18th Annual Field Day at the USDA Honey Bee Lab in Baton Rouge

The USDA Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Laboratory and the Louisiana State Beekeepers Association will hold the 18th Annual Field Day on Saturday, October 11, 2014. The event will be held at the laboratory, located at 1157 Ben Hur Rd. This is near the intersection of Nicholson Drive (Hwy 30) and Brightside Dr., which is about two miles south of the LSU football stadium.

Gates will open at 9:30 a.m.; activities are scheduled from 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.  A nonrefundable pre-registration fee of $30.00 is required for attendees 12 years of age and above.  Children eleven and under, must stay with their parents at all times. You must pre-register by October 1, 2014.  You may register on-line at labeekeepers.org and pay through PayPal or credit card or you may mail your registration form that is located on the labeekeepers.org web site and your check payable to the Louisiana Beekeepers Association to:  David Ferguson, P.O. Box 716, Brusly, LA 70719. If you do not pre-register by October 1, 2014, the cost will be $35.00 per person.

The registration fee covers expenses including coffee, pastries and a great-catered lunch that includes Bar B Q Chicken Leg Quarters, Smoked Sausage, Dirty Rice, Bar B Q Beans, and Garden Salad with choice of 4 Dressings, Fresh Baked Honey Wheat Rolls, Honey Bee Cake and Coke Products.

The Field Day will include courses for beginners and more experienced beekeepers as well as workshops for those interested in a variety of topics. The beginning beekeeper course will begin with how to get started for those who do not yet own bees, then will progress to how to manage a few colonies. Topics will include equipment needs for the beginner, nectar producing plants, maintenance of colonies, pests, safety and etiquette in beekeeping, and hands on training in an active colony.  The intermediate beekeeping course was a hit last year and it will be offered again with a variety of topics focused on the beekeeper with a moderate amount of experience that is now ready to take it to the next level. Topics will include anticipating equipment needs throughout a season, pest management, honey processing, and swarm catching.  There will be a variety of focused workshops for those not attending the courses (typically the more advanced beekeepers), i.e., queen rearing, instrumental insemination, small hive beetle control, good honey plants and artificial nutrition sources. These workshops will represent both the USDA-ARS Bee Lab’s research and beekeeper experiences. At the end of the day, the intermediate and advanced groups will come together over active colonies. Here they will have the opportunity to discuss a variety of topics and ask laboratory personnel and experienced beekeepers questions while gaining some hands-on experience in an open hive.

For additional information please contact Dr. Lanie Bourgeois (225-767-9299), Sandra Hineman (225-767-9280) or Joe Sanroma (318-346-2805).



New Activity in the Bee Wall

Lois Connington and I have been watching bamboo tubes fill up rapidly these past few weeks in our Bee Wall, but until just now we have not known the identity of the new residents. This afternoon we were preparing a square for bamboo in the upper quadrant of the bee wall when Lois noticed a blue-black wasp collecting dirt from a nearby patch of exposed ground.  The wasp immediately flew into a bamboo tube and deposited her load.  After watching the wall for several minutes, we saw three more wasps carrying loads of dirt, fiber and caterpillars to their respective tubes.  I was finally able to snap a few shots of the large, beautiful black-and-cream Monobia quadridens, known commonly as the “Four-toothed Mason Wasp”.

Monobia quadridens (730x800)


M. quadridens (800x600)


These gentle giants are common to the Eastern United States, and they often make use of preexisting carpenter bee tunnels in which to lay eggs and raise young from late spring to early fall.  In our case they are using bamboo tubes of various diameters that we provided in the Bee Wall. The females build individual cells for each larva that are separated by mud partitions. Typically, female larvae are in the back and male larvae towards the entrance, since the latter have a shorter development time. The cells are provisioned with paralyzed butterfly or moth larvae, which become the food of the developing wasp. One such butterfly larvae was not very thoroughly paralyzed when I observed a female carrying it into the tunnel and it turned around and began to crawl back out!

DSC00048 (800x796)


We are so excited to see these new pollinators in our bee wall!  Look for them sipping nectar on asters, button bush and other late-summer wildflowers. Remember, these are docile wasps, unlike their defensive cousins, the Bald Face Hornets.  If you have any doubt about identity, the Four-toothed Mason wasp has an entirely black head, whereas the Bald Face Hornet has a creamy mask.

Audrey Sheridan

August 2014 – It’s Time to Sample for Varroa Mites

Hopefully, most beekeepers in Mississippi have almost finished extracting their major honey crop from the spring and mid-summer.  Afterwards is the perfect time to sample your bees to determine your varroa mite loads.  I suggest that you estimate the number of mites on your adult bee population by washing the mites from a sample of 300-500 bees that are taken from the broodnest of each colony.  Many of you prefer the sugar shake method for sampling the mites, but the humidity during this time of year causes the powdered sugar to cake.  The caked sugar is not very good at dislodging the mites because this depends on having a fine powdery texture that interferes with the ability of the mites to grab and hold bees.  Therefore, use of the sugar method in the late summer can give a gross underestimate of the real mite load in your colony.


