The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861

The Classroom

The Classroom – November 2023

- November 1, 2023 - Jamie Ellis - (excerpt)

The Classroom - ABJ - Jamie Ellis
Q  Two quick questions

 1)  In this extreme heat we are having, what is the best way to ventilate my beehive?

2)  What plants can I plant to have a continuous nectar flow? Is this even possible?

James Walker
Alabama, August


For your first question, I would worry less about ventilation and more about hive placement in full sun and colony access to water. I like to situate hives so that they receive morning sun and afternoon shade. You really do not want them in full sun in the middle of a hot afternoon. Bees must thermoregulate to maintain the brood nest at ~94.5°F (~34.7°C). They do this by collecting water and depositing droplets of it throughout the hive. Then, a cohort of bees stands on the walls inside the nest and at the nest entrance. These bees fan their wings to circulate air through the nest, thus cooling the nest. It takes energy to do all of this. The hotter the ambient temperature, the harder bees must work to keep the nest cool, and the more energy they burn to do it. On hot days, it helps to have the hives in afternoon shade or indirect sunlight. The bees also need access to a good, clean water source. The bees are good at thermoregulating when these conditions are met.

There is interesting work on insulating hives during summer. From a biology perspective, honey bees often nest in tree cavities. Here, the entrances are shaded by the canopy of the tree they occupy, and the nest walls are sometimes many inches thick. These observations have led to discussion on insulating colonies throughout the year, given bees developed to live in nests with thick walls (well, at least thicker than the standard hive wall). My team and I interviewed Dr. Derek Mitchell from the University of Leeds, U.K., in Episode 67 of our podcast: Two Bees in a Podcast ( In that episode, Dr. Mitchell discussed benefits to insulating colonies in summer. You should listen to that interview to hear about the latest research on the topic. Until we know more, though, I think afternoon shade and access to good clean water will go a long way to helping bees maintain their brood nest temperature during periods of elevated temperatures.

For your second question, it is unlikely that one can have a continuous nectar flow throughout the entire year in most temperate regions of the world. You can get continuous bloom in tropical/subtropical areas, but typically not in temperate ones, due to the freezing temperatures in winter. That should not discourage you, though, as you can have nectar/pollen sources available through many warm months.

How does one know what to plant? There are several publications available throughout the U.S., and world for that matter, on bee or pollinator plants. The authors often develop the documents to be region-specific, which makes sense given that we do not all have access to the same plant species. In the U.S., many of these lists were developed by state extension specialists, through the state’s land grant universities, or through independent groups such as the Xerces Society. Regarding the former, Alabama A&M and Auburn University published one such guide for beekeepers in Alabama, where I see you reside. You can find that guide here: https://www.aces.
. The authors of that list indicate if the plant species provides pollen, nectar, or both to bees. They also share what months the plants bloom. You can use that list to develop your own pollinator garden. Keep in mind, not all plants produce copious amounts of nectar. It would be difficult to plant enough flowers of diverse types to produce surplus marketable honey throughout the year.


Q  Three quick questions
  1. Is the swarming trait a genetic issue? If I use swam cells to start nucs, will these also have a tendency to swam?
  2. Who gets the distasteful job of carrying the queen’s excrement out of the hive? Where does she go to relieve herself? Does it land on the bottom board unnoticed?
  3. How is it that honey can be taken as a relaxant before bedtime, yet as a stimulant before workouts?

 Samuel Fisher


Question 1: Swarming is genetically controlled. Some colonies want to swarm more than do others. Swarming is colony-level reproduction. When you are watching a colony swarm, you are watching it give birth. I argue that colonies want to swarm more than they want to do anything else (which is true across all things that reproduce … even us). In fact, I give a lecture on the honey bee colony’s year, in which I argue that everything a colony does is to get it ready to swarm (reproduce) the following year. With this information, it would be difficult to select for colonies that do not want to swarm, especially if you have few colonies. Your question is a particularly good one, but I do not think that using swarm cells to start nucs will lead to nucs with higher swarm tendencies than nucs created other ways.

