Contents: Editorial; Beekeeping news; Bee press; Research News; Articles: Bee sense and sensibility (part 4 of 5) Ian Rumsey. All is not doom and gloom Mike Oliver. Solvenia - the holiday choice for beekeepers Frances Sargent. African honey bee update, can we learn from them Kim Flottum Catch the Buzz. The wax moth; Poem of the Month; Recipe of the Month Spicy BBQ sauce and cough mixtures; Fact File Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth; Historical Note James Low M.D The moth; Readers Letters: David Gilmore; Diary of events; Quote of the Month and more. Please wait while downloading 314KB.


Apis-UK Issue No.27 August 2004
BBKA HQ - Royal Show 2004
BBKA HQ on the day of the Royal Show 2004
Photo by Claire Waring - see article in the August BeeCraft

EDITORIAL Back to top

August is a fatal month for my beekeeping operation, but usually the colonies have built up stores in the spring time. This year, there was no spring. We seemed to go from cold and wet, to scorching hot and dry and my main preoccupations are lack of forage, forest fires and bee eaters. Normally I am content that these birds exist alongside my bees, and indeed I have researched these birds and written articles in their defence, but this year I have never seen so many. They arrive in huge flocks and because it is all happening so close by, for the first time I have noticed that as they swoop by and grab a bee their beaks snap shut with a definite snapping sound like a crocodile. I have also noticed the large number of bees that actually chase the birds (evidently to no effect). The problem is becoming so bad that bee eaters appear in the news (see below). As for the fires, the insurance company decided not to insure my bees in August because of the high risk. I asked them if they would insure them in the winter when there was no risk. They said “yes of course, do come and see us then!” (More crocodiles). I look forward to September.

Bee Eater

In this edition, we bring you news of plagues of wasps in Britain. This doesn’t sound pleasant but this and the fact that certain areas are seeing a gentle increase in bumble bee numbers is heartening news. More insects mean that habitats are returning and that perhaps we are (just) beginning to move in the right direction.

With impurities, especially antibiotics such as tetracycline in honey becoming a major concern in the industry, we hear that certain of them may be a natural ingredient in honeys. Increasingly stringent tests on honeys entering the EU are leading scientists to think that this may be the case and more about this is contained in a first class edition of Bees for Development Journal (See below). Those with an interest in apitherapy will be very keen to read the fututre research on this topic. It makes me wonder if we have banned some honeys for having a natural product in them in error. Probably not, but it does go to show that whatever we think we know about bees and their products, there is always something new to surprise us, something new to learn and something new to pass on to new beekeepers. Is it any wonder that more and more beekeepers are becoming interested in the science of their craft? In this respect, the UK is particularly well served by a dedicated National Bee Unit whose interests I believe are our interests as beekeepers and bee farmers.

Our quote of last month came from one of the fathers of modern beekeeping (see Fact File) and an interesting man he was too, but his claims have raised controversy and when researching his life I found that nothing was clear or cut and dried. Is anything?

New varroa products continue to come on the market, each one it seems an improvement on the last and we report on one in the varroa section. It seems a long way from when dusts, powdered sugars and almond husks in vodka (my favourite) were being advocated. I’m sure that many of these work for a variety of reasons, and in a future edition we plan to review them all so that beekeepers can assess their value for themselves. It is easy to deride some of these methods but they are essentially driven by the high cost of officially approved treatments, especially for bee farmers. You have to earn a lot of money from your bees before you get anywhere near making a profit and the high costs of varroa treatments exacerbates this problem immensely. I am forced to keep the cost of varroa treatments down as much as possible whilst still remaining within the law. (If you use the vodka method, you need to ensure you purchase the stuff outside the UK to make any profit at all).

Africanised bees are featured in an article in this issue and it appears that they do have a limit to their spread and that this is determined by climate. The article also looks at just why they are so successful over the European bee, yet it is interesting to note that the term ‘Africanised’ must remain. Genes from the EHB remain in the system however ‘African’ the bee becomes.

We are still researching the subject of ‘bee’ stamp collecting and topical philately and plan to bring this to you in a future edition. In our next issue we will be looking in depth at the global honey trade as it affects Europe. Who buys what from where and for how much. This information will be extracted from last year’s figures and will give bee farmers a good idea of possible import and export markets in Europe.

But for now, I take pleasure in presenting the August edition of Apis-UK and hope that you enjoy reading it.

David Cramp. Editor.

NEWS Back to top

Remember remember it’s not in November!
This year the National Honey Show is one month earlier than in previous years. If you are intending to participate in the competitive classes you must complete and send in the entry form by the closing date 23rd September 2004. Entries sent after this date my still be accepted up to the 1st October provided a single late entry fee is included. Visit the National Honey Show website to download details of the competitive classes and spare entry forms and other support information.

Catch The Buzz is changing, and you’ll need to change with it. After several years of sending these messages in the same format, both Catch The Buzz, and the entire Bee Culture web site are changing. Effective early this week, when you head for, you will notice a significant difference in the format and content of our web page. The front page of the web site will very much resemble the contents page of our magazine each month. The reasons for this are obvious…just like the magazine, the contents page leads you to where you want to go. It’s not fancy, it’s not frilly, it’s just a practical way to get what you want. Much of what you have come to enjoy on our web page will remain. Certainly articles from our current issue will be available, and over nine years of archived articles are available. Moreover, you can search the archives for various topics or authors. Our book store will be open for easy and convenient selections of the largest collection of beekeeping and related book topics available. Our (finally) updated Who’s Who is online, with live links to all those who have them. But please, check to make sure we have your latest connection, and let us know if it needs updating. Of course the Science and Art of beekeeping pages are around and are being updated (and are constantly being updated as new links are added and old ones changed). Plus there are links to EAS and HAS plus a host of other organizations. Check out the Writer’s Guidelines if that interests you and even our advertising information if reaching thousands of beekeepers worldwide with your message is important. And yes, Catch The Buzz, and the rest of our web page, has thousands of readers worldwide. But now, because of this change, we need you to signup for the Buzz again. It’s simple, really. Simply go to and fill out the form. You may be able to click directly on this link, or, you may have to use the control button and click on this link, or, you may have to copy and paste it into the address line on your browser to get to the page. (you have to do this since we can't here...that way, we can't send out junk mail/spam). In any event, get there soon and sign up for Catch The Buzz, so you don’t miss even one exciting Buzz message. Thank you for all the years of following our Buzz articles. We plan on having lots more.


Peter Springall

Article quoted from the News Shopper for Lewisham and Catford dated Wednesday 25 th August 2004.

AWARD: Peter Springall has been recognised for his services to beekeeping. He’s the bees knees.

A Beekeeping expert with nearly 60 years experience has received a civic ward. Peter Springall, 80 of Winterstoke Road, Catford was given the Lewisham Council award at a surprise birthday party held in his honour.

Since the early 1970s Mr Springall has acted as a consultant to the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill, which has maintained a continuous hive for more than 100 years. He first became interested in beekeeping after seeing the hive in 1934 and kept bees since 1947. He said: “It was a complete surprise – I was really pleased to get the award and it was the best birthday I’ve ever had.”

(Peter is also the apiary manager for the Bromley Beekeepers Association A well deserved award to an outstanding beekeeper whose knowledge and experience has helped and encouraged so many beekeepers. Congratulations. Ed).

Bee Invasion? Dramatic news is always best for a newspaper or TV news show, but most beekeepers will recognise that when the general public think that a mass invasion of deadly bees has come, it is often little more than a small swarm. In a recent BBC news item a Castle Morpeth pest control officer was forced to call for backup when an estimated 3000 bees ‘invaded’ the home of a couple in Widdrington. A local beekeeper sorted the business out with an explanation of the swarming process and the bees were moved into a hive in the local area. Crisis solved.

