Most folks will understandably think are fast asleep, (They do not hibernate) tucked up, waiting for Spring.
There is more to a colony than you could imagine, the mild winter in the UK has meant greater activity than simply hunkering down for the cold spell…

Not a lot happening just yet, well, not externally!

However, because I have been examining the debris that falls into a tray beneath the floor of selected hives on a regular basis, I can observe (by the mites that are to be found in it) that although winter months should bring about a lessening of activity, much has been going on.

We have not experienced the low temperatures that are associated with winter and, as a consequence, life within the colony has been altered by the very mild conditions.

Honeybees do not hibernate! They cease activity when temperatures are lower than 9C, and as we have had and still are having temperatures up into the ‘teens, external and internal activity has ever been present.

A normal winter state should see the colony form a cluster (ball) and very little movement or consumption of stores should take place.

The queen will cease to lay eggs and no brood should be in evidence; everything is on hold until spring appears.

What has my debris examination and counting of the mites revealed?

Well, the queens have continued to lay eggs that have developed into larvae and eventually into new bees.

This scenario has suited the varroa very well and they have been breeding along with the bees.

How do I know this? Let’s delve into the life cycle of the varroa mite: when a queen lays an egg, in three days it will turn into a larva. This larva is cared for by nurse bees that will feed it and eventually seal it into the cell it occupies.

Within this sealed cell, metamorphosis takes place and a new bee will emerge. Chemical signals (pheromones) pass between bee and larva, so each is aware of every step coming along.

The varroa mite also picks up on these chemical signals (varroa are on the bodies of the nurse bees) and before the wax seal is effected, a mite will enter the cell and be sealed in with the developing larva.

As the larva changes into a bee, the mite (this is an adult breeding female) proceeds to lay her eggs and produce young. (There is more going on but another article is needed to explain.)

My debris observations are showing me dead mites of varying colours, some very white, some dark brown, and some with a dash of both colours.

How is this coming about? In essence, as the bee is developing so are the young mites. The metamorphosis cycle has matured and a new bee is ready to emerge.

As my debris is revealing, not all of the young mites have reached maturity – hence the lack of colour in some of them. They are not the brown colour they should be, but as the bee has fully developed and chewed through the wax seal and emerged into the hive, those immature mites die off as do some of their mothers and the bees clean out the cells ready for further use.

The dead bodies and particles of wax, plus other debris, end up in the collecting drawer beneath the colony.

This should not be happening in winter. But it is.

Harold Williams.



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