Speaker 1: From the Oregon State University Extension Service, this is Pollination, a podcast that tells the stories of researchers, land managers, and concerned citizens making bold strides to improve the health of pollinators.
I'm your host, Dr. Adoni Melopoulos, assistant professor in pollinator health in the Department of Horticulture. It's the middle of winter. It seems like a terrible time to be having an episode of Pollination, but in fact, it's a great time because we're going to be talking about what bees do during the winter. I'm hoping to have a couple of episodes devoted to this question over the coming weeks, but this week we invited Dr. Mehid Ali Dokei to come talk to us about a cool paper that he was the lead author on called Overwintering Honey Bees, Biology and Management, as well as drawing this extensive experience of his PhD work, but also work that he's done around the world on how honey bees are able to make it through these long winters active.
They don't hibernate, as we'll find out in this show. Dr. Dokei is actually, we caught him while he was still at Penn State. He's on his way from the center of pollinator research at Penn State to the University of Puerto Rico, where he's going to be doing more research into understanding how exactly honey bees are so well adapted to wintering. Anyway, it's a really fascinating episode and it's very practical for those of you who are beekeepers who are interested in keeping your bees alive through this cold, flowerless, dark dreary time of the year when honey bee colonies are their most vulnerable. Hope you enjoy the episode. Okay, I'm tremendously excited to have Dr. Dokei from Penn State University join us here on pollination. Welcome to pollination.
Speaker 2: Well, thank you very much. It's good to be here.
Speaker 1: You know, this is a great time to be podcasting you because we're approaching the shortest day of the year. We're in the depths of winter and we've talked a lot about native bee species through the fall, but in Pennsylvania and Oregon, all these bees are snoring away.
They're in some form of hibernation, but not the honey bees. So, just a couple of things. Can you set things up for us? Can you describe what you would see if you opened a bee colony on a warm day in winter? Like if we opened it up, what would we see inside?
Speaker 2: So if you would go into a bee colony right now and if you were lucky enough to have a good day to open it without disturbing it too much, you would see a kind of like a ball of bees, worker bees hugging each other kind of trying to keep warm as we would do if we were outside, I guess.
And the interesting thing about that is as you mentioned, it's kind of like a rare thing for any insect species, especially to do that. Like they're not asleep. They're not in their homes as many other animals do in winter. They're just still active in a way but inside the hive.
Speaker 1: So if we looked inside, they'd be kind of huddled together, but they'd still be like, you know, walking around. They'd be, you know, they would not be in torpor. Absolutely.
Speaker 2: Yes. They wouldn't be just, you know, almost dead, as you would expect from other animals that are that go into a metabolic suppression during the winter. They don't do that. Honeybees instead, are active. They can walk around, but they can stray too far from this cluster of bees, which we call a tamaraglitter cluster because if they do that, they will simply die. So they have to stay together to be able to survive.
Speaker 1: All right. Just a basic question. Why, why would they do this? If the majority of bees in a temperate zone go into some, you know when the flowers are gone, they're not active, why would honeybees in an evolutionary sense stay active during winter?
Speaker 2: That's a tricky question. One way to look at it is they're kind of stuck to do that because they are this completely new social organism. The honeybee queens cannot establish a colony by themselves. So it wouldn't be feasible for them to try to survive the winter like bumblebees do, for example, when the queen goes underground, it just sleeps through the winter and comes back up in spring and starts a new colony.
Honeybees cannot do that. So they have to keep together. And it would, I think, be an evolutionary nightmare to try to evolve a way to, you know, get the whole colony through the winter in some sort of diapos. So I think that's one part of the problem. Another thing for them that is important is to be able to go and exploit the resources at the very beginning of the spring.
And for that, you need the numbers. So you can't just depend on reproduction that takes an extra almost three weeks after the weather is fine. You know, that's not going to work for them. So they're kind of stuck in that system where they have to be active at the very early stages of the best way to do that is basically not going dormant in the beginning.
Speaker 1: You know, we sometimes, we've had past episodes where we've talked about things to plant in the winter. And, you know, and you think about the species that might be there, you're really hummingbirds and honeybees are the only things around that second point that you made that, you know, honeybees are ready to go as soon as the first blooms appear as opposed to other species that are really just, you know, getting going.
Speaker 2: And that's their only way out. They're such in such large numbers in the colony, you know, they wouldn't be able to make it through another year if they cannot start the spring earlier than the other species. That's in a way an advantage, but also like a curse. Yeah, absolutely. They can't kind of get out of that now. They won't be able to evolve into a species quickly that doesn't do that anymore.
Speaker 1: Well, it's clearly a successful strategy because when we look at the natural range of honeybees, they go, you know, from the tropics all the way to Scandinavia and into the high elevations in northern Europe. So can you walk us through some of the key adaptations that enable honeybees to remain active in such inhospitable winters?