Bees Join up! The UK Ministry of Defence has given permission for commercial beekeeper Steve Ryan to keep a total of 300 bee hives within the security fence at RAF Fylingdales on the North York Moors. Fylingdales a Ballistic Missile Early Warning centre gave permission in line with MOD conservation policies.

(MOD policies on nature conservancy within their areas of responsibility are comprehensive and vigorously applied. I was once appointed Nature Conservation Officer on a military base in the UK as a secondary duty and I well know how keen an interest the MOD takes in these matters. If it is still being produced, their in house magazine on nature conservancy is excellent. Ed).

Don’t throw stones. At least, not at beehives. When local children threw stones at what they thought was a swarm of bees in Santa Ana in California, it resulted in fire fighters having to cordon off a four block area to allow the bees to calm down. Fire fighters, newsmen and camera men were all reported as being stung by the bees from the 500lb hive which was estimated to contain 120,000 bees. The fire captain Steve Horner said that the quarter ton honeycomb inside the walls of the building was so big it was threatening the structural integrity of the two story building.

Where are the queens? In a recent article in the telegraph newspaper Aug 7, beekeepers bemoaned the lack of queen bees available in the UK. One beekeeper said ‘You can never raise enough queens early enough in the season, so we have them sent from Hawaii in April (until they were banned when the EU banned imports from the USA. He added that New Zealand and Australia could not send any because of demand from their home markets. (An opening for some enterprising European queen rearer perhaps. Ed).

Honey’s healing power in the news. Apis-UK recently reported on manuka honey from New Zealand and now the general public are learning about the medicinal powers of honey from this plant. A recent report by the BBC extols the virtues of the honey and briefs about the work of Professor Peter Molan in the Honey research Unit of the University of Waikaito. Professor Molan has shown that honey made from nectar produced by the manuka bush, a native of New Zealand has extraordinary anti bacterial activity. He stresses that most honeys have a level of hydrogen peroxide activity which can confer anti bacterial properties but certain manuka honeys have something else, which he identifies as the UMF or Unique Manuka Factor.

Now, Comvita, a New Zealand health products company has set a medical products division to take hi tech honey dressings developed by the professor to the international market. The dressings are designed to take the mess out of honey. They have made it like a sheet of rubber so that you can touch it without getting sticky. *Honey produced from the jellybush in Australia has similar properties.

Honey bees cause museum closure. A museum has had to close its doors after thousands of honey bees were found nesting in three 30ft chimneys.

The decision was taken to shut the Forge Hill Needle Museum in Redditch, Worcestershire, after three members of staff were stung. Visitors also had to contend with bees dropping onto the exhibits.

It is expected to take several weeks to remove the unwelcome guests from the museum, which tells the story of the manufacture of needles over 300 years. 'Like a cartoon' Scaffolding will be put up to enable workers to cover the building's vents with a special mesh to ensure the insects do not return.

Ken Watkins, Redditch Borough Council's sports and leisure services manager, said: "It has been almost like a cartoon this week, as we've regularly had these enormous swarms flying around outside for hours on end. "It would be a shame to destroy them because we could probably do a good line in honey," he joked. Mr Watkins said that honey bees were protected by law, although they may be destroyed where they are considered a threat. He said in this instance the creatures would be taken by bee keepers.

Friday's closure caps an unfortunate two days for the museum. A lightning bolt knocked out the telephone system during a violent thunderstorm on Thursday afternoon.

The museum is currently hosting the Charles Henry Foyle Needlework exhibition, showing entries by textile students from across the UK who are competing for a £2,000 cash prize. It will continue to be on display once the attraction reopens and is due to run until 10 October.

Wasp attack spreads German traffic jam! A German truck driver lost control of his vehicle while trying to swat a wasp and spilled his 15-tonne load of jam jars on the motorway.

"He was trying so hard to kill the wasp that he smashed the truck against the barrier," said a spokesman for the motorway police in the western town of Greven.

"That's when he really started attracting wasps. There was jam all over the motorway." Police had to close the A1 motorway for two hours while they cleaned up the mess, causing a long traffic jam and huge traffic delays.

Flying ants, hover fly swarms and now wasps are ‘threatening’ the UK with multiplying numbers. Scientists say that improving farming methods have led to an explosion in insect numbers and that soon they will descend en masse! Wasp plagues used to be common up until the late seventies, occurring every seventh year. People were then used to this and generally took it in their stride and accepted it. After all they were nothing compared to doodlebugs and bombs, but from the 1980s onwards there was a huge drop in recorded numbers of wasps and other beneficial insects such as bumblebees probably due to field stripping and the exceptionally heavy use of insecticides. This year however, researchers from St John’s University in York have found that wasp levels have increased to levels last seen in the 1980s. They believe that the government drive to encourage more environmentally friendly methods of farming is behind the increase in wasp numbers. Dr Archer of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust believes that these government schemes are beginning to have an effect. He added that bumble bee numbers which had fallen by 30% in recent years are now on the up.

(Soaring temperatures in late July caused swarms of flying ants to ‘invade’ Britain’s skies as part of their mating process and in the last week of July, sun bathers in East Anglia were forced to flee the beaches as swarms of harmless hoverflies were blown over from Europe).

This area has been declared the bumblebee capital of Wales after bumble bee survey experts found 15 different species thriving in the area. The experts believe that one of the reasons that the bumblebees are doing well is council policy of leaving roadside verges to become overgrown thus providing bees with a natural habitat. Three of the species found were among the most endangered. Other bees were also found to be alive and well in the vicinity. The Shrill Carder Bee and the brown banded carder bee are amongst those thriving in old and new industrial sites, and the Hill Cuckoo bee which is declining in the rest of the UK is breeding well in the area.

Beekeepers in Aragon and Cataluña have demanded compensation from the government for damage caused by bee eater birds which are a protected species under Spanish Law. The beekeeping organisations report that increases in bird numbers are causing losses of 20Kg of honey and 30% of queens per hive. They say that the government should either give them compensation or take the birds off the protected species list.


An editorial published in a recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine in the USA recommends that children with severe allergic reactions to insect stings should receive venom immunotherapy or allergy shots to reduce the likelihood of future life threatening reactions. Dr Rebecca Gruchalla recommends the shots for children who have had a serious systemic allergic reaction to an insect sting. These systemic reactions go beyond the expected swelling and pain at the sting site and could include low blood pressure, tightness in the chest and swelling of the throat. She added that over the counter seasonal allergy medicines are not going to be effective for these reactions.

The editorial accompanies a study by researchers from the John Hopkins Asthma and Allergy Centre in Baltimore where they found that children who had severe reactions to insect stings and who were given allergy shots were significantly less likely to suffer life threatening reactions when being re-stung even if the repeat sting happened years later. This study and the recommendations made suggest that the common belief that children outgrow insect sting allergies and don’t need venom immunotherapy is wrong. The researchers hope that now that hard data has been provided, doctors will be able to move beyond previous misconceptions and endorse venom immunotherapy for children most at risk.

In the USA almost 1% of children are reported to have a medical history of severe allergic reactions to insect stings.

