The 2018 IHPA Annual Conference – Day One

The Iowa Honey Producers Association has a two day annual conference every year in November. In 2018, it was in Ames, Iowa. As a Youth Scholarship recipient, Abigail had to attend the Youth Scholarship lunch on Saturday. We decided to attend the conference both Friday and Saturday.

The first presentation was entitled The Tropilaelaps Mite: A Fate Far Worse Than Varroa presented by Dr. Sammy Ramsey. The Tropilaelaps Mite is a parasitic mite like the varroa mite, but smaller. Both the varroa mite and the Tropilaelaps mite originated from Southeast Asia because there are so many different types of honey bees there. Unlike the varroa mite, the Tropilaelaps mite is a brood parasite (it only feeds on brood) and has not yet been found in the United States. This mite was originally a parasite of the giant honey bee.

Why is it so important to learn about this mite? After all, they are not currently a problem in the U.S. Dr. Ramsey made the point that when the varroa mite was first discovered in Asia, American scientist, beekeepers, and government officials did not research it much because they were not in the U.S. yet. Beekeepers are now seeing the repercussions of the lack of research of the varroa mite. Dr. Ramsey has been researching the Tropilaelaps mites.

What is known about the Tropilaelaps mite? We know that there are at least four species of Tropilaelaps mites. The tropilaealaps mite has three stages as an adult. The first phase is the cell invasion phase where the mite goes into a brood cell. The second phase is the reproduction phase. In this phase, the mite lays her eggs in the brood cell. Tropilaelaps mites lay equal numbers of male and female offspring. Unlike in varroa mites, the male Tropilaelap mites can leave the cells they are born in. Finally, is the phoretic phase. The mites will attach themselves to an adult bee to travel to a new brood cell. These mites can also run really fast. Dr. Ramsey showed a video of the mites running across a frame and they were fast. These mites are harder to spot than varroa mites because they do not stay on adult bees as long. Varroa mites are usually spotted on adult bees.

What do the Tropilaelaps mites do to bees? These mites transplant viruses as well as chew on the legs and antennae of bees causing paralyzed body parts. Bald brood and uncapped, unclean brood cells is a side effect of tropilaelaps mites. How do beekeepers in Asia reduce the population of Tropilaelaps mites? Beekeepers in Asia reduce the population by splitting their hives a lot. This causes a brood break and since the Tropilaelaps mite only feeds on brood, they have no food. A type of wild bees in Asia actually does a cleaning dance to get mites of. Apis Mellifera does not do this.

What is not known about the Tropilaelaps mite? We do not know what they eat, whether they feed on adult bees, how they spread from hive to hive (maybe they walk or use an alternative host), and what is the most effective way to control them. What are researchers learning about the Tropilaelaps mite? They are researching how they feed, whether they feed on adult bees, how they are controlled by their native hosts, and which chemicals and non-chemicals are most effective. Hopefully, research will continue and beekeepers will know how to control these mites before they spread more. Here is the link to Dr. Ramsey’s gofundme page where he is raising money to continue research on the Tropilaelaps mites. Here is the link to Dr. Ramsey’s Facebook page.


Here is Mom, Abigail, and our little sister waiting for a presentation to begin.


The second presentation we attended was Overwintering Biology presented by Dr. Megan Milbrath. Here is the link to Dr. Milbrath’s website. Dr. Milbrath explained that winter to honey bees is when they do not have food, when the daylight hours are shortened, and when there are low temperatures. All the summer bees are dead before winter, this means there will be a smaller cluster than it appears. Winter is definitely the most difficult time for bees.

One of Dr. Milbrath’s main points was that beekeepers should not worry about creating a warm building for their bees, because honey bees are not humans. Honey bees most efficient temperature during winter is 40 degrees Fahrenheit. A honey bee colony’s insulation is their cluster. The outer mantle of the cluster is similar to down or fur. To act as insulation the bees jam together with their heads toward the center of the cluster. The inner core of the cluster is very warm because that is where the bees raise their brood for part of the winter. The cluster tightens when it is cold and loosens when it is warmer. To create heat the honey bees flex their flight muscles. This “shivering” uses a lot of honey and creates a lot of moisture. Starving and moisture are two of the big reasons hives die of in the winter. It is important that the beekeeper learn how to counteract starvation and moisture. The cluster will never move down in the hive boxes.