Speaker 2: So I would say one of the biggest advantages they have over other bee species is that they're, they're hoarders. They just hoard. Seriously, they have a problem. If you think about it, they make more honey than they can eat in the season.
And that surplus is what gets them through the winter. So in other species, for example, again, going back to bumblebees, there's a familiar example. If you think about it, the amount of food in a bumblebee colony would not take a single individual through the winter if they tried to survive.
Speaker 1: Oh, right. It's just like a, you know, maybe a week or less, a few days of supply in a bumblebee colony.
Speaker 2: And then the other advantage they have is their sheer numbers. Basically, there's so many. They can use their numbers as a means of acting like a mammal, say, rather than an insect species, because each individual worker honeybee cannot keep themselves warm enough for long enough to get through the winter. But when they're in this bee ball or cluster, we call it, they can operate their wing muscles and those wing muscle operation creates energy, and that energy is then entrapped inside that bubble of bees, which keeps each other warm. So the numbers are definitely a part of their adaptations.
Speaker 1: All right. So tell us a little bit about this cluster. So the bees are not just, you know, loosely walking around. You described it at the beginning of the episode. What's that all about? Is it just a matter of like, uh, you know, what, what, how does that work?
Speaker 2: So I will assume that most people are familiar with what penguins do to survive through the winter in the harsh winter of the polar circle, right? So it's very similar to that. In a way, they just do what penguins do. They stick together.
They make this circular shape, which is more in 3D compared to the penguins because they're not on ice. They try to cluster honey sources and the queen is inside that cluster. The most important, maybe the individual in the colony, right?
You got to keep the queen alive. Oh, right. Yeah. And if they have any brood, then the brood is also in that cluster. They try to brew clusters around the brood. But what they do is basically the bees at the outer layers of that cluster create kind of like an installation area.
Oh, okay. Using their bodies. So the bees outside are much cooler than the bees that are in the center of the cluster and actually the center of the cluster gets two more. So they tend to migrate between the inside and the outside of the cluster.
Speaker 1: So the inside, they're not tight. They must be kind of, it's just like going to Hawaii in the middle.
Speaker 2: Well, it gets a little too tight sometimes, actually, depending on the ambient temperature, the colder it gets, the tighter the cluster gets because that leaves less room for it to escape. So the cluster is not something stationary. It's more dynamic. So depending on the temperature outside, the cluster can be much looser or much tighter.
Speaker 1: Oh, and I, you know, the other thing you were talking about was the brood. And I remember hearing that at this time of year, the other thing, one of the other aspects of this adaptation is that they shut the brood down or they restrict the brood. Is it, are we at that point or is there much brood in colonies at this point in the year?
Speaker 2: I think that would be one of the bloodiest times of the year where we live because by the time around October in fall, it's kind of like not to stop brood reading, but it gets much lower than the summertime or the springtime. The colony gets visibly smaller in its size. The brood reading sometimes stops and sometimes comes to a very low level, depending on the colony and the specific conditions. But by January, actually, they start rearing brood again, which is mind-blowing, and I have no idea how they decide it's a great time to make babies again because it's like terribly cold and dark and there's like two feet of snow on the ground. So why not, why not get some more babies?
Speaker 1: It must be like starting your car in the winter. It's like, we got to start it. We have to start it now. I don't want to do it.
Speaker 2: It's like if I don't do it now, I won't have any juice left in my battery by the time spring comes.
Speaker 1: Yeah, exactly. Right. That's a great, great analogy. And I suppose, but when they have that brood shut down, they don't must not have to run the middle so hot. That must be, they must be able to keep some juice in the battery so to speak. Yes.
Speaker 2: I mean, the brood's existence is generally a determinant of how much thermal regulation they do, because the brood needs a certain temperature, which is about 34.5 Celsius. But when the brood isn't there, I guess they can be more relaxed about doing that. Either way, the temperature is generally optimal for themselves as well. So they will try to keep it fairly warm, no matter what.
Speaker 1: Well, I guess that begs the question that they stop making babies. Why doesn't the colony just dwindle immediately? Exactly.
Speaker 2: And that's another, maybe a huge adaptation they have to survive the winter. So I have to talk a little bit about summer bees to get to my point. So bear with me. In the summer, we have obviously the queen in the colony. One queen per colony unless there's warming or something. And then we have drones and workers. Drones are basically flying sperm sacs. They just, they just fly around, try to find other queens to mate.
So they distribute the genetic material of the colony. So they're very useful, but they come in very low numbers. Maybe there are a couple hundred of them at any given time and they don't do any work other than mating. So workers are the ones that are doing all the work by the name. I guess it's very obvious. Just realized that now. After three years of research. So the workers do several dozens of probably distinct tasks in the colony, but the two very distinct ones where major ones are nursing and foraging.