Most beekeepers who take an interest in the science of beekeeping will know that there have been many studies on bees and learning especially in the field of remembering odours. Animal behaviourists have always argued that most insects have a programmed response to a variety of situations such as knowing which odours signal the presence of food or mates. But scientists are now discovering that they don’t always know what to do and that they have to learn. Over the time that Apis UK has been reporting, many studies are showing this to be the case. Instinct isn’t everything. Now scientists at the Ohio State University are using tiny electrodes implanted in the brains of Sphinx moths which continually monitor the moth’s neuronal activity and feeding behaviour before, during and after training the moth that one odour meant that food, (sugar water) was on the way, and another odour meant that food wasn’t coming. The scientists saw a dramatic restructuring of the neural networks that convert scent into code that the rest of the brain can understand. These changes in this coding suggest that the moth learns to differentiate between an odour that means food and one that didn’t. After learning, the way their nervous system responded to odour changed. The next step is to take a deeper look at the neural networks and work out what causes them to respond to change.

Forest fires are something dear to my heart. A recent forest fire passed within 5 miles of my main apiaries here in Spain burning many thousands of hectares. It was the worst fire for some 12 years and as it passed over a road, an elderly couple driving along in their car were engulfed and left charred to death in seconds as the fire continued on its way. Thousands of beehives were destroyed (among other agricultural assets) and mine were saved only by a change of wind direction. Five miles is minutes for a fire in a wind and the local fire chief told me that in July and August when the ground is so dry and there is a wind, they simply could not stop a fire. They could only slow it down (by water bombing) in order for people to have time to evacuate, and wait for nature to do something. Beehives were considered expendable. Ed.

Water bombing

Fire fighters have long been calling for a low cost, highly sensitive infra red sensor that can automatically monitor forest fire areas and trigger an early warning in the event of fire. Low cost is the operative word, and researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany have taken an important step in this direction by constructing a fire sensor which can be produced more cheaply than commercially available infra red sensors although it is not yet as sensitive. The device is based on a principle of measurement previously unknown in nature and technology and is based on studies of the jewel beetle which lays its eggs in the wood of freshly burnt trees. The beetle can detect the forest fires from a distance of 80Km (50 miles). The beetles lay their eggs in smouldering wood and bark and this gives them a competitive advantage in survival over other species who avoid such environments. The young can develop with few if any competitors and few predators. The adults can detect fires due to sensory organs on their undersides. These organ pits contain a large number of receptors that are extremely sensitive to infra red radiation that comes from forest fires.The sensor is in fact a mechanosensor; a finger shaped protrusion inserted into a tiny sphere made of cuticle material, the same material that forms the insects armour. The cuticle is especially good at absorbing thermal radiation with a wavelength of 3 micrometers- exactly that emitted by forest fires. When a fire occurs, the cuticle sphere heats up, expands and stimulates the mechanoreceptor encased in it. Since the atmosphere is pervious to these wavelengths, the insects can identify breeding grounds at a distance.

The scientists have reproduced this system using simple components. Instead of cuticle they use a polythene platelet which expands in a similar way to cuticle. The expansion is measured and a result obtained. Currently, IR detectors are around 100 times more efficient, but the new device works well but needs to be perfected and the scientists say that it is just at the beginning of what is possible.

From Exosect Ltd of Southampton comes a new variation of a varroa control system based on thymol. The difference in this product however is that it doesn’t rely upon the fumes of the thymol to cull varroa, but instead they have taken their idea from the insect catching pitcher plant. Based on the discovery that the inside surface of the plant is covered in tiny wax particles which adhere to the feet of insects causing them to lose their grip and fall into the plant. The reason why the wax adheres to the insects is that they develop an electrostatic charge over their bodies as they move through the air or over a surface. The wax particles that are found inside the pitcher plant charge readily and adhere to the insect cuticle.

From this Entostat powder was developed. This mimics the action of the wax particles of the pitcher plant and adheres to insects strongly. The powder can be combined with any number of ingredients including essential oils including thymol. By combining thymol with the powder and placing the ingredients in a specially combined container at the entrance to the hive, the powder adheres to the bees as they enter the hive and the ingredients are spread throughout the hive. As the thymol is effectively targeted, it enables the product to be used in far less quantities, and as it does not depend upon vapor action, it is not as temperature dependant as other methods of thymol cleansing. This in turn means that the problem of overdose and absconding is minimized. Trials have been very successful and the results very good with between 80 and 90% efficacy, and this with a product that uses up to 60% less thymol than other products.

This new product has been extensively written up in the Beekeepers Quarterly and you can get more information at the website

THE BEE PRESS Back to top

Beecraft August 2004 Volume 86 Number 8
Claire Waring Editor.
The following is its contents list: The beekeeping year: August Pam Gregory MSc NDB; Cover story: A right Royal Show Claire Waring; The Stockwood Bee Gallery re-opens Pauline Aslin; Only the best Celia F Davis, NDB; Varroa Mites: monitoring your hives David Aston, BSc, NDB; The 'How to' of resistance testing National Bee Unit; Ivy honey and its side effects Audrey Gibson-Poole; In the apiary: having fun with bees (part 7) Karl Showler; Frame sizes in Great Britain Paul Mann; Book reviews Langstroth's Hive and the Honey-Bee by LL Langstroth For Love of Insects by Thomas Eisner; Socotra: an unforgettable experience Georgina Harding; BBKA Exams John Hendrie; Obituaries Dr Edward Jeffree.

Editorial: Well, the weather didn't last, did it? There we were, all set for a hot spell and a bumper harvest and what does it do? Go cold and wet! Still, that's the British weather for you - and it does give us something to talk about. In spite of the variability of our climate, reports are that there have been good honey crops this season. It has also been a very good season for swarms, if you look at it from the bees' point of view. Many colonies took advantage and reproduced early, giving themselves plenty of time to establish a new colony and collect stores for winter.

Bumblebees have also had a good year if you go from the large number of calls that we have received. The phone rings, a voice says "I hope you can help me," and you get ready for the almost inevitable, "I've got some bees in my garden. Can you tell me how to get rid of them?" Further enquiries usually identify a bumblebee nest in the rockery or under the shed.

Why are so many people afraid of bees? Can we blame them after all the bad press bees have received? Films about 'killer bees' leave strong memories which are then translated into 'reality' and all bees must be 'got rid of'. However, what is really encouraging is that the vast majority of callers are quite happy to leave the bees alone when they learn more about them. One memorable day, I must have saved at least 40 nests! Many folk are very pleased to be able to help an endangered species.

Bees cannot speak for themselves. We are their 'media representatives'. Let's do all we can to help protect these vital pollinators. Now I'm just waiting for the calls "I've got a wasps' nest. How do I get rid of it?" Claire Waring

Bee Craft August 2004 BFDJ September 2004
Bee Craft August 2004
31 pages
Bees For Development Journal
September 2004

Journal 72 September 2004
Annual subscription £20 inc airmail delivery (four issues) or £18.00 download only subscription which includes some back issues.
Nicola Bradbear
The following is its contents list: Inside information; Antibiotic occurs naturally in honey; Practical beekeeping; Top prize study tour; Apis cerana in Yunnan Mountain Area; Letters; Varroa destructor in Botswana; Look and Learn Ahead; Varroa and Apis cerana in the Solomon Islands; Project news from ICIMOD; Notice Board; News around the World; Book Shelf. Cover picture: Agness Mundiya, a beekeeper in Kasempa District of North Western Province Zambia. See pages 3 and 13. © Bernhard Clauss.

This edition of BfDJ brings the astonishing news that an antibiotic may be a naturally occurring constituent of honey. Research is still in progress, but if confirmed, then this might begin to explain why honey has been known and used as a medicine throughout history. Read more about this on the opposite page. This finding has arisen because of the ever-stricter analysis of honey required by EU legislation: one of the main issues facing apiculture today, connected as it is with the control of honeybee diseases and parasites, and the protection of remaining honeybee populations. These concerns are reflected throughout this edition. There is news of Varroa mites’ further spread (pages 8 and 9) and of an important Symposium being organised by Apimondia in Vietnam to address the issue of residues in honey: details on page 11.

