on the back of a honey bee
A new heat-resistant fungus might help fight varroa mites, such as the one behind this honey bee’s head. SCOTT BAUER/USDA AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH SERVICE

“The beekeeping industry has a great need for alternatives,” says Margarita López-Uribe, an entomologist at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, who was not involved in the fungal research. “So it is very exciting to see that there is potential for a nonchemical treatment.”

Varroa destructor has plagued beekeepers and their bees for decades. Some researchers have hoped to combat them with biopesticides, microbes that naturally target specific insect pests. Compared with traditional chemical pesticides, they are less toxic to other animals, including humans. One biopesticide, the common soil fungus Metarhizium acridum, has been used against locusts in recent years. Some 2 decades ago, researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and elsewhere began to study related species that can kill the varroa mite.

When spores of M. anisopliae, for example, land on a varroa mite, they germinate and grow tiny tubes that drill through the exoskeleton and grow throughout the insect, killing it (see video, below). “They can literally bust through the shell,” says Jennifer Han, an entomologist at Washington State University (WSU), Pullman. The fungus might have been a great biopesticide, but for one catch: It wouldn’t grow well inside the warmth of the hives, which can reach temperatures of 35°C.

So Han and colleagues set out to create a heat-tolerant strain of the related M. brunneum. First, they stressed the fungus by starving spores or adding hydrogen peroxide to its growing medium. This sped up the rate of mutations. Then, the researchers put spores from the stressed fungus in an incubator and gradually raised the temperature. Most of the spores died, but the survivors seeded the next generation. After seven rounds of this unnatural selection, the percentage of spores that germinated at 35°C—a crucial step for infecting the mites—increased from 44% to 70%.

The next step was to boost the deadliness of the fungus because strains can become less virulent when repeatedly cultured in the lab. After adding a petri dish with the heat-tolerant fungal strain to a honey bee hive, Han and WSU entomologist Nicholas Naeger found fewer than 4% of dead mites in the hive had died from Metarhizium. So the researchers grew a new batch of fungus from the dead mites and treated the hive with that strain; in the second round of experiments, 50% of dead mites succumbed to a fungal infection. Two rounds later, the kill rate was just over 60%. All told, Han and Naeger counted more than 27,000 dead mites over the course of their experiments. “When you close your eyes, you still see little varroa,” Han says.

To get more of their fungal mite slayer into hives, the researchers cultured it on brown rice, added it to a mesh bag, and put the bag inside the nest. The bees would try to remove it, causing spores to drift down on the mites. To compare this new treatment to oxalic acid, a common chemical used by small-scale beekeepers, the researchers then treated 30 colonies with either the acid or the fungus. After 18 days, the fungus was just as good as the acid at keeping the number of mites in check, the team reported last month in Scientific Reports. Because the dose of Metarhizium was relatively low, Naeger says its performance could likely be improved.

Further tests are needed to demonstrate the treatment’s efficacy, says Scott McArt, an entomologist at Cornell University. Mite populations tend to proliferate later in the year than when the study was conducted, he notes, so the fungus would need to be tested against higher numbers of mites to prove its worth.

Another question is cost. The biopesticide will likely be more expensive than oxalic acid, Han and Naeger say, and it is more time-consuming and complicated to use than common chemical pesticides. But the fungus is likely safer for hives. Bees can fall sick or die if concentrations of oxalic acid are too high, and other chemical miticides can cause reproductive problems in the pollinators.

Han and her colleagues are continuing to develop more effective strains of the fungus and reduce their costs. “I think this is going to be a long process,” she says. But if they succeed, it would be a “really big advance,” McArt says. “There are a ton of beekeepers who do not want to put pesticides in their hives.”

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