Okay. So when they nurse, they basically take care of their baby sisters, the larvae in the colony who are all the progeny of the same queen. So their sisters. To do that, they need certain adaptations. They need to have a hypoferential gland, which they use to produce the food that they feed to the larvae. They need to have a certain level of fat content and, a certain hormonal profile. And as they age, then they turn into forages, which have a completely different hormonal profile. They, their hypoferential glands are not much functional anymore and they seek outside, they go outside and start the hoarding that we were talking about. Okay.
Speaker 1: So let me get this straight. So we've talked a lot about native bees in the last couple of episodes. So they will just collect pollen and put it in a ball. This is more physiologically demanding. The workers actually have to eat the pollen and then like turn it into a special food. Like it's, it must take a lot out of their bodies to do that.
Speaker 2: Absolutely. So they turn it into basically, you know, if, if some of our, some of your listeners have babies at home, they know baby cereal. So its baby cereal is loaded with almost predigested kind of food. That's very easy to digest.
That's very nutritious and that's high calorie. Okay. Gotcha. Okay. All right. Keep going.
All right. So this is the summer and in summer it takes about three weeks to become foragers after they're already closed as adults. And then it takes another three to four weeks to basically complete their life. So we can say that summer bees live up to maybe eight weeks or two months. You were taking.
Okay. And then once we start the winter in October, we start seeing those other bees. They don't look different. You follow them through the winter. They actually survive the whole length of winter. And in parts of Canada, for example, that can be eight months.
Speaker 1: Wait a sec. So you've got a bee in the summer that lives eight weeks. But if you're born at a certain time of year, you can go months. Absolutely.
Speaker 2: It's a four-fold increase in longevity and they're using the same genome. They're sisters, right? They're related.
Speaker 1: They look the same. They're not like big honking bees with big shoulders.
Speaker 2: And all looks the same. You wouldn't be able to tell by the naked eye, but you can tell if you do a gene profile kind of analysis, or if you look at their hormones, stuff like that. Then you can tell they're different.
Speaker 1: Okay. So that gets back to our question of how can it be, you know, when they shut the brood nest down, why doesn't it dwindle? They've got these bees that are going to kind of have their survival rates going to be higher, so they're not going to.
Speaker 2: Absolutely. So those long winter bees will be able to make it through the winter. So the colony still gets smaller over time, but at a much slower rate. So they're able to survive the winter as a colony.
Speaker 1: Man, this raises this question. You know, if this sounds, you know, there's a high degree of social coordination that reaches right into the bodies of the bees. It's pretty amazing. Can you tell us how, you know, a honeybee colony gets a sense that winter is coming? How does, and how do they do this translation into worker physiology? This seems remarkable, this is amazing.
Speaker 2: It definitely is. And it has been a matter of much curiosity. People did some research in the early days, mostly in the fifties, and seventies. There's a lot of research on that, which focuses on the environmental cues, like sunlight, you know, sun exposure, or like weather conditions and stuff like that. But if I have to be completely honest, we do not have an excellent experimental demonstration of which cues the honeybees are using to determine the beginning and the end of winter.
Speaker 1: OK, but still there is this, how does, you know, let's say the cue happens? How do they, how does this kind of get like, you were talking about these winter bees and like how they get formed? How can you explain bees that become like that?
Speaker 2: Yeah, there has to be a cue. So we did kind of look for it a little bit in our research here with Christina Krozenger. We have a hypothesis we developed when we were writing that review paper that was published in 2015 about honeybee overwinter. There's definitely more need for testing, but we did a little bit of it.
In short, the hypothesis is that we believe the wine-mine food sources are the key for the honeybees to get the hint and realize that winter is at the gates.
Speaker 1: OK, explain that a little bit more, and we will link, put a link to the paper. It's a great paper. I mean, I'll put a link to it on the show notes, but just how does that work? How do you think that might work?
Speaker 2: So what we think is when the food outside is getting scarce, there's less foraging happening, but because there's not much to foraging. OK, so more forage, your population that has already turned into foragers is kind of trapped inside the colony rather than doing outside work. And the foragers have this pheromone. It's a single compound pheromone etylolate, and it's called forager pheromone occasional that has been shown to affect the behavioral development of their nest mates.
So if you have too much forager sitting around basically, they're sending a pheromone signal to the other bees, younger bees to say like, hey, you know what, slow down your maturation because we don't need any more forages. So that's one signal that we think is influential. And the other signal is the brood pheromone. So when you have brood in the colonies, that also creates a pheromone signal that is then perceived by the other bees in the colony. And it actually accelerates their behavioral maturation.
Speaker 1: So you've got both signals attending in the direction of staying, not developing too quickly. Correct.
Speaker 2: So at that time of the year, there's less brood, there's less forage, more foragers inside the colony, hypothetically, we didn't test that yet very well. But that could kind of create this tipping point. When there are enough of those two signals together, it could create the signal to change the physiology into a winter bee physiology.
