The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor – March 2020

- March 1, 2020 -

The Greatest Generation

Per Meghan Milbrath (“The Greatest Generation,” January 2020 ABJ): “The reason we have such high winter losses is … we do not put enough attention into making sure that we have enough healthy winter bees. We know that varroa peak right when winter bees are getting formed.”

Well, to compensate for that, I subscribe to the method in “OTS Queen Rearing,” authored by Mel Disselkoen. By the first of July, I dispatched (squished) all the queens in my apiary, young and old, and then in each colony I “notched” some cells containing less than three day old larvae, which the colony transforms into sealed queen cells. This not only breaks the brood cycle for one month, and creates an additional setback for varroa’s breeding cycle, but also provides the colony with a fresh energetic young queen, ready to lay lots of eggs beginning in August and ending in October. From her, winter bees are produced with plenty of time to fatten up for the winter.

Ken Sikora
Green Bay, Wisconsin


Just finishing reading “The Greatest Generation” by Meghan Milbrath in January’s ABJ. This one of the best articles on bees I’ve ever read. It is very well written and packed full of facts and explanations. I circled and underlined more than any article I can remember. Tell her thanks.

Lawrence Heafner
Lincolnton, North Carolina


Hornets Have Value Too

Re your ABJ Extra “Asian Hornet Found in Washington State”:

I congratulate the local person for detecting this new intruder. I fully agree Hornets may attack honey bee hives so are dangerous. However in nature apart from human no one else attacks other just to kill. They don’t destroy any thing just for a joy. They kill to eat. About your thought to destroy them by giving a name Asian Hornet I don’t agree.

We have no right to kill anybody as we are not creator. Nature on its own takes care. Hornet is the ancestor of honey bee. Both of them are living happily on this planet even prior to the human existence.

Keeping a trap in your apiary is ok but don’t make people afraid of the things of an unforeseen event. You don’t stop driving a car thinking an accident may take place. Care should be taken to educate people about do and don’t with Hornet.

We should never try to make human think that he is stronger than Nature. We are a part of it so remain a part.


Neonicotinoids are to blame

Your readers may be interested that in May 2019, an international group of scientists issued an exhaustive look at the decline of biodiversity. The UN Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, (IPBES), describes a perilous loss of pollinators and suggests that this may be due to the increasing use of synthetic pesticides that do not distinguish between “good” and “bad” insects. There is plenty of research that points to pesticides as a major cause of pollinator decline, but none of it is conclusive enough because, so far, it has been impossible to access all the factors involved, one way or the other. But while the evidence is not yet conclusive, it is substantial enough to raise very serious concerns about the negative impact of some pesticides on bees.

Meanwhile the loss of honey bee colonies worsens every year. Those losses became particularly significant a few years after the introduction of the neonicotinoid class of pesticides in the U.S. in the 1990s. This is a pesticide that is particularly advantageous to farmers because it is less toxic for humans to handle, but it has had nefarious effects on pollinators. It has become the most widely used pesticide in the United States and throughout the world.

While there is conflicting evidence about the directly lethal effects of that class of pesticides, its sub-lethal effects are much more important. According to an article reprinted in “Science Direct” Volume 5, Issue 3, September 2013, “Exposure to neonicotinoid residue leads to a delayed development of honeybee larvae, notably in the early stages (day 4 to day 8). This can favor the development of the Varroa destructor parasitic mite within the colony. Likewise the life span of the adult bees emerging from the exposed brood proved to be shorter.”

While so many people emphasize the negative impact of the Varroa destructor, very few make the connection to this pesticide. In addition, neonicotinoids have been affecting other pollinators besides honey bees. For example, bumble bees exposed to sublethal doses have produced fewer queens at the end of the season, which has reduced their ability to reproduce. Here we have pollinators that are clearly not affected by the varroa parasite, but directly by the pesticide.

It is not so much that these pesticides are the root cause of everything, but that their connection to many things affecting bees and other pollinators has often not been emphasized enough.

The argument may be made that we have no choice but to use pesticides like neonicotinoids because millions will starve otherwise. But relying on those pesticides may also come with a terrible price; namely, pollinator extinction, which, of course, also threatens food production. Maybe we need to re-think how we grow our food. Is an agricultural system based on the intensive and extensive use of pesticides really sustainable?

Anyone concerned with the survival of bees can ill afford to ignore the threats posed by neonicotinoids in particular and by our current agricultural system in general.

Jeff Murray
Classroom hives Inc.
Cambridge, Massachusetts


How Much is “100 Fold”?

Hello Dr. Scott McArt,

I read with interest your article in the January 2020 ABJ. I have a concern with respect to the part “So, what did they find?” on page 72. Quoting: “Larvae sampled from colonies receiving the BioPatty had nearly 100 fold less p larvae …”

My concern is the use of the (in my opinion) dubious designation “100 fold less.” This terminology is not scientific, not exact and I am not sure anybody knows what “100 fold” really means. If a “fold” is the amount that is started with, then it is mathematically impossible to have a reduction of more than one fold of anything real. In numbers yes, because there are negative numbers. But dealing with anything real, you can’t have less than a zero amount.

Alternatively one might think a fold means to fold in half, so two fold would be quarters, three fold would be eighths, four fold would be sixteenths, etc., etc. So 100 fold would be a very very small number, but I don’t think that is what you meant.

You could have said the results showed only 1% as much as the starting point or said there was a 99% reduction. But as is, I don’t know what you really mean.

Sorry to be critical. Otherwise a very interesting article.


Douglas Doremus
B.S. Chemical Engineering,
Purdue University
M.S. Engineering Science,
Lamar University

Scott replies:

Hi Douglas,

You’re absolutely right, thanks for pointing this out. There was a snafu during edits with the study authors and “~35%” was inadvertently replaced with “100-fold.” This was an oversight on my part and I’m grateful for your vigilance. While the change may seem drastic, it does not impact the conclusions of the study. The important point is that the BioPatty treatment was associated with significantly less P. larvae in the experiment. That’s a very promising result and I’m looking forward to seeing follow-up experiments from these authors and other folks who are looking into …