Varroa vs Braula
Not even a week ago I interviewed Harry Owens, Chief Bee Inspector of the Isle of Man, about the fear that the Varroa Mite could be on our island. Our bees are very healthy and one of the last bastions of honeybees to not be affected by this parasitic mite nor by Foulbrood or CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder). Beekeepers do lose hives here but certainly not like they do in most of the rest of the world. However we may now be at risk.
There are efforts to find the foreign hive that might have been brought to our shores but I’d have never expected to find mites on my own bees. Shockingly, that is exactly what I found on them yesterday.
In my first ever Vlog I recorded what happened – I was pretty shaken up about the whole thing but by the time I made the video I had been soothed by the news of it being false alarm. The small reddish brown “mites” that I spotted living on the backs of my bees were not Varroa at all but an insect called Braula. Also known as the ‘Bee Louse’ these flies eat honey in the hive and are seen as harmless to the bees themselves.
I’d never seen them before so what are the chances that we have this beekeeping scare and then I find lookalikes on my bees? It was Harry Owens who had a look at the photos and he told me that the same flies had given him a fright when he first began inspecting hives for Varroa some years ago. Apparently the Bee Louse is becoming rare in areas that are dealing with the Varroa Mite (practically everywhere outside the Isle of Man and Australia) since the chemicals you need to put into the hive to control Varroa also kill this insect.
After the very un-fun experience of nearly having a heart attack I continued on with what I’d planned on doing in the first place – moving my angry white colony into a new hive. The one they lived in up until yesterday was old, damp in places, and gnawed on the back by rodents. It was time for a new house.
Being extremely aggressive, they didn’t like it at all when I gently moved them but I think they’ll be enjoying their new digs now. In the video I show how aggressive they are about ten minutes after they’ve been re-homed. Not really the poster child of honeybees for anyone wanting to start beekeeping but that’s the reality of this colony’s personality.
That brings me to another beekeeping plan I have this year. After speaking about this troublesome colony to Harry Owens, I decided it’s time to re-Queen it. I’ve not liked the idea up until now but it really needs to be done. This hive, after all, is very close to the allotment field and it would be extremely unfortunate if they caused any trouble there. Each time I leave the hive there’s about twenty bees that follow me all the way back to the car. They could easily divert from my path and make a ‘bee-line’ to someone working on their plot.
Re-Queening involves finding the Queen Bee, removing her, and then introducing a new Queen. Since importing Queens is both an offense (a £5000 fine) and not desirable due to the threat of Varroa infection, I’ll need to find or make a Queen here on the island. There will be more on this later in the spring.
In the meantime, my Laxey bees are fine, the Onchan hive is fine as of a couple of weeks ago, and soon I’ll be reuniting them in Laxey. I have a feeling that this is going to be a busy and interesting beekeeping year!