Speaker 1: What a fascinating hypothesis. I look forward to your experiments on that because that sounds like the testable, you know, it's a very specific and interesting hypothesis that could be tested and sort of allow us to open up the secret because this is fascinating that bees could do this. Absolutely.
Speaker 2: And actually, like I'm very excited about the pheromone component because it makes perfect sense that a social species would somehow incorporate environmental signals, you know, cues and signals into their social signal system so that it can be perceived by the already evolved mechanisms to perceive those signals.
So it makes perfect sense. But I have to say, I was naively happy about like being able to test that because, you know, it's testable, it's a hypothesis, but it's easier said than done because when you're working with complete honeybee colonies and multiple of them, they tend to act in weird ways that you can't, you know, predict. So it's not as easy as doing laboratory work when you're outside. There are so many components getting into it. So it's kind of tough to test, but we will try.
Speaker 1: But it's still, I really like the idea because it does incorporate those two elements, the kind of changes in the environmental queue and all this intricate social coordination that would have to take place. Both elements are in the theory. So it does, it's very compelling. Absolutely.
Speaker 2: It's very compelling and it's very exciting. And I hope to do more work on that in my future kind of experimental work.
Speaker 1: All right. Well, let's take a break right now. I want to come back and we'll talk a little bit more about, you know, what are the implications for people who are managing bees and trying to get them through winter? Okay, we'll be back in a second. Okay. Well, we're back. We had this really great discussion in the break.
You'll never know what you're talking about. We were talking about half an hour, but we're coming back. And I think one of the things we were talking about is kind of how, you know, honeybees have this evolutionary adaptation and we kind of understand or have some ideas as to why it came about. But, you know, I know a lot of us are getting nervous about this time of year because historically winter is the period when we lose most of our colonies. And so just kind of from, we take the bees out of nature and into our hands. Like what are some of the key factors associated with this colony loss that all of us invariably experience?
Speaker 2: Yeah. So yeah, winter loss, first of all, is a big problem still. And it always was. At this point, we also have some increased summer loss after the colony collapse and the Waroa situation and all that, but winter is still the dominant time of the year when you lose most of your colonies. So I will talk about a couple of things that are very, very effective in killing bees in winter. The first one is, and I think it's very important to talk about that is waroa mites. Waroa mites, okay. So beekeepers are familiar with the problem, I bet. It wasn't a problem with the western honeybees of its milliner until the middle of the 20th century, I guess. And then in Asia, where they keep the Asian honeybees and the western honeybees together, it made a host shift. And Asian honeybees seem to be doing okay. They don't care about having warfare. They survive very well. But our honeybees, the western honeybees did terribly because that was a parasite that they faced for the first time and they didn't have the mechanisms to fight it.
Speaker 1: You know, and we've had a previous episode on Waroa. We were talking about Waroa thresholds with Dewey Keren and Waroa drift with Ellen Topsoffer in previous episodes, but we haven't talked about why they are a problem in the winter. What's the, why would warrant mites really be driving winter lots?
Speaker 2: What we it's kind of like observational in our case we started doing that winter study that helped us understand the effect of the genetic background but in the meantime we were also looking at like borrow loads and how it works blah blah and all the breeds or stocks if you want to call them that we brought to our apires were advertised as far resistant. So as a beekeeper if you believe that your bees are not going to die in the presence of far away, what do you do?
Speaker 1: I would just not treat I just like I'm protected I would say.
Speaker 2: Exactly that's what we did. That first year of that study that was supposed to be the year of the study became the first year of the study or as we call it sometimes a pilot study. Because those those colonies did not survive we had about 40 colonies from four different backgrounds 10 each and we had one survivor in each stock plus one in one of the stocks so like up to two survivor colonies per stock.
Speaker 1: Okay so the Varra do have this capacity to take colonies down do you have any sense of like why they're so hard on bees in the winter?
Speaker 2: I think Varra is kind of terrible in its means of affecting the colonies so first of all it's feeding on the brood right okay and when it does that is definitely damaging the brood at the very least if the brood is not coming out of this feeding event that then they're coming with kind of like lower quality bees in the end. Because the resources were sucked siphoned by this other animal right so that means if you have low-quality bees and let's go back to our discussion of longevity it might be affecting the longevity of the winter bees especially if you didn't treat Varra before or wintering like in September or October even then that means you're risking low-quality workers which may not make it through the winter.
Speaker 1: Oh so those long-lived bees that were in adaptation for wintering could be compromised and so they don't make it to the end of the winter okay.
Speaker 2: Absolutely and that can be compromised in many ways as it could just be the direct effect of feeding itself but we now know that Varra is also vectoring diseases and on top of that we know that when Varra feeds on the bees it also does immune suppression so we're getting these bees that are like the resources are taken away they're given viruses and they're immune. The immune system is suppressed.
Speaker 1: Okay so we have Varra as one of the drivers associated with colony loss Are there other factors that I might know as I go through winter one of these factors that makes wintering winter loss higher probability?