Silent Spring in Northern Europe, (BfDJ 70 page 3) reported on heavy honeybee losses and has created a considerable response. A selection of the correspondence is shown on page 7. Books and DVDs reviewed in Bookshelf (pages 14 and 15) cover quite different aspects of apiculture in completely different ways, yet the message of both is constant: that the honeybee situation is in crisis, and we need to adopt alternative approaches to preserve healthy populations of honeybees.

This Journal endeavours to bring you fresh, up-to-date news of international apiculture. To remain viable we need more subscribers: please think about sponsoring another subscription for a beekeeper in a developing country, and encourage your friends to subscribe. Nicola Bradbear

Yet again, a copy of the apiarist falls into my post office box. (We don’t get deliveries where I live), and again I find the time to enjoy reading it. With articles for beginners, encaustic art, and practical queen rearing, it typifies the well produced local association magazine. The review also features the wax moth and informs us that it is becoming more common in the North of England. I would expect this. With warmer winters there will be more moths able to survive both in the adult and pupae state. Anyway, it prompted a review in this issue of Apis-UK, and indeed the sound advice given in our historical note.


The Hive by Bee Wilson
£16 inc pp from Northern Bee Books

Ever since men first hunted for honeycomb in rocks and daubed pictures of it on cave walls, the honeybee has been seen as one of the wonders of nature: social, industrious, beautiful, and terrifying. No other creature has inspired in humans identification so passionate, persistent or fantastical.

The Hive recounts, the astonishing tale of all the weird and wonderful things that humans believed about bees and their ‘society’ over the ages. It ranges from the honey delta of ancient Egypt to the Tupelo forests of modern Florida, taking in a cast of characters including Alexander the Great and Napoleon, Sherlock Holmes and Mohammed Ali.

The Hive is also a history of ideas, taking us through the evolution of science, religion and politics, and a social history which explores the, bee’s impact on food, and human ritual.

Beautifully illustrated with historic artworks, Bee Wilson shows how humans will - always view the hive as a immature universe with order and purpose, and look to it to make sense of their own.

Sweetness and Light Hattie Ellis The Hive Bill Wilson

Sweetness and Light: The Mysterious History of the Honey Bee by Hattie Ellis
£18.50 inc pp from Northern Bee Books
The history of the world from a bee’s-eye view from Stone Age honey hunters to modern day hives on the rooftops of New York City.

The bee is the most studied creature on the planet after man, and down the ages this insect and its honey have been harnessed by doctors, philosophers, scientists, politicians, artists, writers and architects as both metaphor and material. In her buzzing narrative, Hattie Ellis tells how all these people have found inspiration in the honey bee.

We also discover some of the mysterious ways of bees - how they can make up to 24,000 journeys to produce a pound of honey, with each bee producing one teaspoonful in a lifetime; we see how, charmingly, they communicate by dances; and we look under the lid of the hive to find as many as 100,000 bees living and working in total discipline.

But we witness their dark side, too - such as the savage, untamed energy of the swarms of killer African bees that are sweeping through America . We also explore some of the many unsolved questions surrounding the honey bee, some of them at the very cutting edge of contemporary medical research. Why did European honey bees stay in their hives as Chernobyl spread its toxic dust? And does honey, itself immortal, aid longevity?

The bee existed long before man; and without bees, we would soon start to die. Hattie Ellis shows us how this small insect can tell us more about ourselves than any other living creature. Purchase from the NBB Store URL:

ARTICLES Back to top

Ian Rumsey

It is an interesting exercise to take a small compass into the apiary and check the direction of the earth's magnetic field relative to your hives. Having a rough idea of the direction of the North Pole you place your compass upon the roof of the nearest hive. Beware the metal roof, it will probably have its own weak magnetic field. Metal fence posts hammered into the ground years ago have become polarized. In fact anything metal is suspect. The hive tool, smoker, queen excluder, even a nail has to be viewed with suspicion.

The wooden boxes therefore, into which we are going to place our swarms to monitor the natural comb orientation relevant to magnetic fields, must be made of wood, stuck together with glue, and be positioned distant from adjacent metal objects.

The experiment will use 3 hives of the type shown in Figs 4 & 5 which consist of an inner hive 9 inches square and 18 inches deep to the entrance, over which an outer hive body is placed to provide protection against the elements.

Fig 4 and 5

It is advisable to check with your compass that the earth's magnetic field passes through these hives, undistorted by adjacent metal, and at right angles to the position of the entrance which acts as a reference point by facing due East.

If all 3 colonies build comb with the same alignment and this direction is off set regarding the side walls and the entrance, and also coincides with the direction of comb built in the 2 similar boxes in 2001, we may conclude that there may be some

common external factor applicable to all 5 cases which decrees this uniform direction of the comb. An influence recognized by the bees, unrecognized by ourselves. If this influence is that of magnetic fields these may be modified with further experiment by positioning permanent magnets external to the inner hive body, without any physical interference to the working of the hive, and one might think, outside the knowledge of the bee.

There is an ulterior motive in setting up 3 hives in this manner to monitor the production of natural comb under controlled conditions.

You will no doubt be aware of the "Housel Positioning" which broadly speaking proposes that natural comb is built mirror image either side of the first initial comb constructed by a swarm upon arrival into an empty cavity. Details may be obtained from

This proposition, if true, would suggest that if bees collectively build comb from a 'mutual idea' present in their 'minds eye', this 'mutual idea' may be produced and transmitted by the queen, and being centrally placed, the comb on either side would in fact be symmetrical.

There are two further facts which would support such a theory.

(1) Cell sizes increase away from the central comb suggesting that the signal from the queen may spread after transmission.

(2) Bees will not build comb in the absence of the queen.

Two experiments for the price of one, both of which may result in the identification of an unrecognized sense of awareness possessed by the bee and made evident by their behaviour.

Change in colony behaviour may be achieved by Queen replacement.

This sudden change to the possible source of mutual understanding and idea sharing may well confuse the workers who immediately subdue aggressiveness and other less tangible traits such as hygienic behaviour and grooming.

True feral colonies, existing through swarming and supersedure, may have a heightened sense of mutual awareness, and a superior, Queen – worker – drone understanding, due to the purity of their particular long standing blood line, and the security of the Queen.

In short they are more able to perform effectively as a team.

It can be appreciated that re-queening each year ensures a vigorous and productive colony, but at what cost, if it is achieved at the expense of more mundane pursuits of cleanliness due to lack of awareness and understanding within the hive.

Communication between workers may well be crude and visually observed by us as mere gesticulation, however between the Queen and her subjects a more sophisticated arrangement might apply which at present is beyond our recognition.

(To be continued next month)

Mike Oliver

I may have given the impression in my article last month that I am an idiot who really shouldn’t be let loose near bees. (Pardon? I heard that!) I do have my better moments.

The other day I was watching a friend, who shall be nameless, lifting off two filled supers at once before putting on a clearer board. Of course I was busy thinking, so I couldn’t help him – besides struggle is good for the soul. My thought was, why strain your back to put the supers back onto the hive only to have to repeat the whole process a few days later? Why not simply put the supers on top of a clearer board and leave them there until they are clear. The bees will find their way out through the escapes and if you leave the supers next to the hive they shouldn’t get lost. (The bees I mean.)