I will not give all of the details for sampling using the alcohol wash here, but consult the file entitled “Managing Varroa Mites” under our “Resources” heading.  I strongly encourage everyone to sample their bees to make decisions about whether they need to treat them with chemicals to reduce harmful levels of the mites.  The concept hinges on two principles:

First, one can never completely eliminate varroa mites from colonies, and the bees can tolerate mite levels below a certain threshold.  A good threshold for late summer in Mississippi is a 5% mite load on bees.  This means that when the mite population in a colony exceeds 5 varroa mites per hundred bees that your colony will very soon reach a mite population that harms the bees.  If you treat when the mite population just exceeds or meets the threshold, you can save the bees from damage or economic loss in productivity.

Second, the use of a threshold to make treatment decisions is a better approach to managing varroa mites than to regimentally treat all of your colonies on a set calendar schedule.  Regimental treatment with any drug can quickly lead to the development of mite populations that are resistant to that chemical.  Additionally, using chemicals at a regular interval can lead to the use of drugs when they are not even needed.  For example, mite population growth can vary year to year.  In some years, growth will be slower than others, and the mite populations may not even reach the threshold level.  If a chemical is used blindly, the beekeeper tends to waste time and money.  Finally, the use of chemicals can lead to secondary problems in hives.  Many treatment chemicals can contaminate wax, and these contaminants may have long term health effects on bees.  Please see “Managing Varroa Mites” under the “Resources” heading for complete details.

We have begun sampling our colonies here at the Mississippi State University apiaries.  In looking at the data for the first 25 colonies, we have two colonies with mite populations that are near the 5% threshold (3.8 and 4.2%).   The remaining colonies are low with mite populations at 0 – 2%.  We will continue sampling all of our remaining colonies (n=75) over the next week or so.  If these numbers hold for the remainder of our hives, we will not likely need to treat any of the colonies.

Jeff Harris

EAS Meets in Kentucky

I just returned from the annual convention of the Eastern Apicultural Society (EAS), which was held at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, KY during July 28 – August 1, 2014.  EAS is primarily an educational entity bent on promoting and teaching beekeeping to its members using a variety of media.  They also execute a very active Master Beekeepers Program, and much of the written and oral testing for this program occurs during the convention.  EAS members consist of beekeepers from 25 states east of the Mississippi River, and EAS is the largest apicultural group within the U.S. and one of the largest in the world.

As usual, the speakers for the convention are researcher and extension professors and beekeepers with expertise in various aspects of apiculture from all over the eastern U.S.  I was enlisted to present various aspects of queen biology, resistance to varroa mites, mite anatomy and physiology, and the instrumental insemination of queens.

Typical of these conventions, I actually benefited most from the hallway discussions with beekeepers.  I probably spoke with tens of people every day in conversations ranging from a few minutes to well over an hour and a half.  It is from these conversations that I get a pulse on the condition of beekeeping from various states far removed from Mississippi.  Of course, I also saw old friends and acquaintances, which is almost always rewarding.

One has to be careful though, there may be folks lurking in the lobby areas just waiting to snag unwary folks into participation in an online program!  This happened to me; see Hive Talk with David and Jon, episode 10 on July 31, 2014 at: http://www.talkshoe.com/talkshoe/web/talkCast.jsp?masterId=129777&cmd=tc

If you have never been to an EAS meeting, I highly recommend that you attend a convention.  There is always plenty to do, see and learn at the meeting.

Jeff Harris


Carpenter Bees

As the MSU Apiculture Laboratory, we are frequently asked how to deal with a variety of bee or wasp problems not related to honey bees.  Of these, Carpenter Bees rank high on the list by those simply wanting to protect the wood of their house, porch, deck or barn from being damaged.  I usually send the client a Bugwise article about Carpenter Bees that was written by Dr. Blake Layton within our Department of Entomology.  A PDF copy of this newsletter (labeled “Carpenter Bees”) can be found under our Resources heading.

I am adding the following link for how to build a Carpenter Bee trap to the possible resources one should consider in battling these nuisance bees (http://www.wikihow.com/Build-a-Carpenter-Bee-Trap).  I offer my father’s personal anecdotal use of these traps as evidence that they can at least sometimes help alleviate problems caused by these bees.  My parents have a wooden deck that has been routinely bored into by Carpenter Bees during the last 20 years.  Dad has tried everything from heavy coats of paint to hide the wood grain texture to the use of insecticide dusts and plugs.  Nothing has really abated the problem until he tried trapping the bees this spring.

He constructed a trap identical to the one described at the link above.  He placed it near a portion of the deck that has had the highest numbers of burrows from past seasons, and he feels that timing of hanging the trap is probably important.  He hung it in early March, which is the time that he normally sees female bees looking to construct the first burrows in the spring in central Alabama where he lives.  After just a couple of days he examined the first trap and counted 54 female Carpenter Bees.  He was so excited about the effectiveness, that he built several more traps and used them to trap tens more of the bees.  He told me that he has had no active burrows this year since that initial trapping episode, and he always leaves traps in place as a way to survey for activity.  In many areas of the southern U.S., Carpenter Bees burrow into structures with two waives of infestation – one in the spring and one in mid- to late summer.  He waits to see whether the traps will continue to protect the deck and porch.

Jeff Harris