Speaker 2: Yes in our experiments and I will speak of it in a limited perspective because the experiments further than in Pennsylvania the colonies were of a certain genetic background right that might not be universal but I'm going to speak of what we found. What we found was our wintering success is directly related to the weight of that colony in October so if your colonies in October are very light they have very few individuals in them not very few but even fewer than the others they're less likely to survive the winter and if I want to give some numbers what we found was if a colony exceeds 50 pounds of weight or like 24 kilograms or so I guess but when I say weight I mean net weight which is like not the boxes that are in the not the frames just bees, wax, honey and all that stuff if that goes above 50% then you statistically in our experiment have an 80% plus chance of survival.
Speaker 1: Just a quick question how to know two questions actually how many bees like if you were looking at your colony how many bees would that sort of amount to and how would you measure 50 pounds how if you're a beginner beekeeper and you were looking at your colony and I got to subtract off the wood how do you do that.
Speaker 2: So especially for small-scale operations if they have the times and the means and the financial you know opportunity they should invest into a scale probably there are those like flat scales you can put on the ground or like on an on a lid high lid and they can put your high on it strapped probably so that it's safe and it gives you the weight. It's easy to record to get to the net weight you have to act kind of like early in the season and weigh your empty equipment.
Okay, if you weigh one box with all the frames in it with the foundations but nothing else then that should give you like the empty box weight, and then if you also weigh your lid and inner cover and the bottom and all that then you have this extra weight that you tear basically that you'll take out of the total weight to get your net weight.
Speaker 1: Oh and I suppose the picture for the podcast you have some crazy way of measuring.
Speaker 2: You know what it's crazy but it works. That was the only way I could do it by myself because that was a that these are actually built for hanging deer for the hunters. So when we kill the animal they hang it to skin and you know all that stuff I'm not going to be that's so backcountry Pennsylvania.
Speaker 1: It was such an opportunity because then you can put one of those like hanging scales and the hook and then you can strap your colony and then put the hook lifted and you get the weight and then you can do it by yourself. Well maybe you have to be like six foot two but still, this tripod was like eight feet tall and was fairly heavy but I was able to do it. I'm hoping most healthy individuals can but if they have other issues that are keeping them from doing that they might need some other person to help them to weight their call.
Speaker 1: Okay so we know 50 pounds but if we were to look in the colony how many frames of honey would that look like and how many frames of bees to get over that?
Speaker 2: That's the interesting part so it did correlate with the adult worker population. So like many bees you have in the colony, it didn't correlate to anything else. It's shocking for me that the overall weight of the colony when you put it into a statistical correlation didn't correlate with how much honey they have or didn't correlate with how much brood they have or any other things but it did correlate with the adult population.
The sad thing is I actually didn't bring numbers with me so I don't know how many bees that would turn into because we wanted to keep it simple in our paper and the research and just use the weight as the single measure you can take in the beginning of the year. So it's a very interesting question that I think is very interesting to me. I think it's a question of the inter and that tells you that you're on a probability distribution about how likely your colonies are to survive.
Speaker 1: Well it does raise the question I know a lot of people are thinking in September they may have a slightly smaller colony and they're like well maybe I'll just feed it up and treat it and get through.
I guess the implication here is that in some cases those smaller colonies are going to be at a much higher risk of dying and you might be better off dealing with them at the beginning of the fall rather than trying to take them through winter. Correct.
Speaker 2: So what I would say is they will have to use their kind of assessment of the situation at this point because there's no kind of like rule. But if they are able to weigh their colonies if they weigh the colony colonies below say 50 pounds you know so it's like in the lower part of the survival probability. If it's like slightly lower than 50 pounds then I would say feed your colonies give them some protein as well try to induce brood rearing so you have like more busier inside. They will keep each other warm.
But if you call it we say is 20 pounds it's going to die. So then I would say just combine them if you have other colonies that are you know stronger or if you have other weak colonies that you can combine because people don't want to do that because they feel like they're losing queens right? Yeah of course. It's like the colony is dying but like let's say you have four colonies each 30 pounds. All those four colonies will likely be dead by the time winter ends. But instead, if you combine them you have two live colonies and they're pretty strong and you can get them through the spring and we split next year, and voila you have the numbers again.
Speaker 1: Although you may think you're going to get more queens to the winter you're probably going to lose them anyway so might as well strengthen up your colonies with those weakened colonies and just get some new queens in the spring and split them. Exactly.
Speaker 2: Okay. I feel like that's financially too more feasible than losing the whole colony and buying packages all that stuff just you need one queen for the speed or you might even make your own queens.
Speaker 1: Now I know that you know one thing that's been very popular in the last little while and you talked about it a bit at the beginning of this segment was queen genetics and I think there's a lot of you open up any bee journal these days there's a lot of claims of traits that bees may have. How important is the genetics of the bees to their winter survival?