As a refinement, how about putting the supers on top of a spare floor instead of a clearer board and install a “one-way” entrance block – even double the exits with a “drive-through” floor and a one-way block at each end!

I waited until he had replaced the supers before sharing my wisdom with him. I am considerate like that. Never interrupt a man who is struggling with fifty or sixty pounds of super and honey. No, I didn’t want to be thanked; the thought of him being spared years of struggle in the future was reward enough in itself.

The week before I supervised another friend of mine, Chris – a new beekeeper with his first colony – in moving a hive of bees from Romford to Croydon. I was kind enough to explain my philosophy that I was only there to make mistakes, not to do heavy lifting if somebody else was there to do it.

At 8pm we went to the house of a beekeeper, Alan, who kept his bees in his back garden. Incidentally, he lives next door to his mother-in-law. I didn’t ask – and nor should you.

Before we arrived Alan had kindly stapled the floor, brood and a super together with a somewhat eccentric pattern of triangular plates, using a variety of screws that probably needed three different types of screwdriver. Being of exactly the same mindset as myself, he had phoned his wife (he said he was phoning from work) to say he would be late back and hoped we could manage without him. I am sure he said he was retired?

I whipped off the roof and crown-board with one hand and like magic slid on a travelling screen with the other only dropping everything once. I even impressed myself. I taped in the one-way entrance block, puffed some bees in the right direction with smoke, made my usual mess of fastening the straps and suggested to Alan’s long-suffering wife (you should see his DIY!) that the ensuing waiting period might be more bearable with a caffeine transfusion. Chris took a leak in the downstairs loo, which was awash with the water that Alan had inadvertently produced as a by-product to his recent plumbing. I warmed to him, especially since the kitchen was a perpetual building site and each light-switch at slightly different angles, none boringly horizontal. Incidentally in case you think I am libelling the poor man, this was our second visit and Alan is just as willing to laugh at his less than perfect building skills.

Then it started to rain for the first time in a fortnight. Well, at least it got the bees into the hive quicker. We carried the bees through mother-in-law’s garden and through her dysfunctional gate (guess who her handyman is?) because Alan’s profusion of ad-hoc house-extensions, workshops, sheds and garage had closed his own garden to the road for all time. After tripping across his soon-to-be-repaved driveway, we got loaded up and set off. It was bucketing down by now and by the time we reached the M25 a huge storm was in progress, which reduced visibility to about ten yards and revealed a dire lack of drainage facilities from the motorway surface. At one point I thought Chris’s new bees were about to experience the unusual phenomenon of road-surfing.

As we reached the turn-off at Badger’s Mount, I muttered, “The only thing we need now is thunder!” With his usual punctual interference in my affairs, Thor obliged a few minutes later.

By the time we reached the allotment site it was pitch dark and raining so heavily that several plotholders were frantically building arks on their plots. (Where did Noah keep his bees? – In the Ark-’ives! – Groan!) I told Chris to wait in the dry in the car while I went to my plot for a wheelbarrow – passing at least a dozen wheelbarrows on the way, of course. We got the hive on the barrow, pushed it through the tornado to my bee garden where it will stay for a month until Chris returns from holiday in Ghana, and after I had walked into the overhanging branch of my plum tree and nearly knocked myself out, decided to leave opening it up until the following morning.

I have to report that absolutely nothing has gone wrong with Chris’s colony so far.

I have managed to drop a paving stone on my foot whilst building a platform for hive stands, fallen over backwards into a bramble bush whilst manipulating, made an emergency super for my one and only Langstroth that needed several yards of masking tape to seal up the gaps between the bottom edge and the brood box and accidentally frightened the life out of a colony by leaving my mobile phone on the hive roof.

But…. Chris’s colony is fine…. So all is not doom and gloom!


Slovenia is truly a nation of beekeepers. There are two hundred beekeeping societies and eight thousand beekeepers. Four beekeepers per one thousand of the population! Slovenes will tell you their bee the Kranjska Sivaka is the best bee in the world! The honey bee is a real source of delight to them and appears prominently on their coins.

The Honey Bee absolutely loves buckwheat. This was grown in abundance in the Alpine regions of Carniola (Kranjska) and consequently bees became a part of the domestic economy from as early as the sixteenth century.

One of the early problems encountered was with the hollow logs or baskets, which were stacked together in long rows. The whole hive was damaged when it had to be removed until the Kranjic hive was invented and developed. This is rather like a chest of drawers with removable boxes making life much simpler!

One of the great joys of these Slovenian hives is that each hive has its own little front boards with the most gorgeous little folk art paintings on the front called panjske koncnice apparently to help guide the bees home! Sometimes they depict biblical and historical events but the most fun are those with scenes about every day life. Two women squabbling over a pair of trousers…… they both wanted to marry the same man! Two people tugging either end of a cow with the notary calmly milking the cow in the middle…….. enough said!

In Slovenia they sell lots of Honey, which has been collected from all those wonderful pastures full of gorgeous wild flowers, wax products and mead. Most lucrative are the by-products, propolis that bees use to cement their hives and Royal Jelly so beloved by the Chinese and the aristocracy of the 1920tys and 1930tys. This after all was the future country of The Orient Express!. The famous Slovene bee keeper Anton Janska was a great favourite at the court of the Austrian empress Maria Theresa where he taught in her bee school and was notorious for his wit, sagacity, and radical theories on bees.

There is a marvellous Bee Keeping Museum at Radovljica which is easily reached from Kranjska Gora by a direct bus from nearly outside our holiday flat. Here you can learn about the development of the Carnolian grey bee’s species, and the large research station set up in the Karavanke. There is also a copy of the apiary set up by Anton Janska at nearbye Breznica close to Bled, where he farmed as a young man before going to Art School in Austria. An amazing day out for any beekeeper and for the rest of the family too. The local tourist board will advise you on opening times, as they are a bit complicated!

Wonderful photos of the bee hives in the meadows and the folk art paintings can be found on

For anyone wishing to learn more about Slovenia or to buy or rent holiday property out there please click on or contact


This article brings us up to date on the situation regarding the spread of Africanised honey bees. There are many myths about these bees and as scientists find out more and more about them we can see why they are so successful in their areas of operation over European honey bees and also we learn about their geographical limitations. The article is taken from Kim Flottum’s ‘catch the Buzz’, and answers such questions as:

Do they have geographical or climatalogical limits?
Why are they so successful over European honey bees?
What are the biological factors that make them so successful?
Can they be lured away from situations where they can cause a public danger?
Are they successful in combating varroa? If so can we learn from them?
Did varroa help the AHB in its spread?

In 1990, a honey bee swarm unlike any before found in the United States was identified just outside the small south Texas town of Hidalgo. With that identification, Africanized honey bees were no longer a problem we would have some day in the future.

Africanized honey bees had arrived. Beekeepers, farmers who depend on honey bee pollination for their crops, land managers, emergency responders like fire and police, and the public all wanted to know what they would be facing as Africanized honey bees began to spread. Now, 14 years later, scientists with the Agricultural Research Service and elsewhere have uncovered many answers, but they have also come upon some new and unexpected questions.

Africanized honey bees - melodramatically labelled “killer bees” by Hollywood hype - are the result of honey bees brought from Africa to Brazil in the 1950s in hopes of breeding a bee better adapted to the South American tropical climate. These honey bees reached the Brazilian wild in 1957 and then spread south and north until they officially reached the United States on October 19, 1990. Actually, all honey bees are imports to the New World. Those that flourished here before the arrival of Africanized honey bees (AHBs) are considered European honey bees (EHBs), because they were introduced by European colonists in the 1600s and 1700s. EHBs that escaped from domestication are considered feral rather than wild.

