About Jennie Stitzinger

In the summer of 2010 I walked in to the Penn State Agricultural Sciences building to inquire about a job a friend had mentioned to me. I was a poor college student, I needed to pay my summer rent, I was offered the job and I took it—I had no idea what I was in for. Fast forward a little over a year and I was kneeling on rocks and mud, in the cold, northern California rain, surrounded by dairy cows and hundreds of hives while Africanized bees were pinging off my bee suit. With a degree in Community Development from Penn State University, I never thought in a million years I would be working with honey bees upon graduation, but I guess life sure has its surprises. Now a member of the University of Maryland Diagnostic team, I work on many different aspects of BIP and the National Honey Bee Survey. Whether it is field work, traveling, report writing, crunch time projects, or larger missions, I am most likely working on it. What is my favorite part of the job? Working on an awesome project that has impact and is helping beekeepers around the country, learning more about honey bees than I ever thought I wanted to know, and giving me experiences I never thought possible.

Moving On

Let me first start by saying the last three years have been a wonderful experience. I am so incredibly lucky to have spent them with some of the most amazing, ambitious, fun loving and dedicated individuals one could ever meet. That’s why today was a bittersweet day as I walked into the lab for one, final time. While I will be moving on to a new position, I will never forget the amazing and thrilling experiences and opportunities I had during my time at BIP. They will only serve as great memories and invaluable life lessons in all of my future endeavors. My journey with BIP took me from a quiet undergrad at Penn State to settling into Maryland to learn and grow both professionally and personally. It is with great hope for my future and a strong appreciation of all my past experiences at BIP that I move on to my new chapter, leaving one that I will look back on very fondly.  It has truly been a pleasure.

Waggle Dance

photo credit: www.mnn.com

photo credit: www.mnn.com

A couple weeks ago we heard a talk on native bees and the way in which they communicate nectar source locations amongst themselves. Certain native bees leave an odor trail by way of pheromone droplets. The stronger the pheromone is, the more bees that will be attracted and led to the food source.

Honey bees have their own way of sharing a nectar source location by way of what is known as the ‘waggle dance.’ The dance is performed near the hive entrance to ensure convenient entry and exit of foragers to the source. It is not performed when just any nectar source is found, but rather when the source is highly profitable.

When a bee comes back from foraging and begins to dance the other foragers gather around her excitedly like an audience. The dance involves wing fluttering and a figure-eight pattern with a straight walk in the middles of the loops. By allowing fellow bees to sample her antennae she shares the odor of the flowers with them.

photo credit: picture-book.com

photo credit: picture-book.com

Make no mistake every bit of the dance is significant. The longer the waggle dance, the farther the nectar source lies from the colony. Typically, dances last between 1 and 100 waggles, but with every 75 milliseconds it appears the bee is communicating that the nectar source lies an additional 330 feet away. The dancer even indicates the direction of the source from the angle she positions herself on the hive from the sun!   Check out the following video posted on PBS that explains the dance:

http://video.pbs.org/video/2300846183/

DC Urban Beekeepers

This past Saturday Rachel Bozarth and I represented BIP at the Maryland State Beekeepers Association (MSBA) spring meeting. It was nice to interact with new beekeepers and many were interested in the BIP survey. By the end of the meeting all of our free pens and flyers were gone, so I’ll count it as a success.

were_capitol_beekeepers_logoAlthough it is the Maryland State meeting, the association also draws beekeepers from Virginia and Washington, DC. I got to see one of my favorite people to talk to, Toni Burnham, a sweet and bubbly, urban beekeeper in DC. Toni is Vice President of MSBA and started keeping bees a couple of years ago. Her passion for her hives is clearly evident as well her enthusiasm about helping others develop an interest in keeping bees. She is a resident of DC and president of DC Beekeepers Alliance, a group of urban beekeepers in DC, all of whom have creatively placed their hives all over the nation’s capital. Each member has a fascinating story of how they became interested in beekeeping and how they climb out their windows to the top of their roofs to tend or hives or extract honey.

If you are living in DC and interested in keeping bees it is definitely an organization to check out! You don’t even have to keep bees to attend meetings, just have a general interest and you’re sure to get all the information you need.  You can check out their site here.

Emergency Response Kits

With 2013 already off to a running start, we at the Bee Informed Partnership are looking forward to the coming year and the many new initiatives we are planning on launching. One such project we unveiled in late 2012 was the Emergency Response Kits (ERK), which is a partner initiative with the USDA Bee Research Lab. You can check out the protocols HERE.

