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Completion of the National Honey Bee Survey Kits…Finally!!

After months of hard work and dedication from our Penn State University team, all of the 875 kits for the National Honey Bee Disease Survey have been boxed and are ready to be shipped out to 33 states. We did encounter some problems in trying to obtain supplies and equipment for sample kits. Most were due to shipping issues or because stores ran out of needed supplies.

But finally, the kits are finished and will be transported to the USDA Bee Research Lab. Here they will be distributed to various states involved in the national survey. There is a bottle of champagne in this gigapan as a celebratory icon!

Thanks again for the hard work this lab has done over the years and as several folks from the Penn State lab make their way out to California to work on the Bee Informed Partnership project.

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Travel

Traveling across the nation conducting field work has led me to many incredible places, introduced me to some remarkable people, and helped build several unbelievable experiences. The people, the places, and the things I’ve done here at Penn State have helped to create an insatiable taste for life and a broader perspective of the world and how I fit into it!

Yes, a lot of the time on the road is spent doing field work, traveling from apiary to apiary, or orchard to orchard, working long hours, many miles from home, but we are handed gifts along the way. These gifts come in many forms so when I travel I always try to keep an open mind.

One such gift was presented to us the day we sampled Tom Glenn’s operation for the National Honey Bee Survey. Play the video to see what we saw on the front porch of Tom’s home.

February is a beautiful month to be in San Diego County and meeting with Tom is always a pleasure. Tom has a beautiful home that backs up to wildlife preserve and in the spring it is always full of life from the flowers to the birds. I once told Tom that I liked his property so much that when I died I wanted to come back as his dog so I too could lie lazily amongst the grass and soak in the sweet southern Californian sun.

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Nosema

Nosema. This gut fungus is still a mystery to me. The more I sample, the less it seems to make sense. I take samples for Nosema, analyze them, and provide the results to the beekeeper. The idea is to provide hopefully useful information to help with treatment decisions or decisions on choosing breeder. However, when I provide the beekeeper with the results, I do not know what to tell them. Nosema levels just don’t seem to correlate with colony health: huge and healthy colonies can have 30 million spores per bee. I don’t even know what levels are considered to be high or potentially damaging. Or even if it is above a treatment threshold, if the one registered treatment, Fumagilin, will work. I have sampled the same colonies before and after treatment, and could not detect a difference in Nosema levels. Also, beekeepers that treated and those that did not often had similarNosema levels.  One further frustration is I cannot tell the beekeeper if what species ofNosema is in their bees: N. apis or N. ceranae. I have been assuming that the spores I am seeing are the more virulent and prevalent N. ceranae, but I do not know for sure.

Part of my issue may be that the effects of Nosema are subtle. Spores may only injure the colony when there are other stressors like poor nutrition or viruses, so healthy colonies may be able to carry a larger load. Another issue could be that after a Fumagilin treatment the spores may still remain in the bee, but not do any more damage. Since I cannot tell the vegetative and reproductive spores apart in the microscope, I may get a misleading picture.

The more I sample, the more I wonder and worry if the information I provide to the beekeepers is actually useful. Am I giving them the curse of too much information? Do they actually need to treat if the spore level is high? Or is it just a waste of money? I do think sampling for Nosema is important since it seems to be one of the best ways to try and make sense of it. If I sample a beekeeper’s colony, then I will give them the information I find and just explain that we don’t really know what the levels mean. I don’t understand what is going on, but I will keep trying to figure it out.  (Photo by Michael Andree showing Nosema spores as seen with a microscope. The spores are the really regular-shaped ovals with a dark halo around them.)

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Colletes inaequalis congregation area

This is a large congregation of Colletes inaequalis, commonly known as the “Mining Bee.” This natural phenomenon occurs between March and July. The bee ranges from Nova Scotia, Canada south to Georgia, United States. This bee is known to be polylectic (diverse forage), but can specialize on pollinating apples. Colletes will fly about a half mile to a mile and a half for forage.

To view snapshots and full screen viewing of this Gigapan, see gigapan.org

If you are lucky enough to find a congregation area, it is a sight to see. There can be hundreds to thousands of these small, excavated tunnels present on the ground. The bees are usually flying one to two feet above the ground as they return from foraging. It is important when observing the bees to be careful not to step on them! If you look closely inside the excavated tunnels you may catch a glimpse of the head of a female protruding out from the tunnel, or you may see her back down into the tunnel.


