The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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The Classroom

The Classroom May 2015

- May 1, 2015 - Jerry Hayes - (excerpt)

Q Plastic Foundation

A well respected beekeeper recently told me that he did not use plastic foundation because it confused the bees’ in-hive communication in the bee dance. A discussion of vibration and harmonics followed, most of which went over my head. So the question: Is there any solid research to back this up, or is this just one beekeeper’s interesting but wholly unfounded opinion?

The gentleman who talked about harmonics and how plastic distorts bee communication did not cite any research. He made it sound pretty scientific, but…I had doubts. You no doubt know how skilled beekeepers are at making pet theories sound like hard facts.
Just wondering what Jerry Hayes would come up with for this. I also thought that it would be good to get out a “no basis in research” statement through the Classroom, as a counterweight to this kind of thing.


Here is a research article “Abstract” by Dr. Tom Seeley et al. Read the last two

“Does plastic comb foundation hinder waggle dance communication?”

Thomas D. SEELEYa*, Adrian M. REICHa, Jürgen TAUTZb, a—Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA, b — bee group, Biocenter, Universität Würzburg, Am Hubland, 97074 Würzburg, Germany Received 8 February 2005 – revised 16 March 2005 – accepted 16 March 2005 Published online 13 September 2005. Abstract – In recent years, plastic comb foundation has become widely used by beekeepers, but it has not been studied to see if it hinders recruitment communication by reducing the transmission of the comb vibrations produced by bees performing waggle dances. We used laser vibrometry to compare combs built with beeswax foundation vs. plastic foundation in terms of transmission of dance vibrations. We also used behavioral experiments to compare the recruitment effectiveness of dances performed on combs built with beeswax foundation vs. plastic foundation. We found that combs built with plastic foundation are markedly poorer at transmitting the 250 Hz vibrations produced by dancing bees. Nevertheless, we found no evidence of reduced effectiveness of dances performed on combs built with plastic foundation vs. combs built with beeswax foundation. Evidently, a comb built with plastic foundation provides a fully suitable substrate for waggle dance communication.

Q Feed Honey or Sugar Syrup?

Hello, I am brand new to being a beekeeper, (have ordered our first nuc and hives, to be delivered this spring). Some experts (our workshop presenters) and others feed their bees sugar water over winter when they need to. After listening in our workshop and later reading a few articles in the ABJ my question is:

If you don’t want to feed bees sugar water (from the Wayne Rose article in ABJ, March 2014, p. 290) and don’t have honey to feed them to get them started in the spring when they arrive because it’s your first time having bees, or need to feed them over winter, can you feed them honey from other bee colonies or purchased honey? Thank you very much.

Mary McCord from Missouri


Real quick as a reminder honey bees need carbs (sugars) for energy at all times, especially in winter to produce heat from muscular movements and specifically in spring for food energy to feed and raise brood (baby bees) and stimulate wax glands to build new comb. Honey is the perfect carb, but honey coming from a colony having any one of the several active honey bee diseases can be a carrier of those disease organisms. And if the honey came from a beekeeper who misused chemical disease medications or miticides (Varroa), then the colony you are feeding it to can be stressed by these toxins they are exposed to inappropriately. In that case pure granulated sugar made into sugar syrup is an excellent neutral source of carbs.

Be aware of the disease danger if you buy honey from an unknown bulk supplier as a bee feed. However, with the huge difference in price between honey and sugar, you are money ahead to simply feed the sugar and not have the worry of potential disease spores in the honey. All the best on this, your new journey.

Q Russian Stock

Jerry, last night at our bee club a presentation was given by a club member on the advantages of the Russian bee. One of the things he said is that they live 30 days longer than other bees. This seems crazy. That would double the life of a worker bee. What is your opinion of the Russian bee?

Dick Laumeyer


Russian honey bees have some level of Varroa resistance. That doesn’t include a dramatic increase in summer or winter life span. Caveat emptor.
Take care. Jerry

Q African Bees (scutella) in Africa

Your briefing of Africanized Honey Bee (AHB) was very interesting. Please explain why these AHB [scutella] never spread out of their original habitat in Africa. They had thousands of years and never reached for eg. south Europe where they would have had favorable conditions. At the same time, they conquered the Americas in a half century, finding the very narrow corridor in Middle America and spread to North. I like your no-nonsense comments.

Tibor Csincsa


There are different races and strains and even species of honey bees because they are restricted to local or regional geographic locations due to mountains, lakes, oceans, deserts or time. Through natural selection and inbreeding individual strains result. Take a look at a map of Africa. The Sahara Desert extends across the northern tier of Africa. That was/is the barrier. They could have gone up the coast, but there were already established honey bees of different races or strains and with these Southern cousins being non-adapted to compete, why bother. Stay where you are and life is good!

When they were brought over and released into Brazil, there were no geographical barriers going north. It was a great resource full of tropical rain forest. Eventually they made it into the US and were probably disappointed. Thanks for the compliment.


Q Varroa Mite Girls Night Out

I have heard and read that if you leave a hive without eggs long enough for all the Varroa sealed in the cells to emerge (as with dispatching the old queen and raising a new queen from eggs in the hive) — that when finally eggs are laid in the cells again that the foundress mites rush to enter the cells in numbers too large to support their progeny and the bee larvae and mites will die and be removed, thus causing a mite reduction due to a brood break. To your knowledge is there anything to that from anecdotal or empirical evidence?
Also, don’t bee cells on standard foundation become smaller over time? Do they ever reach small cell dimensions?

Kerry Quigley
New London, MN


I have heard the same thing Kerry. From a purely biological reproduction standpoint, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Varroa want to survive and keep the species vital. All female mites rushing to the same cell and competing and offspring using the same larvae and pupae for food means that the honey bee may not mature to adulthood and be able to emerge. This is not a good survival strategy. It may happen from time to time with several female foundress mites and it may help the breeding strategy and cut down on inbreeding for Varroa, but it isn’t the norm.

Regarding your second question, yes, if comb is very old, cells do get smaller. But, small cell is not a Varroa control. It doesn’t really affect the development period of the bee. European Honey Bees are genetically programmed to take 21 days to develop regardless. Plus, by the time the cells reach a smaller size, they are old and black from larval skins and ‘junk’ and represent a reservoir of disease pathogens that should have long ago be cycled out.
An analogy might be that the gestation period of a Saint Bernard and Chihuahua. They are both at the same maturity level at about 63 days, regardless of size, because they are both dogs.

Q American Foulbrood

In Issue March 2014 you say (in a response to David re: AFB)

“Don’t worry about woodenware.” – this really surprised me. In Australia we burn (have to, it is the law) any woodenware from an American foulbrood (AFB) infected hive. Indeed, a lot of AFB may well be moved around on secondhand woodenware. Could you please elaborate?

Max (Australia)


As the former Chief of Apiary Inspection for the State of Florida, our state law was also to burn all hives showing AFB. It is an excellent policy to be sure that all …