Africanized honey bees are so called because it was assumed that the African honey bees spreading out from Brazil would interbreed with existing feral EHBs and create a hybridized, or Africanized, honey bee. This has always been a major question for researchers—what, if any, type of interbreeding would happen between AHBs and EHBs and how would this affect honey bee traits that are important to people, such as swarming and absconding, manageability for beekeepers, honey production, and temper. Many experts expected that the farther from a tropical climate AHBs spread, the more they would interbreed with EHBs. But it appears that interbreeding is a transient condition in the United States, according to ARS entomologist Gloria DeGrandi-Hoffman. She is research leader at the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson, Arizona, and ARS national coordinator for AHB research. Early on, we thought the mixing would reach a steady state of hybridization, because we knew the two groups of bees can easily interbreed and produce young,” DeGrandi-Hoffman says. “But while substantial hybridization does occur when AHBs first move into areas with strong resident EHB populations, over time European traits tend to be lost.” A Mighty Adversary DeGrandi-Hoffman and Stan Schneider, a professor of biology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, have been collaborating the past 3 years to figure out why AHBs replace EHBs rather than commingling. “We’ve found six biological and behavioural factors we think are responsible for making AHBs such successful invaders,” Schneider explains. First, AHB colonies have faster growth rates, which means more swarms splitting off from a nest and eventually dominating the environment.

Second is that hybrid worker bees have higher amounts of “fluctuating asymmetry” - small, random differences between the left and right wings - than African honey bees have, even when raised in the same hive. “Imperfections like fluctuating asymmetry that increase with hybridization may end up reducing worker viability and colony survival,” says DeGrandi-Hoffman. “But this is a controversial factor right now, and it will take long-term studies of African, hybrid, and European colonies in the same habitat to truly understand its influence.”

But the third factor is undeniably true: EHB queen bees mate disproportionately with African drones, resulting in rapid displacement of EHB genes in a colony. This happens because AHBs produce more drones per colony than EHBs, especially when queens are most likely to be mating, DeGrandi-Hoffman explains. We also found that even when you inseminate a queen with a 50-50 mix of African drone semen and EHB semen, the queens preferentially use the African semen first to produce the next generation of workers and drones, sometimes at a ratio as high as 90 to 10,” she says. “We don’t know why this happens, but it’s probably one of the strongest factors in AHBs replacing EHBs.” When an Africanized colony replaces its queen, she can have either African or European paternity. Virgin queens fathered by African drones emerge as much as a day earlier than European-patriline queens. This enables them to destroy rival queens that are still developing. African virgin queens are more successful fighters, too, which gives them a significant advantage if they encounter other virgin queens in the colony. DeGrandi-Hoffman and Schneider also found that workers perform more bouts of vibration-generating body movements on African queens before they emerge and during fighting, which may give the queens some sort of survival advantage. AHB swarms also practice “nest usurpation,” meaning they invade EHB colonies and replace resident queens with the swarm’s African queen. Nest usurpation causes loss of European matrilines as well as patrilines. “In Arizona, we’ve seen usurpation rates as high as 20 to 30 percent,” says DeGrandi-Hoffman. Finally, some African traits are genetically dominant, such as queen behaviour, defensiveness, and some aspects of foraging behaviour.

This doesn’t mean that EHB genes disappear, but rather that hybrid bees express more pure African traits. The persistence of some EHB genes is why the invading bees are still considered Africanized rather than African, regardless of trait expression, she points out. A coincidence may have contributed greatly to an overwhelming takeover by AHBs in areas they’ve invaded. Just as AHBs began their spread throughout the Southwest, the U.S. feral honey bee population was heavily damaged by another alien invader - the deadly Varroa mite, an Asian honey bee parasite first found here in 1987. “Varroa mites emptied the ecological niche of feral honey bees just as AHBs arrived,” says DeGrandi-Hoffman. “If they hadn’t been moving into a decimated environment, AHBs might not have replaced EHBs so quickly.”

Keeping Tabs on the Invaders An extensive record of the AHB invasion was created by now-retired ARS entomologist William L. Rubink, who was in the ARS Bee Research Unit in Weslaco, Texas. From 1990 to 2001, Rubink continuously sampled honey bee colonies in the Welder Wildlife Refuge, about 30 miles north of Corpus Christi, Texas. Once Rubink retired, researchers from Texas A&M University agreed to preserve and analyze his samples. “We have about 25 square feet of frozen bees that represent the only real unbroken sampling of a wild area before and during its takeover by AHBs. Bill had a great deal of foresight to take these samples,” explains geneticist J. Spencer Johnston, who is with the university. The data showed that within 3 years of the arrival of AHBs in the refuge there was a turnover from predominantly EHB to predominantly AHB. From 1997 through 2001, the mixture stabilized, with an average of 69 percent of the colonies made up of African queens mated with EHB and AHB drones and 31 percent composed of EHB queens mated with AHB and EHB drones. This produced a genetic mixture rather than a replacement of EHBs by AHBs. Additional sampling and more analysis of existing samples will be needed to see whether this mixing continues or whether the Africanized proportion increases, as has been predicted. Human Parallels? In many ways, the spread of AHBs in the Southwest has been one of the most successful introgressions ever documented. It’s even interested some as a model of how modern humans may have interacted with the European population of Neanderthals. “Alan Templeton, a professor of biology and genetics at Washington University in St. Louis, has been looking at AHB spread as a demonstration of his model of Homo sapiens’ evolution and spread, which holds that there have been three major migrations out of Africa, with large amounts of genetic interchange among groups,” Johnston says. Honey bee generations are short enough that you can actually follow the invasion and the gene flow, unlike humans, explains Johnston. Where Did They Go?

Just how far and how fast AHBs have spread in the United States may be one of the most surprising factors in the whole issue. Some experts predicted the bees would spread throughout the country; others thought they’d reach only as far north as the latitude of Houston. Most expected there would be a southern zone where AHBs would predominate, a northern zone where EHBs would maintain a climatic advantage, and a large transitional zone between the two. And everyone expected AHBs to spread across the southernmost tier of states. But, as of January 2004, AHBs have been found only in southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Texas, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Why AHBs haven’t progressed eastward into Louisiana - though they were expected there years ago - is a mystery. So ARS entomologist José D. Villa began looking at factors that might correlate with where AHBs have spread.

It isn’t just minimum winter temperature that limits AHB spread, as many believed, says Villa, who is in the ARS Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics, and Physiology Research Unit in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “What immediately jumped out at me was the correlation with rainfall,” he says. “Rainfall over 55 inches, distributed evenly throughout the year, is almost a complete barrier to AHB spread.” Total annual rainfall alone isn’t a barrier; AHBs have been found in areas of the Tropics with higher rainfall. But in areas with high rainfall distributed throughout the year, Villa’s pattern of AHB spread fits perfectly. Villa is quick to point out that this is simply a mathematical correlation and not proof of cause and effect. But, he says, “you do find that 55-inches-of-rainfall point right at the edge of where AHBs stopped moving east about 10 years ago.” He’s planning experiments that may uncover the behavioural or physiological mechanism that explains why. How much farther AHBs may spread is still unknown. But if you apply the 55-inches-of-rainfall limit, there are still niches that the bees may fill, mainly in southern California. Southern Florida would be hospitable to the bees given its temperature and rainfall, but regulatory vigilance could keep them out, since the area isn’t contiguous with the other areas of AHB spread. Alabama, northern Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi are unlikely to be troubled by AHBs if the 55-inches-of-rainfall barrier holds.