In this video you see the mating behavior of Colletes inaequalis. The female is the larger bee and also excavates the nesting cavity. The males have foraging duties.

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Packing for Sampling Trips

As Rob prepares to take one last trip to California (early May) to complete the field work for the National Honey Bee Survey I was reminded of this Gigapan. I chose to post this panorama because it illustrates the kind of thought and time that goes into our sampling trips. Keep in mind that this is only a picture of the electronic equipment we bring with us when we travel. There is much more that needs to be prepared and packaged before we can leave to complete field work.

To view snapshots that describe what each of these items are and why I have packed them for the trip go to the Gigapan website by clicking on the link below.
gigapan.org

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Honey Bee Autopsy

The exposed gastro-intestinal tract and related organs of a worker honey bee

It has been nearly four years since I began working for Penn State University under the supervision of Dennis vanEngelsdorp. I have done just about every task, duty, or job in our lab since then. My responsibilities as a technician range from collecting and analyzing samples to shipping and receiving samples, as well as cataloging, processing, and analyzing them.

Job responsibilities have come and gone over the days, weeks, months, and years as an employee of the University. Just as I learned a new skill Dennis was always there pushing me to learn another and another and another…

One of the duties I was originally charged with undertaking was the ability to dissect honey bee workers for the purposes of conducting autopsies on the carcasses of honey bees collected during field work. It was a skill not easily learned; the success of which was mostly dependant on my desire to do something that, at the time, no one else was doing. I quickly took a liking to the tedious task and after four years I am proud to say that I have dissected the abdomens of well over 20,000 honey bee workers.

The overall goal of the dissections and the autopsies was focused on examining tissues housed within the abdomen of the female workers. Examination of these tissues aimed to look for signs or symptoms of pathologies using light microscopy. During the onslaught of CCD Dennis and I hoped that we might be able to identify a common symptom in the tissues of the workers that would lead us to a causative agent of the disorder. A physical marker or a symptom, if you will, that could link or distinguish non CCD bees from CCD bees.

It has been four years and 20,000 dissections later and we do not have a single common factor that would serve as a conclusive marker for CCD. Although our work on the autopsies is far from over there has certainly been a lot of discoveries. Often time’s research is not about what you can prove but what you can disprove. If nothing else the autopsies has helped us disprove many leads which in turn brings about new avenues to explore and thus the cycle goes on.

Pictured above is the gastro-intestinal tract of a honey bee worker that I dissected and photographed last autumn.

Mike Andree

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In the field: National Honey Bee Survey

This post comes in from Rob Snyder.

This is a gigapan of Pat Stayer’s Queen Production operation. In the image they are breaking up large colonies into smaller nucleus colonies. These nucleus colonies will have a queen cell placed inside each hive. The nucleus colonies are then located in apiaries called “Mating Yards.” This yard is where queens will successfully mate, die or be superseded. After approximately 10 days in warm sunny weather, beekeepers will check the nucleus colony to observe the status of the queen.

See snapshots and more detail about making up these sample kits at gigapan.org

We were here to sample 8 of Pat’s colonies for the National Honey Bee Survey. The National Honey Bee Survey is conducted by USDA/ARS and is sponsored by APHIS in collaboration with ARS. The survey attempts to document the presence or absence of pests, parasites and disease currently found in the United States. The survey is geared towards establishing the absence of Apis cerana, Slow Paralysis Virus (SPV) and the parasitic mite Tropilaelaps in our country’s honey bee population.

Beekeepers participating in the survey will receive a summary report within 3 months from ARS on the average apiary level of Nosema, tracheal mite, and Varroa levels in the sampled apiaries. In 4 to 6 months a separate molecular report will include bee viruses and Nosema species present in the apiary sampled.

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Overwhelming Participation!

Late-breaking news for supporters of The Bee Informed Partnership – as of Sunday night, we have had over 4,000 participants in the Winter Loss Survey and almost 2,500 participants in the Beekeeper Management Survey!  This has exceeded our expectations and we hope to keep those surveys coming.

We know that it is a tough decision whether to do your taxes first or take our surveys, but we aren’t asking for any money so perhaps that will sway your decision.  Please remember that the surveys are only open for 1 more week (closing on the same day that taxes are due – April 18th).  Thank you to all who have responded so far and we look forward to hearing from those of you right after you finish your taxes.

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