The aim of the EERK KitsRK is to help large and side-liner beekeepers who are seeing suspicious or high losses gain some understanding as to why these losses may be taking place.  If a beekeeper would like a kit a BIP team member will contact them to ask them some questions about what symptoms they are seeing, what they have tried and other possible contributing factors. If the reason for colony loss is not ruled out during the conversation the beekeeper will be rushed a kit.  One sampling kit costs $80 and includes two live bee boxes, a funnel, a quarter cup measuring scoop, 16 small bottles with alcohol and metal flashing for shaking the bees on to from the frame. In total, 16 hives will be sampled, 8 weak and 8 healthy. The weak samples will be placed in a separate live bee box from the healthy samples and shipped to the USDA Bee Research lab to be tested for viruses and viral loads. While the live bee samples for the viruses are combined, the 16 colonies are sampled on an individual level for Nosema and Varroa and sent to the University of Maryland to be processed by our diagnostic lab.

If desired, a pollen kit can be included in the ERK for an additional $680 making the total kit cost $760. The pollen kit allows for the same eight weak and eight healthy hives to be tested for 170 known pesticides by the USDA/Agricultural Marketing Service in North Carolina. Two tubes will be provided for a healthy and weak composite pollen sample.

All ERK samples will be high priority, but because we are coordinating with multiple labs, some results will become available before others and we will notify beekeepers as they come in. Once all results are received, the beekeeper will receive an official report.

As this is a new project aimed to provide beekeepers with a valuable service, we encourage not only participation, but feedback as well. We want this to be as useful and informative as possible, but we cannot do that without your help. Let us know what you think about this idea. Would you utilize this service? Do you have any critiques on our procedures or sampling methods? Is there a service we didn’t include in the kit you would like to see? Let us know!

January Travel

Bees awaiting the bloom in Chowchilla, CA. Photo Credit: Karen Rennich.

Bees awaiting the bloom in Chowchilla, CA. Photo Credit: Karen Rennich.

The past couple of weeks have been filled with exciting travel and great experiences. The month of January began with our annual BIP meeting where the team gathered in Hershey, PA to discuss the year’s accomplishments and the many tasks that lie ahead. Having all our far-away team members in the same room, speaking face-to-face was a great way to make sure we are all on the same page with the different aspects and tasks we are performing. I think it left us all wishing we had opportunities to meet like that more often. We have accomplished so much in the past two years and we are all very excited for what is ahead, though we certainly have our work cut out for us.

From Hershey, I went with Katie Lee and Liz Frost to The American Honey Producers conference in San Diego. Besides the fact that San Diego was absolutely beautiful, I really enjoyed finally meeting the beekeepers I had either heard about, or interacted with on the phone or through email for many months. I was able to meet a small handful of the California queen producers who work with the CA Tech team and also bond with Katie and Liz, who I had not had a chance to spend time with prior to the meeting. We mostly worked in the BIP booth, accosting wayward beekeepers to take our surveys, explaining our project and sharing new goals and initiatives for the coming year.

Karen NHBS Sampling

Karen Rennich getting ready to sample for the National Honey Bee Survey. Photo Credit: Karen Rennich.

After spending a few days in San Diego, Karen Rennich and I drove to the Central Valley to do some National Honey Bee Survey sampling. It was colder than we expected it to be, which we all know, does not make for happy bees. Sampling however, went smoothly. It was wonderful to be out in the field for a spell even if it was chilly because there are surely no bees flying with the cold spell we are currently having on the east coast right now. We saw some healthy, flourishing bees, but also saw some bees in very poor conditions. Hopefully, we will be able to give answers as to what could be going on with both the good and the bad bees we sampled.

Overall, the three trips were successful. From discussing our projects goals and seeing long lost team members from all over the country, to putting a face to a name (or in this case a voice I had heard on the phone), and getting to have some fun with the bees in the field, I was exhausted. But I certainly felt that I had accomplished much at the end of my travel.

Trip Highlights: Eating all the chocolate I ever wanted in Hershey; the Starbucks in the hotel in San Diego (I believe this saved me on a daily basis); off-roading in our Hyundai Sonata in the Central Valley (if anyone wonders, these cars do surprisingly well in all sorts of terrain); being chased by 4 ferocious, but tiny dogs ,down a dirt road; the man who snored louder than I knew humanly possible the whole flight home (somehow this never got old, it just got more funny, probably from my exhaustion); and after three weeks of living out of a suitcase as big as I am, getting to pack up my things, and with the bees at my back and the sun setting ahead of me, I was able to head back home.

