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Q:  Are orchard bees affected by the mites that kill honey bees?  Mites are killing my orchard bees.  What can I do?

A:  Honey bees colonies are attacked by tracheal and varroa mites.  These mites can devastate the colony, and have made beekeeping increasingly difficult for beekeepers.  Osmia are not affected by either of the parasitic mite species that affect honey bees.

Osmia have their own specialized mite parasites, the hairy-fingered mite.  These mites are a problem especially in humid areas such as coastal areas of the Northwest.  Osmia mites do not affect honeybees.  To control these mites, use loose cell management and treat the cocoons with a mild bleach solution (1 tbs 5% hypochlorite in a gallon of water).  Dogterom (2002) describes this method of loose cell management.  If you use straws and liners, Bosch and Kemp (2001) suggest holding straws to the light and cutting out affected cocoons.  

A tray or laminate system of nesting is needed for loose cocoon management.  BeeDiverse offers one type of laminate nesting system.  Pollinator Paradise's Osmia Binderboard™ also work very well with either straws or loose cells.  We offer a special wooden scraper designed to push out Osmia cocoons from 4 Binderboard™ grooves at once.  Contact us for information.

You can also store the cocoons at 85°F in low humidity in early June to kill the young mites.

If you are planning to introduce orchard bees into an orchard, it is always best to purchase parasite-free cocoons.  Some suppliers are very good about removing mites from their cocoons.  Ask your supplier if the bees are parasite free.  In some areas, parasites may build up from natural populations, so be sure to check your populations for parasites in the late fall or winter.

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Q:  I've been hearing so much news about the problems that bees and other pollinators are having these days.  What's the deal, and what can I do to help?

What's been happening to bumblebees?

Honey bees have been prominent in the news recently because beekeepers lost many of their colonies in the winter of 2006, spring 2007.  The symptoms suggest something new may be causing this mortality.  The bees in an entire hive disappear over a short period of time, there is no sign of varroa mites or other known parasites or diseases, and a number of other symptoms are involved.  Researchers have named the problem "Colony Collapse Disorder" (CCD), and are trying to figure out what is causing it.  Reports suggest that 25% of all honeybee hives in the US have succumbed to this disease. 

The number of colonies that have died of CCD is probably less than has been reported, because many cases of dying colonies don’t show all of the symptoms of CCD, and are likely caused by one or more of the known causes of honeybee mortality.  Recent publications in the journal Science report on a studies of microbes associated with colonies that have succumbed to CCD (Cox-Foster et al, Science vol. 318, 12 Oct. 2007, p. 283).  The researchers identify one organism, Israeli acute paralysis virus of bees that is strongly correlated with CCD, but it’s not clear if it is the cause.   One report suggests that the organism came to the USA with Australian package bees.  Another report indicates that the virus has been in the US since at least 2002 (Chen, Y.  and  Evans J. D.  American Bee Journal, December 2007).   "...researchers don't yet know whether one variety of IAPV can be more harmful than another. For that matter, no one has yet shown that IAPV can cause colonies to collapse.   "Until you have introduced the virus and caused disease, you're just postulating," cautions Bruce Webb, an entomologist at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. "The conclusive data are not in." (Stokstad, Erik.  ScienceNOW Daily News 2 November 2007).

Even if the mystery of the cause of CCD is discovered and a cure found, honey bees are up against many sources of stress from the environment and from the way that they are managed to meet the needs of crops that use them for pollination.  At the 9th International Pollination Symposium in Ames, IA at the end of June, Dr. Marla Spivak from U. of Minnesota set the stage for this year’s honey bee losses by enumerating the problems, calling it a “perfect storm”:  Resistant varroa mites, old wax combs with disease and pesticides, reduced forage and reduced diversity of forage, poor bee nutrition, a depressed honey market, increased movement of bees around the country and to staging areas in California where many colonies are kept together and can spread disease, etc.  “There’s not a simple answer”, she says.  “Honeybees are caught up in our stewardship of the land, and they are a reflection of what is going on with us.”

The good news is that people are more aware now that pollinators, including honeybees, are in trouble, and they are necessary for fruit and seed set in 1/3 of the food that we eat, as well as most wildflowers and flowering plants that we admire .  There is an effort to get language into this year’s farm bill acknowledging our need for pollinators and encouraging their preservation, and also an effort to increase funding for research on pollinators.  June 17 - 23 was the first National Pollinator Week, culminating with the US postal service issuing new pollinator stamps.

What can you do to help pollinators?  Bottom line is: plant flowers that bees and other pollinators like.  Keep natural areas untilled and free of pesticides to encourage ground nesting bees, and offer artificial nests sites, like our Binderboard™ for twig nesting bees.

For more information about pollinators and pollination see several wonderful web sites: 

The North American Pollinator Protection Campaign:  http://www.nappc.org/   
The Pollinator Partnership:  http://www.pollinator.org/index.html   
The Xerces Society:  http://www.xerces.org/    
The NBII (National Biological Information Infrastructure) Pollinators Project
  including information about bees and wasps
The Urban Bee Project
US Forrest Service “Celebrating Wildflower” web pages include lots of pollinator information: http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/index.shtml  
The Great Sunflower Project, (San Francisco State University)

See also these pages on the Pollinator Paradise web site:
Dr. Suzanne Batra's essay on Pollen Bees 
Suppliers of orchard bees and supplies

For information on butterflies and butterfly gardens:

Relevant scientific and news articles about CCD

From the USDA ARS website:

MAAREC: Mid Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium:  

Public Television had an excellent show that aired on Nova in late October, 2007.  There is a link to the show on the MAAREC website.  One of the more amazing scenes was from fruit orchards in China where honey bees have disappeared, and growers have to pollinate the trees by hand! 

Stokstad, Erik.  Science, vol. 316, 18 May, p. 970 
Stokstad, Erik.  Science, vol. 317,  7 September, p. 1304
Cox-Foster et al, Science vol. 318, 12 Oct. 2007, p. 283 
Chen, Y.  and  Evans J. D.  American Bee Journal, December 2007
Stokstad, Erik.  ScienceNOW Daily News 2 November 2007

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What's been happening to bumblebees?

Some species of bumblebees have been declining over the past decade in the US and Britain.  The reasons are not clear, and may be unrelated to the decline in honey bee.  Read about the decline. 
Xerces Society Bumble bee web page   You can help monitor bumblebee populations!  
Dr. Sidney Cameron's research  (University of Illinois) 

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Top of Page  Pollinator Paradise      Pollination Ecology at UI    The Solitary Bee Web   
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   About Dr. Strickler 
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Updated March 26,  2001.
Updated March 31, 2008
Copyright © 2001, Karen Strickler. All rights reserved.