Bring Out Your Dead…

EFB infected larvae, from
EFB infected larvae, from

We have an unfortunate visitor in the apiary, unfortunate but giving us a wonderful learning opportunity!

Our #2 student apiary hive has suddenly developed the symptoms of foulbrood, and so is now being treated and is under quarantine. Almost all brood affected was young and uncapped, suggesting EFB. I ran a Vita-Life AFB test kit and it came up negative. Either way, with an irradiation facility handy to sterilize the infected equipment, the protocol is the same. I do not usually stock EFB kits, but I should…if the deaths are from neither of the foulbroods, this is just colony stress and the equipment need not be sterilized at all.

This is a perilously small colony and may just have found themselves unable to care for the eggs their spunky new queen is laying. The larvae may just have died and rotted as a consequence. But we will treat as per the foulbroods, just in case.

Note that this colony failed to use its syrup feeder, even though we are in a deep drought and nectar dearth. If a colony fails to take feed, that is usually an indication that something is wrong, usually illness or extreme pest pressure, and an inspection is necessary, ASAP.

The protocol is as follows:

Day 1: apply a “flash” treatment of Oxytet (tetracycline powder) 1:5 mixed well with icing sugar. Apply 2 T(ablespoons) of mixture to ends of top bars, avoiding brood.

Day 4: repeat the flash treatment above

Day 5: turn colony out onto clean, bare equipment. This forces the colony to use up their (medicated but still possibly contaminated) gut contents to make new wax, metabolizing the pathogen and its possible spores. Do not feed the colony for 1-2 days. You will lose no foragers if you put the clean, bare, new setup on the stand the old hive occupied. Take the old equipment away and scrape clean, bag to prevent robbing and for sterilization. Burn scrapings, or take them to the city dump tagged for burning.

Day 6/7: Give medicated syrup in syrup feeder to prevent recurrence of pathogen and to promote comb building. You can at this time also give them some drawn comb so the queen can begin laying right away.

Ongoing…continue to feed to support colony expansion, check brood carefully for health. You can repeat the protocol if there is a recurrence. You can also boost the numbers of a small colony when you are sure it is healthy by adding frames of capped brood or layering on a nuc of adult bees. Monitor queen fecundity: it may have been impaired by the disease or stress agent. If she is not laying well, or if the disease recurs (indicating her daughters may just be from susceptible genetic lines), replace the queen.

This queen is drop-dead-gorgeous, let us hope she makes it through unscathed!


Update August 24 2015

All’s well that ends well! Our little colony stuggled, given that the brood was all dying thanks to EFB. We medicated twice with Oxy-Tet in icing sugar, as above.

But our drama occured during the turn-out phase, when after a day on bare equipment, just before I arrived with their medicated feeder full of Oxy-tet in syrup, the colony absconded! This was a shock as we are in a serious nectar dearth. It could be they objected to their used nuc box, which I will scub more thoroughly, and spray with “Queen Juice” before re-use. They were certainly very unhappy with their clean, bare equipment and no feed!

Their absence was discovered in late afternoon, likely on the day they decamped. A quick search of the area failed to turn up the bees…you can often find a swarm by looking for flights of bees, often just a few bees coming and going, from places they ought not to be flying from…like blackberry thickets, ie. not from a known hive location or floral source.

I had to leave, but returned to the beeyard at sunset. I could not believe the bees had left, and further that they had not chosen to move into any of our bait hives! I took one more walk around the area, and along a small path, across a ditch from the original hive site, there were the bees, happily in a low bush. I joyfully swept them into a box and dumped them into a hive with drawn comb AND a frame of open brood from the next hive.

I reasoned that after two round of meds and a day or two of starvation, there was little chance of the EFB surviving in the bee guts. And so it has turned out.

We are two weeks down the road, the queen is laying very well, and the brood all seems healthy, even since the medicated syrup feed ended.

Although the colony lost about a month of new bees, and of course was losing old bees at the same time, they should have time to build up for winter. They are now getting protein patties and syrup feeds.


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