The view from the running path outside the hotel in San Diego.

The view from the running path outside the hotel in San Diego.

 

Beeswax Candles

There is something about the scent of beeswax that always makes me think of the holiday season.  I remember late evenings in my garage next to my dad with pounds and pounds of beeswax ready to be molded into figurines and candles, a tradition we started when he began keeping bees. Even today, our house is filled with the scent of beeswax at Christmas when we uncover boxes and boxes of candles that never seem to lose their fragrance.

The sweet fragrance of beeswax makes for a perfect holiday gift and, like it or not, all of my elementary school teachers got a beeswax gift of some sort from me in my younger years. Beeswax candles burn slow with a virtually smoke free flame, giving off more light and heat than typical paraffin or soy candles. In addition, they do not contain the harmful chemicals or toxins candles found in the store often contain, allowing them to burn cleaner.

The supplies needed to make candles from beeswax are simple and can be easily picked up at your local craft store. They include: beeswax, candlewicks, wick tabs, super glue, pliers, and jars (I like mason).

Tutorials abound online for beeswax candle projects and if you’re looking for DIY holiday gifts this just might be the present you are looking for. When I am home over the holidays, I plan on digging up some supplies in the garage and trying my hand again at making some of these candles and sending my friends and family ones a homemade, love-filled gift.

photo credit: www.abeautifulmess.com

BIP Tagging System

Ever since the BIP Tech Teams were established in California and Minnesota, we have been thinking about a tagging system to differentiate colonies that are part of the sampling process and those that are not. We also want to keep an organized, easily accessible way to let the teams and beekeepers view colony data, mostly Nosema and Varroa loads, on the go without having to page through massive amounts of information in a spreadsheet. Our tagging system, being debuted for the first time this fall sampling season, seeks to see how we can accomplish making our data manageable involving PVC cards, weatherproof labels and unique identifiers.

First, each colony that is involved in BIP testing will have two PVC cards. One PVC card will be printed with a beekeeper code, the hive number, and BIP logo, while the second card will have a weatherproof label on it reading FALL 2012, or the current sampling period. Both of these cards are stapled to the hive. The first card containing the beekeeper code will stay on the hive for the life of its sampling, only to be removed if the colony is removed from the sampling pool.

Beekeeper Code & Hive Number

Once Nosema and Varroa are processed for the first sampling period, another weatherproof label will be placed on the second PVC card with this data directly over top of and covering the “Fall 2012 label”. For the spring sampling period, another label will be placed on the PVC tag reading “Spring 2013” to note to current sampling period.   Once Nosema and Varroa counts are processed for spring sampling another label will be placed on the same card so that there is an easily accessible record of current and historical data.

Weatherproof labels showing Nosema and Varroa levels.

To maintain integrity of the samples, each sample includes the beekeeper code, the state it was sampled in, the type of sample and the date of the sample.  This is all connected with a unique identifying sample number.  The purpose of all of this enables the colony to be searchable in the BIP master database.  Once the specific code is entered, all colony data will be brought up, allowing us to track the colony’s health over the course if the lifetime of the queen.

We hope that this system will work best for the beekeepers and Tech Teams, and also that the pilot testing this past season will give us more insight as to what works and what doesn’t. We are always open to suggestions, improvements and comments in order to make the tagging system simple and intuitive for all involved.   Once you start sampling and managing data from hundreds of colonies, something as simple as labeling is no longer so simple.

The Pettis Test

Photo Credit: James Castner, University of Florida

It has been said that the largest enemy of the honey bee is the Varroa mite. Latching on to the bee, weakening their immune systems and causing an increased risk of disease and virus with their bite, it is the equivalent of a human being having a tick the size of dinner plate attached to their body—a sickening thought. This is probably also why beekeepers need to have a Varroa control plan in place or should be aware of the threat that Varroa mites can cause within the hive.

One of the ways the BIP Tech teams will be experimenting with Varroa control in the coming spring will be by way of the Pettis Test developed by Research Leader, Jeffery Pettis of the USDA-ARS Bee Research Lab in Beltsville, MD. To view the complete protocol and try it yourself click the link HERE.

