Mite Grooming in one of my hives!

Today, I opened the hives to monitor and document progress on the changeover to natural cell beekeeping and incidentally noticed a bee doing the waggle dance. This is typically done to communicate to the other bees the location of a new source of nectar and pollen. I paid more attention than normal because I was showing my friend, who was manning the camera, different aspects of the hive and bee behavior.

First full frame of natural drawn comb.

While looking closely, I realized the bee had a mite on her abdomen. The dance seemed funny as well, as she was waggling in place rather than moving in a line. She was on a frame top rather than on the face of the comb. The dance is usually done on the face of comb, and the angle of travel is an important part of that communication.

The bee, however, just stayed in one place and wiggled her “bee-hind”. After a moment another worker sort of mounted her from behind and, after a couple of attempts, removed the mite.

Fresh drawn natural comb showing highly technical Popsicle stick foundation starter.

Grooming behavior! This is great news. This is the Holy Grail of organic Backwards Beekeeping. I have not treated for mites since spring and no bees are showing signs of deformed wings. Deformed wings are a sign mites are getting into the cells of larvae before they are capped for pupation and are interfering with the bee’s development. This was the only mite I spotted during 40 minutes in the hives. The mite could easily have been picked up by the bee from a flower on a recent trip. Mites are known to drop off bees onto a flower in order to switch to a new bee and infect other hives.

Worker bee on freshly filled cells of honey.

The queen in this hive is my original. She was from a local conventional beekeeper who does a lot of swarm collecting. This means the queen is at least semi-feral in gene line. She also probably mated with drones from the feral hive in our oak tree, and so her offspring are likely to be even more tilted toward the feral (deep) end of the gene pool. Feral bees are thought to have two advantages in the battle against the mites. The first is that feral hives are surviving mite infestations when managed hives are not. The second is that they represent greater genetic diversity than industrially reared queens.
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Backyard Ecosystem began as an expression of my determination to make a difference in our own backyard. Literally and metaphorically making a difference at the micro level of my yard and to operate at macro level of treating the entire planet as something I am an integral part of and whose destiny is shaped everyday by what I do in my corner of the world.

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