Keeping on Beekeeping. One of the greatest challenges for Southwest beekeepers has been maintaining their EHB hives when they are surrounded by AHBs. Once AHBs spread to an area, beekeepers can no longer allow nature to take its course in honey bee reproduction. ARS has always recommended that beekeepers regularly re-queen their hives with queens of known lineage to keep AHB traits out of their apiaries. But, given the African bees’ strong ability to genetically usurp hives, the recommendation is now to re-queen with queens that have already mated with EHB drones. It’s the best way ARS currently has for beekeepers to manage their hives in AHB areas. But requeening is a lot of work for commercial beekeepers who maintain thousands of hives. DeGrandi-Hoffman and Schnieder are currently trying to discover what triggers AHBs to usurp a hive. They suspect it could be a pheromone. “If we can find out what tells an AHB swarm that this EHB nest can be taken over or that a colony or queen is strong and cannot be easily usurped, then we should be able to develop a chemical ‘no-vacancy’ sign to help beekeepers keep AHBs out,” DeGrandi-Hoffman says. While AHBs do make honey and pollinate plants, two traits make them undesirable for beekeepers: Colonies regularly abscond from hives, and they are often too defensive to be easily tended. Because of AHBs’ genetic dominance there has been little dilution of their strong defensive reaction to threats to their nests, she explains. This defensiveness is probably the bees’ best-known trait. All honey bee behaviour runs the gamut from very defensive to very docile and can change depending on temperature, humidity, cloud cover, and food supply. But when provoked, AHBs do tend to sting in greater numbers than EHBs. “But they’re not anywhere near the type of threat that Hollywood has made them out to be,” DeGrandi-Hoffman points out. Living with AHBs

While beekeepers obviously do not want to work with “hot bees,” people in the Southwest have simply learned to live with AHBs. While many will never come in contact with the bees, others have had to learn new precautions. Retired ARS entomologist Eric Erickson, who was with the ARS bee center in Tucson, pioneered many safety methods in areas where people and AHBs collide. He developed the first instructions for fire departments—often the emergency responders in stinging incidents. Most fire trucks already carried a surfactant; a soapy liquid that helps put fires out. Such soaps also kill honey bees when sprayed directly on them. Erickson also worked out ways to quickly convert a fire fighter’s basic turnout gear into a protective bee suit. Fire departments all over the Southwest are now trained in Erickson’s methods. Erickson also developed instructions for homeowners to help them deal with AHBs, such as how to prevent honey bees from taking up residence inside house walls and how to kill unwanted bee colonies. (It is safer, though, to call an experienced exterminator if at all possible.) Swarm traps invented by entomologist Justin O. Schmidt, also at the Tucson bee centre, have been a boon. “We developed a simple, inexpensive trap with a pheromone lure to attract swarms looking for new nest sites. That’s how we’re able to track honey bee colonies as they spread out,” he says. The traps are also used as prophylactic barriers around golf courses, airports, schools, and botanic gardens, or anywhere else AHBs might take up residence and conflict with people. The traps lure swarms away from high-traffic areas and make them easy to remove. People usually think only of AHBs’ downside, but they also represent a potential positive. ARS entomologist Frank A. Eischen at the Honey Bee Research Unit in Weslaco, Texas, has been studying AHBs for their resistance to Varroa mites. Eischen maintains an apiary in a remote part of southern Texas. “Maintains” may not be the right term, because he simply leaves hive boxes out and lets the bees fend for themselves year after year. All the honey bees in the apiary have long since been Africanized. His AHBs, which are never treated, have a slightly better survival rate against Varroa mites. But that rate varies dramatically. “I’ve looked at about 40 colonies. Some have very few mites, and others are loaded,” Eischen says. “But if these had been EHB colonies without treatment, they all would have died long ago.” He is trying to isolate which mechanism provides the protection from Varroa mites. He has already ruled out hygienic behavior—the time it takes worker bees to clean out mites. But if he determines what AHBs do differently, it might be possible to breed that desirable trait into EHBs.


Some facts
There are few beekeepers who don’t know about the wax moth and there are even fewer who have any regard for the beast. But like most creatures, it has its role in life, and that is to destroy the comb of weak or dying honey bee colonies, and in so doing, probably destroying the organism that caused the problem in the first place, which in turn may save other colonies from infection.

The moth itself of course causes no damage, but the larvae do and it is estimated in the USA that they cause over $5 million of damage to beekeepers. Comb most at risk from these larvae is that in storage. Stored probably in dark, poorly ventilated areas in which the moth has no fear and the larvae no predators. In these conditions which replicate a dead or dying colony, the larval population explodes, and the resulting mess comes as a shock to even the most hardened beekeeper.

Wax moth damage

The moth life cycle
The life cycle of the moth begins when the moth lays her eggs. These are tiny and unless you are looking for them you would probably not see them. She lays them in batches in cracks in the wood, or in joins and other small hiding places in the hive. Each female can produce up to around 300 eggs.

The eggs hatch to the larval stage in about 5 to 8 days and the new larvae burrow into the comb to avoid surface detection and they begin to eat. They prefer, and thrive upon old comb with plenty of material in it other than just wax. As you can see in the photo, the last frame of newly pulled out wax has been hardly touched. The centre frames are well fixed together with wax moth silk and debris and will have to be prized apart. As they move through the comb they produce silken tunnels which are difficult for bees to remove and which often prevent bees emerging from their cells for the first time. Depending upon temperature, the larvae will remain in this state for up to 5 months before spinning a cocoon and entering the third stage of life transforming itself from larva to adult. These cocoons are tough and securely anchored in to cracks in the woodwork, joins, under spacers, in boat shaped hollows that they make in the hive and frame woodwork, in fact almost anywhere. They will remain in this state for up to two months depending upon temperature before emerging as the nondescript little moth, large or small that we have all seen.

The new moth will fly mainly by night and its acute sensory ability allows it to seek and find beehives or wild colonies over a wide area and will readily enter beehives to lay eggs and so begin the cycle over again.

Control of wax moths
The best way of controlling the moth in colonies is to make sure that the colonies are strong and healthy. Wax moths do not kill bees or colonies, they only destroy already weakened and dying colonies where there are not sufficient adult bees to deal with them. In many colonies there are always a few moths or larvae present, but these are kept well under control by the bees. If a beekeeper doesn’t notice that a colony has a problem, a previously healthy colony will be destroyed in under a month.

Keeping hives clean and free from structural damage can help the bees to deal with the moths which need nooks and crannies in which to get established and keeping the bees healthy are adequate preventative methods which the moths will not be able to overcome.

Stored comb is unprotected comb unless the beekeeper takes measures to protect it. Keeping the combs open to the light at all times is a surprisingly effective method of control. The moths don’t like light and airy situations and will avoid combs in these conditions.

Freezing comb will protect against all the stages of the life cycle and comb stored in open barns in areas where freezing temperatures are the norm have an advantage. A large freezer also does the trick. Heating to at least 115F for at least 80 minutes will also help the situation, but be careful. Above 120F and the wax will start melting.

The wax moth larva has a natural enemy and that is the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. This has long been used for the control of other pests and is now widely used as a wax moth control. It is sold under a wide variety of trade names and when mixed with water and sprayed onto the combs it forms a lasting protection. It has one draw back and that is that when used on stored comb especially where pollen is present, it can assist in the development of mould which effectively destroys the usefulness of the stored pollen. Frames that have been sprayed should be well aired to dry them off before storage, to avoid this problem. This substance is probably the best and safest method of moth control available for stored comb.

Various fumigants have been used on stored comb and although they work, they can be dangerous to the health of the beekeeper and often to the bees. My advice is to keep away from them. If you have any PDB crystals left, safely dispose of them.