Speaker 2: Well that's a tricky question. And again I will try to speak within the limits of my own study. Okay. I looked at four stocks overall and those stocks were from Florida, Texas, West Virginia and I believe Pennsylvania. I'm not sure I got to go look at my paper again. I forgot because we keep using quotes for them rather than trying like we don't want to expose any you know providers we don't have intentions to make people's businesses.
Speaker 1: But still some bees that come from the south compared to bees that are from the north.
Speaker 2: South versus north was the idea. Okay. And when we started the test experiment we actually thought that the southern bees would do much worse than the northern bees when you keep them all in Pennsylvania because you know local adaptations they're more seasoned all that stuff. And we wanted to test that because a lot of the beekeepers in the north are buying their queens and packages from the south because it's radio season you know it's cheaper usually the mass producers are usually in the south. So we wanted to compare that.
And then if I were very direct and summarized it my findings there was no effect on the stock. Oh really? So the southerns and the northerns did equally well or equally bad whichever way you want to look at it. The survival rates were fairly similar. There was no statistical difference. So we ended up saying stock doesn't matter that much. Okay.
Speaker 1: So the implication is that those other factors like getting enough bees in the colonies and making sure that they're the kind of management parts are more important at least in your study.
Speaker 2: It definitely looks so. And I don't want to blame the beekeepers or anything. It's really tough right now. Bees go over winter and everything else. Of course we don't we didn't test it in our study but one should also be very cognizant of pesticide exposure and poor nutrition and all that stuff. But still, it looks like beekeepers have hope that they can change the way they do things and it could improve their over-figuring success. All right.
Speaker 1: So let's just wrap this up this part and we'll come. I've got some personal questions.
Speaker 2: But I would like to add one thing though. Yeah. Our research should not be taken as like by whatever bees you like like by bees from anywhere. That's not what we want to say.
Right. What we want to say is first of all all of those stocks we brought to our APRs the Queens we brought from different providers. The providers are well known. They've been in business forever now and they're like they're known for high-quality bees.
So that's like don't just go to any provider go to a provider with a good reputation. The other thing is we also want people to still get encouraged about exchanging Queens with their neighbors or buying Queens from like nearby you know APRs because we do think there's a chance that in the long run, we can create a better place. We can create these locally adapted stocks but for that, we should stop encouraging the admixture.
Speaker 1: That's a great point. And I you know one thing I would encourage listeners who are interested in this we did have an episode with Megan Milbrath talking about breeding bees in northern areas which is worth listening to as well. And I do. And I you know in Canada the bulk of our Queens come from Hawaii.
And we have really success with them and I and there is a way in which just having a quality well bred Queen that's not going to fail or have you know run out of sperm or it's in some ways that that's a huge element in colony success. I can't be under under.
Speaker 2: Yeah, I just wanted to make sure that we're not misunderstood on that. Yeah.
Speaker 1: Okay, so just quickly if you were going to rattle off if somebody's out there listening they're like going to have their bees for you know the first time this year and they're going to they're kind of worried they're listening to all this kind of complications that we're getting into.
They're kind of like oh my God. So what are some of the easiest surefire ways to make sure that your colleagues are going to get through winter? What if you What would you do?
Speaker 2: So the first thing is like, don't get too purist about your beekeeping ways. If your bees are suffering from Varua, treat them. And that you have to do the test right there's a sugar roll test. I bet everybody's somewhat familiar right now.
Just Google it or go to YouTube and you can find demonstrations. So keep the Varua under surveillance and once they get too bad too bad is basically like more than five Varua mites per 300 bees start treating because they're not going to be okay with Varua.
Speaker 1: Alright, keep Varua under control. Okay, what else?
Speaker 2: The other thing is again, don't be a purist. You know if you have to feed your bees, feed your bees. It's not like it's not like wild animals. They're your life stuck in a way. If you're called, let's say you have calls or like sheep and they're going like malnourished wouldn't you feed them? You would feed them. So the beekeepers as this thing that they want to be able to say I never gave sugar to my bees, but the bees sometimes need that support. So do it early rather than by the time the bees are unsavable.
They're gone. You know, just feed them early if you need to. Why early? Well, because they will have time to bounce back their population number.
If you do your feeding after October when the colony is like tiny and they're like that's not going to do anything. And then if you miss that opportunity, combine them.
Speaker 1: Okay, so I guess that's two and three. That's feed your colonies, feed them early and when they're small, if you get to that point, just cut your losses and combine them.
Speaker 2: Also keep observing your queens. If your queens are not playing well, you know, they're not doing okay before the winter, like in summertime, keep them in check. If a queen doesn't look like it's doing great, anything below great is not good for you. So I would replace the queen if the queen is like not high quality or has issues with laying.
Speaker 1: Oh, that makes sense because you need all those babies to get you through winter. So you need the population. All right.
