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Friday, April 27, 2012

Necropsy Pending…

bees seeking the sunAmong the “Must See” videos on my home page the other day, none of which usually interest me in the slightest, was an image that stood out—at least to this beekeeper: a record set by a Chinese man. You’d think he’d have a broad, record breaking smile on his face, but his lips were pursed, his mouth tight-lipped. What you could see of his face presented a stern, stoic expression. A record-setting attempt is serious business—especially if the record involves an insect capable of injecting a potent dose of venom into the record seeker. The fellow’s morose expression derives from the fact he has cloaked himself in three hundred thirty-one thousand honeybees. Amazing, correct? To me, yes—but not because each of the bees covering him (seventy-eight pounds!) could prick him with a barbed stinger and deliver what could be to some a fatal anaphylactic reaction. Amazing, not because of the daunting task of counting out that many bees (not “bean counters;” “bee counters,”:  “three hundred thousand and one, three hundred thousand and two…”). Amazing that some human being should wish to set such a record in the first place and be cavalier enough to attempt it? No, none of those for this keeper of bees. Rather the fact that given the scarcity of honey bees these days, how in the world did the subject and his helpers gather that many bees to attempt the record! I mentioned in an earlier post (“Bee”wildered in the Valley,” 3/19) that each spring my over-wintered colonies—if they survived at all—had dwindled to the point I would be hard pressed to come up with enough to string together a bee necklace.Bees Neez

This week was package bee week at the Beez Neez Apiary Supply in Snohomish and as in years past I volunteered two days of my time to help proprietor Jim Tunnell and staff parcel out 520 three and four pound packages of bees to eager beekeepers.Four pounders Bees weigh in at approximately 3,500-4,000 a pound: 520 packages…you do the math and again you have a prodigious amount of bugs present—further reason for me to lament the paucity of bees now in my care.

Two weeks ago I said,“Enough, is enough,” and in desperation decided to share my problem with the scientists at Washington State University’s Bee Diagnostic Lab. I visited their website and made copies of the instructions for collecting and sending a sample. According to the lab’s instructions, a half to full cup of dead bees was needed for a viable sample. The little corpses were then to be placed in a leak-proof container and completely submerged (“one half inch above bee level”) in isopropyl alcohol.

Over the next six days I gathered dead bees from a plywood catcher board I placed in front of the stricken hive. I collected any bees adjacent to the board as well. (House cleaning workers drag out the deceased, tidily ferry them off a few inches from the hive entrance, and drop them in the grass.) After six days of gathering, my sample totaled slightly more than a half cup. spring mortality(Most beekeepers send dead bees from dead out hives,  a sample of which would easily yield a cup or more from the dead bees on the hive’s bottom board. The instruction sheet further suggested the sample could be gathered from returning field workers by temporarily closing the entrance and then netting the hovering bees until a sufficient number were captured. I simply couldn’t bring myself to capture and kill a cup’s worth of bees from an already suffering hive.)

I filled out the requested paperwork, answering such questions as: “Estimated colony losses in the last 12 months [6 of 10 colonies]; predominant ‘strain’ of bees in the beeyard [Italian]; origin of stock if known, i.e. queen producer, etc. [Steve Parks Apiaries, Palicedro, California]; all chemicals used for disease/pest management in last 12 months and frequency of use [fumagilin for nosema disease, fall/spring, formic acid pads to treat for varroa and tracheal mites, fall]; and ‘have you seen symptoms of CCD in your yard?’ [Colony Collapse Disorder…yes].” I typed up a complete history of my beekeeping experience here in the Tualco Valley, pre and post mite arrival at my bee yard, gave detailed information on how and when the sample was gathered, as well as the health of the colony from which the sample was taken. WSU sampleI dumped the pile of dead bees into a half pint wide-mouth mason jar, submerged them in rubbing alcohol as per the directions, boiled a canning lid for fifteen minutes and sealed the jar with it. To check for leakage, I inverted the jar on a paper towel for two days. Also as directed, I attached a label with identifying data on the glass, swaddled the jar in bubble wrap, nestled it in a small box and packed newspaper tightly on all sides. I placed the informational letter on top of the packaging and sealed the box with strapping tape. The next day and five dollars and seventy-six cents later, the sample was en route to Pullman, Washington.Off to the lab

Now I’m anxiously awaiting the results, and as I patiently wait, another day passes, and this “beekeeper” continues to be a “bee loser…” dwindling…dwindling…dwindling….

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