There is a wax moth predator, a brachonid wasp, but they are around in too few numbers to be of assistance to the beekeeper.

Finally, remember that healthy, strong colonies will keep the ever present moth well under control, and that if you do find a hive full of the disgusting damage caused by the moth, it is really doing bees and beekeepers a favour! It has destroyed a hive possibly full of disease that you should have noticed earlier and done something about. If it does come to this, remember, they make very good bait!


Our poem for this month comes in the form of a clip from the 'lake isle of Innisfree' (1897). I’m sure that many will be familiar with it but for the summer months it does conjure up a picture of a beekeeper heaven.

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made

Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,

And live alone in the bee loud glade.



August is BBQ month, in the UK at least and if you can find a day without rain then armed with charcoal, fine beers and wines, and of course some food, a merry time can be had by all, especially if you liven the whole thing up with a spicy BBQ sauce. Here is how. You will need the following:

16 oz of tomato sauce.
1 tbs of dry English style mustard. {not the sweet continental stuff}.
A glass of dry white wine.
2 tbs of red wine vinegar, preferably garlic flavored.
1 tbs of Worcester sauce.
2 tbs of chili sauce. Tobasco is a good one.
2 tbs of equal amounts of chilli sauce, garlic and honey.
4 tbs of honey.
3 tbs of finely chopped onion.
The juice of half a lemon.
1 tbs of molasses.

Blend the whole lot together and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes and wait for it to cool.

You are meant to brush on to the meat whilst cooking, but I prefer to pour over the meat after cooking.

And as winter is rushing at us, take measures to prevent coughs. Here are two first class cough mixtures.

1 tbs of honey.
1 tbs of lemon juice.
1 teaspoon of powdered cinnamon.
1 teaspoon of powdered ginger.
1 pinch of chilli powder.

For the second mix, try this.

Grate up two onions and place them in a jam jar.

Mix up a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of honey. Allow the juice to accumulate at the bottom of the jar and take a few teaspoons of this instead of cough mixture. Borsdruppels [liquorice] can be added to these mixtures and is said to be good for a tight chest.

FACT FILE Back to top
Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth

Most beekeepers will have realized that the July quote came from that noted beekeeper and innovator, Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth 1810-1895. This is the man whose ideas changed beekeeping practice throughout the western world. He is widely credited with ‘inventing’ bee space and many texts actually state this despite the fact the he never actually quoted this as one of the innovations of his hives when he applied for a patent. In fact researchers have concluded that the bee space for which Langstroth has become most noted was one thing that he did not intend to be given credit for. He took many of his ideas from the Grecian bar hive which maintained the principle of a bee space (Rocca, 1790) and from various other beekeeping innovators such as R Golding a British beekeeper. Indeed both Rocca and Golding had devised hives whereby the frames could be removed ‘without the least bruising and with the greatest ease imaginable’. There were many others who by the 1850s were using moveable frame hives because of this, many took the trouble to contest Langstroths’s patent. It does appear that his application for patent rested on his claim of an improvement in moveable combs, not the principle and it is without doubt that Langstroth’s design provided for hive that could be exploited for large scale commercial bee keeping in regions with heavy rapid honey flows and it is on this substantial basis that his claim to fame properly rests and not on any priority in devising the bee space.’ (Johansson).

It does appear then that what Langstroth has become famous for, he never ever claimed to have devised, although his realisation of the true benefits of this knowledge which was known to others, probably out to be the father of modern beekeeping more than anyone else.


Earlier, we featured the wax moth and gave readers a basic biology of the beast and some methods of preventing its depredations. Here is another method which taken from an extract of a letter from James Low M.D, writing in the 1800s.

Dear Sir, since I have been in the country, my attention has been arrested by the ravages of the moth among our bees. To the history of the insect, I have nothing to add. I could not however avoid noticing how furiously the bees attack and how expeditiously they destroy, their formidable foes in the nymph state. It occurred to me that a different mode of constructing our apiaries would more effectively destroy those already formed, and, to a certainty, prevent their ravages or propagation in all new hives. The mode proposed is, to have the plank or floor of the apiary on which the hives generally rest, moveable upwards and downwards, a beam on the centre of the roof, extending the whole length of the building, furnished with staples or hooks and firmly secured. Let the hives be made of hard, seasoned wood, and well whitewashed with lime externally, and furnished with a hook or staple in the centre at the top. It is well known that the temperature of the bees is great and that pure air is so essential to their health and existence, that ventilation forms the whole of the duty of a considerable portion of the laboring bees. By the mode now proposed, that portion of their labour is considerably lessened, the whole of the bottom of the hive being open when suspended by its hook to the beam above, and the floor lowered four or five inches. In cold weather, the plank which can now be easily cleaned is to be raised against the bottom of the hives, and when sufficiently warm, it may again be lowered. The deposition of the ova of the tinea is thus effectively prevented and a more plentiful supply of pure air secured to the legitimate occupants of the hive.

There you go. Good news for bee farmers. Get those planks and hooks out!

LETTERS Back to top

Dear webmaster,
I am a potential bee keeper and have tried every email 'envelope' in the local associations list without success. I have a one acre flower garden and I was interested in a local Devon beekeeper putting a hive in the garden for next summer. But if I am only able to contact the webmaster this idea is going to wither and die before it gets off the ground don't you think? Mike Gilmore


Event organisers are welcome to forward dates and details of their events to the editor (by e-mail) for incorporation on this page.

6-10 September 2004 - 8th IBRA Conference on tropical Bees: management and diversity. Ribeiro Preto, Brazil.

Saturday 11th September 2004 - The Bromley and Orpington Honey Show and Beekeeping exhibition and crafts. Opens to the public at 9.30am FREE ENTRY. Emmanuel Church, The Grove, West Wickham, Kent. See quality products of the hive; buy pure English honey; things for kids to do; watch the bees at work safely behind glass in the demonstration hive; beekeeping exhibits and more. Refreshments available. To Enter the Honey Show view and print the show schedule from a PDF. Download 2004 Show Schedule [234KB PDF needs Acrobat 4+]

Monday 13th September 2004 - Conwy Honey Fair, High Street, Conwy, North Wales.  9am til 4pm. Ancient street fair, founded by King Edward 1st more than 700 years ago. Stall space is free of charge. Honey stalls, home produce, crafts, plant stalls welcome. More than a tonne of local honey is sold by lunchtime. Now organised by Conwy BKA.  Contact secretary for details: Peter McFadden, tel 01492 650851, email:

14th, 15th and 16th October 2004 - Washington State Beekeepers Fall Meeting. Download schedule of events pdf Location: Doubletree Hotel Spokane City Center 322 N. Spokane Falls Court Spokane, WA 99201 USA 1-509-455-9600

Cover of the 2004 Schedule

21st, 22nd and 23rd October 2004 - The National Honey Show
The National Honey Show will be at the Royal Air Force Museum, Grahame Park Way, Hendon, North London between 21st - 23rd October 2004. Members will have received a copy of the show schedule in the post or you can download the competitive classes part of the schedule by going to the support page of the honey show website. You can also purchase advanced tickets and membership online. Website URL:

16th April 2005 BBKA Spring Convention and Exhibition

Editor: David Cramp Submissions contact the Editor
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The quote this month comes from one of the 20 th century’s most significant characters and one whom I’m sure we all admire.

‘All we need is to be industrious, not like a machine but like the honeybee.’

The advice given was taken and has transformed an entire nation.

Because the person who made this quote is not from the bee world, next month’s fact file will be on the subject mentioned in the editorial, The Honey Trade.

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