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The Foulness Of Bee Bureaucracy

Terry Ingram from Apple River knows bees. He has been a beekeeper most of his life; for fifty-eight years, he has studied, poked, prodded, and nurtured the bees in his hives, striving to keep them vigorous and productive. He watches closely to make sure they remain as clean and healthy as possible so the quality of their life and their honey is good and pure.

Suddenly though, he is under investigation. Many of his bees, along with his best equipment, have been confiscated by the Illinois Department of Agriculture. The top queens of his colonies have been destroyed and the center section of combs have been removed and sent to labs. The supposed culprit: foul brood. The battle centers on the Department of Agriculture’s insistence that Ingram’s hives contain foul brood, which must be destroyed; he contends all hives may test positive for carrying the disease but it does not mean hives are currently infected. During his most recent hearing in April though, it quickly became clear the battle extends far beyond foul brood to the element of knowledge. Who is more accurate: the beekeeper who has eaten, lived, and breathed bees his entire adult life, or the inspector who is trained to examine bees, hives, and their colonies?

What Is Foul Brood?

Possibly the most severe disease possible for a bee hive, foul brood can destroy and entire colony. It is highly contagious and is easily spread from hive to hive. The disease is caused by Paenibaccillus larvae, a spore-forming bacterium. These bacteria are ingested by young bees, most often when they are in the larval stage of their development. Once ingested, the spores continue to multiply and grow within their bodies, eventually overwhelming and killing them. If left untreated, the colony will eventually die as they are overwhelmed with the rapidly growing and expanding disease that wipes out the young faster than they can be replaced. The bacteria spores continue to grow even after the larvae have died, and the remains can form scales that attach to the cell walls. These can be transferred to other larvae. Cold, heat, and disinfectants have little to no effect on the bacteria and can grow undetected for years in colonies and combs that are not monitored or are abandoned.

Symptoms Of Foul Brood

Perhaps most important to Ingram’s argument is the reality that beekeepers cannot rely on labs to determine if any portion of their colony is currently affected with foul brood. Keepers must be able to read their bees in the field in order to act quickly and remove any diseased or dead bees, comb, or honey. They must be able to recognize the symptoms of foul brood.

  • Visible discoloration and appearance change of cell cappings.
    • Cappings can become perforated or sunken as older bees attempt to nibble the center. They will appear irregular and jagged in shape.
    • A moist and greasy appearance attaches to the tops of many cappings.
    • Cappings of diseased combs can also appear darker in color.
  • Evidence of an unpleasant smell and overall aroma of the comb due to the diseased cells.
  • Ropiness Test – inserting a matchstick into the center of the cell and withdrawing the contents can reveal a positive identification for foul brood. If the matchstick withdraws a mucus-like rope or thread that is typically a dark brown color, foul brood should be suspected.
  • In older stages of the disease, a dark brown scale will often lay on the bottom side of the cell. These cells reflect light when held in the direction of the sun or other light.
  • Older diseased cells may exhibit luminescence under a UV light.

Preventing Foul Brood

  • Become familiar with the signs of a healthy colony in order to identify any potentially unhealthy or concerning characteristics.
  • Study and understand the causes and signs of foul brood.
  • Regularly inspect colonies, particularly in autumn and spring.
  • Never move bees or comb between colonies without ensuring there is absolutely no evidence of any brood disease.
  • Use only clean, sterilized equipment in the apiary. Used, old, or unclean equipment may contain prior diseases that are not clear to the eye.
  • Control robbing between colonies. Exposed comb or other elements that may appear attractive to robbing bees should never be left where they are visible or attracting.
  • Never treat bees to honey from another source.
  • Seal any inactive hive or any are where a colony has died to prevent robbing until the supplies can be clean, sterilized, and re-prepared.
  • Consistently monitor hive activity to ensure it is thriving.
  • Regularly maintain brood combs, melting them down when necessary and replacing them with new frames.
  • Any evidence of severe and advanced foul brood should lead to the burning of combs, frames, and even bees in some cases in order to ensure the disease does not pass to other healthy colonies.

Beekeepers have a significant responsibility to maintain the healthiness of their hives. Any hive can have the potential to develop foul brood. Unfortunately, this often becomes a sticky point in dealing with inspectors, as is the case with Mr. Ingram. Although the equipment may show signs of positive spores, it does not necessarily indicate the current hive is dealing with the disease. Proper abatement and retesting of the equipment and materials can ensure the colony does not come down with the disease.

Beekeepers struggle enough with keeping their hives healthy due to local farmers insecticides and fungicides as well as several other potential diseases. Unfortunately, the governmental authorities do not always have clear guidelines for inspecting and ensuring the abatement of commercial hives and colonies. Dealing with the bureaucracy of governmental inspectors can only be one more element in place that can eventually destroy a beekeeper’s colonies and livelihoods.

©2012 Off the Grid News

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