Speaker 2: Another thing I would say is if you're living in a very windy open land kind of area, consider windbreaks and maybe insulation. There's research out there is like sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't kind of result, but I think that's because not everybody needs it. So if you feel like you need it, invest in windbreaks and insulation. Okay.
Speaker 1: And insulation under the lid and
Speaker 2: do you use hay, hay bales, or bells? What is it?
Speaker 1: Hey, yeah, hey, bills. Yeah. Okay.
Speaker 2: That's strong. Strong basically. And sometimes people use more synthetic materials. Anything is okay as long as you don't suffocate your bees or you don't create a moisture problem. Just be careful with that. Yeah.
Speaker 1: In Canada, we do use wraps on the edges. We put like a, I think it's an R 16 or eight on the edges, but on the top, we put a lot. But I don't think anywhere in the U S you need to put wraps on the sides.
Speaker 2: Probably. Some people still do it though. So I'm going to leave that to the discretion of the biggest. And then the last thing I will say is all the creepers should be careful about the landscape they're in. So, if the landscape in which their bees are housed, there have amazing extent of land cover. They go like, they go everywhere to collect pollen and nectar.
So they get exposed to things that we might think are not nearby. So even if we think like there's, there's this massive crop application with a lot of pesticides that seems far away, your bees might be exposed to you. So keep communication with your neighboring farms or whatever you have around and be aware of, and be aware of the pesticide applications. Close your colonies on those days if you have to do that kind of stuff. So protect your colonies from pesticide exposure and other contaminations as far as you can.
Speaker 1: And it sounds like even, even, even more so, find a good site, like find a, find a.
Speaker 2: I wanted to say that, but the reality is most of the beekeepers don't have much of a choice. Okay.
Speaker 1: Well, let's take another break and we're going to come back. I've got a couple of questions to ask you. Okay. Well, welcome back. We've got these three questions we asked all our guests. I am curious what your answers are going to be. And the first question is, is there a bee book that you love or you want our listeners to know about? Is there a kind of book out there that's your jam recommendation for us?
Speaker 2: So this might be an odd kind of recommendation, but I have a thing for old books. And the even bigger thing for books, which are like kind of origin story where things first happened and somebody's like, so I'd like to bring up is Dance Language and Orientation of Bees by Karl Womfries. And the copy I have is an English translation published in 1967. The book was written in German in 1965. So it might be hard to find. I was lucky enough to get one as a gift actually. And I really love that book.
Speaker 1: This is the dance language and orientation of bees? Correct.
Speaker 2: And this is the dude that came up with the whole hypothesis and tested it and showed the world that bees actually have a language.
Speaker 1: You know, people recommend Tom Seely's book, Wisdom of the Hive, which is a great book, but Womfries's work has a similar kind of like the books are written similar. Like there are extended discussions of a hypothesis. I think they're so amazing.
Speaker 2: They're amazing because I think there's a lot of ingenuity in it. Like you see somebody for the first time, you know, approaching that question and the way they asked for it. And they're telling you the story of that. It's amazing, especially if young scientists out there who want inspiration, could be great inspiration. The other thing about great about the book and the research of Frisch is it's a no-cost kind of research that was done in the olden days.
And he was doing research during the two world wars, basically, which actually interrupted his research for a while, but he didn't stop. And that's like a fascinating story overall. And I think it's a really good read. It's a very thick kind of book. It's more like a course, maybe for some, but if you're already into the bees, if you already know about them, I think it's an easy read.
Speaker 1: I like the way that you put it. We have talked about citizen science in past episodes and the idea of low-cost research. Really, there weren't a lot of material supplies. It was kind of like a really nice model and the kind of open question is, how would you test it? But didn't involve any genomics or statistics or anything?
Speaker 2: I think in modern terms if Frisch was doing that research now, he would have probably spent a couple of thousand dollars on it. Yeah, probably. And he actually got a Nobel Prize for that research.
Speaker 1: The only entomologist, I believe, who ever got a Nobel Prize?
Speaker 2: Most likely because it's a Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine, which is like his research is needed. However, he was given the prize for his contributions to the field of animal behavior science, which is etology. He shared it with two other researchers, but it's still a great honor. He got that recognition by doing this at no cost but with high dedication and experience.
Speaker 1: Excellent book's suggestion. So that moves us on to your go-to tool. The thing that you are... And I saw one of your tools. You may have others up your sleeves that are inventive and interesting. Your transformed deer hook high-scale wear. But is there a tool that if you were on a desert island, you definitely must have?
Speaker 2: I have that feeling that this question is kind of inviting a sciencey answer.
Speaker 3: Oh, no, no, no.
Speaker 1: Any way you want to go.
Speaker 2: I will channel the beekeeper in me. I will say that I wouldn't go anywhere without a hive tool. It is versatile. You know that metal piece, the tiny little metal thing, it's versatile. You can do anything with it. Like my bee work would be impossible without it, obviously. I really like that. It always feels like a genius thing to me because like it's something you can put in your pocket and it's all you need to work the colonies. I love it.