Question 2: There is a cohort of bees in the nest that is responsible for tending the queen and a cohort of bees responsible for keeping the nest clean and free of debris. Those tending the queen are usually 3-14 days old (average of 11 days old) while those cleaning the nest are 11-15 days old (average of 14 days old). These are the bees that help manage queen waste. Queens do not take cleansing flights, so they do their business in the nest, and rely on other bees to remove the waste from the hive.

Question 3: Great question. My guess is that some claims made about honey are unsubstantiated. You found one, given that two contrasting claims are made. I did a quick search for information on this and did find claims that honey contains certain vitamins and other substances that help relax one’s mind, leading to better sleep. I also found another claim that honey provides the brain the energy it needs to remain active at night. The best research I could find included a study in which coughing children were provided honey at night to relieve symptoms and help them get better sleep. The “stimulant for workouts” is an easier case to make. Honey is sugar. Sugar gives you energy. Energy is needed for workouts. So, I could see where honey would be useful in this context, though one might need to eat a sizeable amount of honey to see any real energy/workout gain.


Varroa reproductive strategy

We know Varroa can decide whether to lay a fertilized or non-fertilized egg. Does that mean they reproduce via a haplodiploid sex determinant system?

Roger Salgado,
Florida, August


Varroa do have a haplo-diploid sex determinant system. In this system, male Varroa result from unfertilized eggs, and are haploid, while female Varroa result from fertilized eggs, and are diploid. Coincidentally, this is the same way sex is determined in honey bees, and all bees, wasps, and ants for that matter.

Parthenogenesis is the process of producing a viable offspring from an unfertilized egg. Arrhenotokous parthenogenesis leads to the production of males, while thelytokous parthenogenesis leads to the production of females. Thus, Varroa produce male offspring through arrhenotokous parthenogenesis, the same way honey bees do.


Q  Spotty brood patterns

 In the past, you mentioned that the queen will analyze each cell prior to laying an egg in it and if it is not clean, they will not lay an egg in that cell. Why, then, do we associate spotty brood with a poor-quality queen instead of non-hygienic workers?

Roger Salgado,
Florida, August


Many things can lead to spotty brood patterns. These include poor/failing queens, hygienic bees, disease, Varroa infestation, poor nutrition, temperature fluctuations in the nest, pests, etc. That said, it is common to blame spotty brood patterns on the queen, but it is not always her fault. Dr. Katie Lee and colleagues published an article on this topic in 2019. You can find the article here: In this study, the authors moved queens from colonies with spotty brood patterns to colonies with solid brood patterns and vice versa. When done, the queens formerly having spotty brood patterns produced solid brood patterns and those with solid brood patterns produced spotty ones. This is a clear case of environment impacting the brood pattern.

You ask if a spotty brood pattern could be the result of non-hygienic workers. The premise you propose is that queens choose not to lay eggs in cells that workers fail to clean. These workers, then, are non-hygienic, making the spotty brood pattern their fault. This is certainly possible, but not the most probable cause. I agree with your main point: We cannot always blame spotty brood patterns on the queen, given so many other factors can lead to the same condition.


Q  Strange tunnels under wax cappings


From time to time, I see this under my capped honey (Figure 1). It almost looks like a string got caught under the cappings just under the surface. I do not think it is from wax moth trails. I was recently reading an article from Clarence Collison about bee louse. You will be happy to know you are mentioned in the article several times so I figured you would be best person to ask. It mentioned that the bee louse lays its eggs under the wax cappings of honey and then makes visible tunnels under the cappings. I was wondering if this is what was happening.

Regina Rhoa
Pennsylvania, August


Hello Regina. The best questions are often those that answer themselves. You have narrowed it down to what my answer is. I suspect what you see is the tunneling behavior of the bee louse (Braula coeca). This little critter is not actually a louse, but rather is a wingless fly. My team and I wrote a document about the bee louse, which you can find here:

The bee louse is an interesting fly. The adults travel on the backs of honey bees. They can trick bees into feeding them. They do this by crawling onto the faces of bees and rubbing the bees’ mouthparts with their feet. This causes the bees to regurgitate honey. They also can steal food when bees are feeding one another. The bee louse is not known to cause any damage to honey bees directly. Given queen honey bees are fed by other bees throughout the day, they can host several of these flies. I conducted my Ph.D. in South Africa, and I worked with observation hives while there. I routinely saw the bee louse on queens, som