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The Classroom

The Classroom – September 2021

- September 1, 2021 - Jamie Ellis - (excerpt)

The Classroom - ABJ - Jamie Ellis
Stubborn Bees

I do approximately 100 or so removals each year. I have removed bees in some peculiar places. However, on this trap-out, the bees decided to thumb their nose at me and just move outside the trap (Figure 1). They will not quit! Two days later, after a good soaking rain, the bees decided to move on and completely ignored the nuc I left for them.

Scott Greenwald
Florida, June


One of my favorite sayings about honey bees is that “biology is messy.” Most of the time, you can get bees to do what you want them to do with standard management practices. Occasionally, though, the bees do something other than what we expected, or wanted, to happen. In this case, the bees decided not to cooperate and simply did what they felt was best given the circumstances. I will elaborate on what we are discussing for the benefit of the reader.

Beekeepers often use a trap-out strategy to capture colonies that are nesting in hard-to-reach places. In the provided picture, the bees are nesting in a tree cavity. This can be a difficult place to go after a colony because one could damage the tree significantly during the attempt to collect the bees. This is exactly when a trap-out works best.

For trap-outs, you fashion a one-way escape cone over the entrance of the nest (see Figure 1). Then, you usually attach the small opening of the escape cone to a nuc hive body that contains some pulled combs, perhaps even a frame of brood. The bees in the original nest site must go through the escape cone and through the provided hive in order to exit their nest. The idea is that the bees slowly relocate from the original nest site (the tree in this case) into the nuc, with the queen following eventually. The bees cannot get back into their original nest site due to the one-way nature of the escape cone.

In the picture you provided, the bees started building comb underneath the escape cone given they could not get into their original nest. The rain reminded them that this is a less-than-optimum option and they left altogether to find a new nest site. This possibly could have been mitigated by affixing the escape cone to another hive body in which the bees could have established a new nest. It is unclear to me if you were doing that with the nuc you mentioned or not. I did not see it attached to the escape cone. If you were using one and simply removed it before taking the picture, then the bees did what they wanted despite best management recommendations. We, then, would have to chalk that up to biology.

[Readers: You can see more information about conducting trap-outs here: Scroll down to the section entitled: Colony Removal via a Trap-Out.] 

Q  Open Feeding

Has any research been done on the pros and cons of open feeding? Some will say you can pass disease along and some say it encourages robbing. Some say there are no problems. Any data on this?

Jon Nance
Georgia, June


First, let me define open feeding for the benefit of the reader. Open feeding is when beekeepers, usually commercial beekeepers, provide a source of food to honey bees outside of their hives. For example, a beekeeper may fill a cattle trough with sugar water and various flotation devices on which bees stand while collecting the sugar water. This source of food can be visited by bees from all colonies in the apiary, in addition to any nearby managed or feral colonies. The pro associated with feeding bees this way is that it is a quick and simple way to provide food to colonies in the apiary. You do not have to visit each colony individually. Instead, you provide the food in a single location and let the bees do the rest. This can save time and may, conceivably, save money; though I would argue that the jury is still out on the latter. This may be an especially useful feeding strategy during times of the year when it is too cool to open hives to provide food to the bees directly. I have seen dry pollen substitute fed this way as well; though it is used more often to feed bees sugar water or corn syrup.

The suggested cons are some of what you noted. First, feeding bees in a single location can promote the spread of diseases and pests. It forces a lot of bees into a confined space, leading to this potential issue. This could be especially problematic if the food becomes contaminated with something communicable, such as American foulbrood or Nosema spores. Also, bees may be inclined to rob other colonies when they visit a food source located outside of the hive. Open feeding can lead to a feeding frenzy.

Finally, I suspect that it promotes a “rich get richer and poor get poorer scenario.” Beekeepers typically feed colonies because they are otherwise low on food reserves. If you put the food outside the hive, the stronger colonies with more resources are the ones most likely to benefit, much to the loss of the weaker colonies that may be the ones actually needing the food. This can be an even bigger problem because you may be feeding feral colonies, leading to a scenario where the intended recipients of the food get little-to-none at all. Nevertheless, many beekeepers open feed and believe it is worth the risk.

On to your actual question: Is there any research on this topic? I used Google Scholar to search for research on this topic and did not find any. It appears work needs to be done on this topic!

Amdro and Small Hive Beetles

For the past ten years, I have successfully and continuously maintained 2-3 hives in my backyard, despite an abundance of Varroa, small hive beetles (SHB), wax moths and ants, all of which thrive here in Mississippi. Although I diligently treated for Varroa, it was impossible to keep SHBs out of the hives. And if Varroa managed to weaken a hive even after treatment, the SHBs would grab the opportunity to attack and do further damage. I tried all the traps, gizmos, and gimmicks available for SHB control, only to be dismayed whenever I opened a hive to see the little critters still scurrying about everywhere.

Then two years ago in an attempt to prevent ants from entering the hives — and after carefully reading the instructions on the label — I sprinkled Amdro Home Perimeter Granules on the ground around the perimeters of my hives. The sand-like granules dissolve into the soil with a little moisture and provide 3-4 months of protection from invasive insects — like ants. My ant problem stopped immediately. For continuing protection, I sprinkled the granules every 3-4 months. Amazingly, not only did the ants disappear for good, but so did the SHBs. The first summer after starting the Amdro perimeter treatments, I noticed fewer SHBs. By the second summer, my SHB problem had disappeared, with maybe two or three beetles observed during routine hive inspections, if any. My hives are stronger and more productive than ever. Is it possible that the Amdro perimeter treatment is breaking the SHB reproductive cycle by killing the larvae when they burrow into the ground around the hives before maturing? The product seems safe for bees, as I have seen no dead bees around my hive stands. I remember a soil drench product for SHB called GardStar that did get good reviews. Could Amdro be a safe alternative for SHB control?

Reeves Jones
Mississippi, June


Years ago, I was a postdoc researcher at the University of Georgia in the lab of Dr. Keith Delaplane. The lab was conducting a study using nucleus colonies (nucs). We located the colonies in a pecan orchard and soon discovered that the area was inundated with fire ants. To date, it remains the worst damage I have ever seen ants cause to colonies. The ants were attacking any bees that fell from the hive entrance, forager bees that did not quite make it back to the entrance, etc. The ants were even going into the hives to attack bees and eat the brood. It was a mess. Prior to this, we were reluctant to use any ant treatment around the hives. However, the problem was so bad that we decided to treat with Amdro bait granules (per the product label). This solved the problem for us.

You used a different formulation of Amdro than the one we used at UGA. You did not use the bait that ants eat (which we used) but rather a formulation that kills on contact. Based on what I have read, the formulation you used (Amdro Home Perimeter Granules) is applied as a band around the perimeter of what you are treating. [For the reader: Labels can change. Always follow the label on the product.] The label provides an application rate per the pest you are trying to control. There are some types of beetles, though not SHBs, listed on the label. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that the product is toxic to SHBs given it is used to control other beetles. Based on what you wrote, I feel that the product was likely  … .