Speaker 1: Is there a kind of hive tool that you like to use or are you kind of...
Speaker 2: I use several different kinds in several different continents. I like them all. Any hive tool will do. Any hive tool is better than having no hive tool. I feel naked when I don't have a hive tool with me.
Speaker 1: I know. Sometimes, you know, I forget it and I have to use a screwdriver or something. It's so terrible.
Speaker 2: It does so much worse than a hive tool. I used it yesterday. All right.
Speaker 1: Hive tool. Excellent suggestion. And favorite bee. Now, we've interpreted this very broadly. For some people, it's like their first colony, and for some people, it's like a very specific bee species that they've encountered on another continent. What's your favorite beer?
Speaker 2: So my background is actually in molecular biology. I was an undergrad in a molecular biology department. I was bored out of my mind. I was like, they would teach you anything to sell. And then somebody brought me out to the field for bee research one day. And I had no interest in insects.
I have to be honest with you here. I was like, insects, who cares about insects? Little did I know. So then they took me out to the field. On my first day working with the colonies, I fell in love. And like my love is definitely honey bees. Like I'm trying to expand actually into studying other bee species right now. I'm reading a lot on bumble bees, for example. But I will never stop loving honey bees first.
Speaker 1: Tell us one thing about your first, if you can remember, I remember my first April visit. I got stung in my ankles and I couldn't walk for a few days.
Speaker 2: Oh God, it was sheer panic. I've never been to the Bees before. I'm just like 20 20-something-year-old person already fully grown. And I don't know what to do around bees, right? So I did get stung a lot, obviously.
It was scary, but it was also fascinating. There's this thing out there that has complicated social life. They seem to understand things more than some other insects do. So you get kind of a little bit of a crush on them. I love that.
Speaker 1: That's great. Well, Molly, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us. The deep depths of winter about wintering bees.
Speaker 2: It was my pleasure. Thank you very much for inviting me.
Speaker 1: Music Thanks so much for listening. Show notes with information discussed in each episode can be found at pollinationpodcast.organstate .edu. We'd also love to hear from you and there are several ways to connect. For one, you can visit our website to post an episode-specific comment, suggest a future guest or topic, or ask a question that can be featured in a future episode. You can also email us at [email protected]. Finally, you can tweet questions or comments or join our Facebook or Instagram communities. Just look us up at OSU Pollinator Health. If you like the show, consider letting iTunes know by leaving us a review or rating.
It makes us more visible, which helps others discover pollination. See you next week. Music
Mehmet Ali Döke earned his bachelor’s in Molecular Biology and Genetics, and master’s in Biology from Middle East Technical University in Turkey. During his junior year, he started working with honey bees and was a part of the group who surveyed the beekeepers in Turkey to document bee losses and possible reasons in coordination with the COLOSS effort. In his master’s, Mehmet investigated the seasonal variation of a metabolic enzyme in honey bees.
Mehmet moved to US in 2013 to work on a doctorate degree in Entomology at Pennsylvania State University (PSU) supervised by Christina Grozinger. They studied honey bee overwintering from physiological, social, and ecological perspectives. Better understanding honey bee overwintering is valuable because it is a fascinating adaptation for an insect species and improving the winter survival can boost the sustainability of beekeeping operations to which we owe a significant portion of our food.
Upon completing the doctorate in PSU in August 2017, Mehmet started working as a postdoctoral researcher at University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras with Tuğrul Giray. They want to further investigate the evolution of overwintering in honey bees by comparing mechanisms by which honey bees survive adverse periods in tropical and temperate climates.
Listen in to learn about the effect of the winter season on bee populations, how bees have adapted, and what beekeepers can do to protect their colonies.
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“Honey bees are in such large numbers, they wouldn’t be able to make it through another year if they couldn’t start the spring earlier than the other species. That’s in a way an advantage, but also a curse.” – Mehmet Ali Döke
- Why honeybees stay active during the winter
- How the honeybee has adapted to the winter climate
- Why in hibernation, bees create a “bee ball”
- The difference between summer and winter bees
- How bees are able to tell when the seasons are changing
- The ways pheromones could be affecting a young bee’s development
- What key factors play into colony loss in the colder months
- How varroa mites could contribute to winter loss
- Mehmet’s advice for preparing your bees for the winter by weight of the colony
- The importance of genetics on bees survival through the winter
“The overall weight of the colony, when we put into a statistical correlation, didn’t correlate with how much honey they have or with how much brood they have or any other things. But it did correlate with the adult population.“ – Mehmet Ali Döke
- Learn more about the Center for Pollinator Research at Penn State
- Check out Mehmet Ali Döke’s website
- Read Mehmet’s article, “Overwintering honey bees: biology and management” from Current Opinion in Insect Science
- Dr. Döke’s recommendations:
- Connect with Mehmet Ali Döke at The Gozinger Lab