The Pettis test looks at colonies that appear to be resistant to Varroa mite treatments, which, unfortunately is a fairly common occurrence. Overtime, Varroa mites develop immunity to mite treatments leaving chemicals and methods ineffective. The test looks at the effectiveness of Coumaphos, also called CheckMite+ and Fluvalinate, known as Apistan. The two products come in the forms of strips that are usually placed into the hive. In the case of the Pettis Test, the two products will be tested simultaneously and the medicated strips are placed into jars with sampled bees, collected in slightly similar way to a sugar roll. By taking a sample of bees and looking at the number of mites killed in a certain period of time, you can determine if a hive’s mite population is resistant to treatments.

The equipment needed is simple and other than Apistan and Checkmite, which can be ordered at http://www.brushymountainbeefarm.com/, all are items you might have on hand. If you are interested in learning to control your mite population or curious if the mites in your colonies are becoming resistant to treatments check out the test. It is a non-harmful, simple way to get new insight into the health of your colonies and may lead you to investigate introducing a chemical rotation in the management of your colonies instead of relying on a single product.

 

Bats As Pollinators

Boooooooo!  http://carpedurham.com

Last week we got the opportunity to sit on in some of the presentations at the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) conference in Arlington, VA. A few of these talks mentioned or focused on unusual pollinators. To me, when I think pollinator I immediately think bee and I would guess it is the same for many of us here at the Bee Informed Partnership. However, NAPPC does not just focus on honey bees, but seeks to make the public aware of all pollinators whether they are flying mammals, other insects, or reptiles.

One pollinator in particular that was mentioned brought back a terrifying childhood memory I swear I will never forget as long as I live. As creatures of the night associated with Halloween, I find it appropriate to mention bats as pollinators.

Long Nosed bat feeds at night. Photo credit: http://www.thedailygreen.com/environmental-news/latest/facts-about-bats-0930

During the day, honey bees and other insects work to pollinate the flowers that flourish in the sunlight, but once darkness falls bats come out of hiding and begin their work. Because of their extremely limited sight, bats are drawn to large flowers that open at night. Generally, these floras are highly fragrant and are pale colored making them easier to locate during the night. A bat can visit up to 30 flowers over the course of the night feeding on pollen and also transferring what sticks to their body from flower to flower. Combined with the high numbers of flowers visited in one night and the far distances bats travel to get to certain flowers, they are expert pollinators and cross pollinators.

If you’re anything like me, bats as pollinators are fascinating, but you’d rather never encounter one. Luckily for me, these plant feeding species are mostly found in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. Two species can be found in the US in the spring as they migrate from Mexico to Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. Bananas, mangoes, guavas, and the agave plant, which is used to make Tequila (thank you bats! Or, on second thought, maybe not) are dependent upon bats for pollination.

Dear bats,

Thank you for pollinating my favorite fruit, but please stay away from me and my hair.

Sincerely,

Jennie

Pollen feeding bat. Photo credit: http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/news/1521/nectar-feeding-bats-live-energetic-knife-edge

Apitherapy

In a recent conversation with my grandparents, long time arthritis sufferers, they mentioned something about honey bee stings to help ease the pain of arthritis. While this was news to me, apitherapy, as it is apparently called, and is the use of bee related products for medicinal purposes is not new at all. In fact, using bee related products for nutritional purposes has been in use since ancient times.

One of the most common types of apitherapy is using honey bee venom to help eliminate arthritis pain. This is called Bee Venom Therapy or BVT and was introduced by Austrian physician Phillip Terc in 1888. It is not known if this specific form of apitherapy was used in ancient times, though it is entirely possible.

Photo Credit: http://apitherapy.blogspot.com/2012/05/bees-for-health.html

The honey bee is usually held with a pair of tweezers and allowed to sting the patient at the arthritis trigger point. The normal, initial redness, swelling and pain are experienced. Note: if you have severe allergic reactions to bee stings this treatment is not for you! The patient receives the BVT treatment every day until this reaction no longer occurs, usually about three weeks. A session generally consists of two to five stings but it can be an upwards of 20 stings! Ouch!  When the patient becomes desensitized to the stings, the treatment is discontinued because it is found to be ineffective. At this point the patient might feel significantly less arthritis pain, if any. Once the arthritis symptoms reoccur (and they may never again), the process is repeated.

It is believed that bee venom is a natural anti-inflammatory and pain reliever and so BVT can also be performed for bursitis, tendinitis and dissolving scar tissue in the same manner it is used for arthritis. The therapy however, has mixed reviews. Clinical studies done at Lehigh University, Georgetown University Medical Center and University Medical Center, Groningen, in the Netherlands conclude that there is no pain relief in patients who used BVT, yet the treatment is still being used for patients by some doctors. What do you think? Is the treatment a hoax?  Do you know anyone who has tried it? Would you try it?