Winter honey bees have a distinct physiological and behavioral state. They do not progress through the same jobs as spring, summer, or fall honey bees. Winter bees have different hormones than other season’s bees. Winter bees have increased nutrient storage and increased longevity. Winter bees are produced in the fall and are not on nursing duty until brood rearing begins at the end of the winter. Because of this, they have expend less energy and are stronger. A winter colony stops raising brood in the fall then starts raising brood again after winter solstice. This is the hardest part of winter because they must keep the brood at ninety degrees Fahrenheit. Some of the bees will become nurse bees and start producing royal jelly. In order for the hive to survive, they must have a large cluster and be able to break cluster. A strong cluster has a young, strong queen, is established in a well constructed hive that is protected from extreme conditions, has adequate supply of honey and lots of protein, and is healthy. A hive with viruses is going to be weak and is going to be a small cluster.

How can a beekeeper help his hives be strong going into winter? A beekeeper should take their losses in the fall. If a hive is weak in the fall, the beekeeper should expect the hive to die over the winter. Dr. Milbrath said she does not combine hives because she believes it turns two hive (one weak and one strong or two weak or one weak and one medium) into one weak hive. Mouse guards should be put on the hives to prevent mice from moving in. A hive should have 75 to 100 pounds of honey and three to five frames of pollen (140-160 pounds whole weight) going into winter. A beekeeper can check a hives weight by lifting up the front of the hive. Hives should be fed early and often and checked on nice days. A beekeeper should not dig into the brood nest when checking the hive in the winter. To reduce moisture a beekeeper should add an upper entrance. Quilt boxes can also be used to reduce moisture. If a beekeeper chooses to wrap their hive, this may help in the spring. A beekeeper should clean dead bees out of the entrances so that the bees can leave the hive easier. Beekeepers may add spring pollen. Dr. Milbrath warned that this may cause too much brood too early. Dandelions signify spring to bees and beekeepers.

The next presentation was given by Dr. Keri Carstens who works at Corteva Agriscience. She shared about how Corteva Agriscience is trying to prevent pesticides from effecting honey bees. There are very specific tests to find out what effects pesticides may have on humans and honey bees.

Miriam and Mom during one of the breaks.


Bethany enjoyed the morning presentations.


Our little sister may have come along for the soda.


Following the lunch break, the state apiarist, Andy Joseph, gave a presentation on the state of the Iowa honey bee. The fall of 2017 was warm. There were a lot of light colonies with heavy mite loads. The bees needed lots of feed and plenty of time to prepare for winter. There were lots of losses over the winter. Spring was late last year which created a short time frame for to do mite treatments. Bloom was intense in late spring. Summer weather was extreme. In some places it was hot and dry; in others it was rainy with flooding. The honey harvest reports were on the low side. There was a large amount of hive beetles. Late summer and fall had lots of feeding, lots of robbing, and mites that would not die. Apiguard and Apivar seemed to mot work quite as well. Andy Joseph said it is important to get treatments on over the winter and in the spring to keep the mites at bay.

The next presentation was given by Dr. Megan Milbrath on Swarm Biology and Swarm Control. Dr. Milbrath first posed the question, Why do we care about swarms? We care about swarms because of the money lost in the bees if they leave, the loss in honey production caused by swarms, the possibility of the swarm moving into nearby structures, the possibility of the varroa mite population going up in your hives, and because, as beekeepers, we want to help the bees survive.

Honey bees swarm for three main reasons. The first reason is reproduction. Swarming is how a colony reproduces. The second reason is crowding. If the hive gets too cramped, some of the bees will decide to move out. The third reason is absconscion. If the bees do not like the queen, they will leave behind any young bees that cannot fly well and the foragers. Other possible reasons for absconscion are heat and a high varroa population. This leaves behind a weak hive. When do colonies swarm? Colonies mainly swarm in springtime (April 31st to May 31st). Colonies can swarm anytime and are known to do so.

How can beekeepers prevent swarming? Beekeepers can prevent swarming by knowing what causes colonies to swarm. Big colonies are more likely to swarm over small colonies. Stimulative feeding can cause swarming. Old queens are a big cause of swarming because their pheromones are less pervasive in the hive. This causes the bees to believe that there are too many bees in the hive. Having a young queen in the hive in the fall helps prevent swarming in the spring. In the winter, a beekeeper should know which of his colonies need swarm control in the spring.

The process of swarming starts with the workers deciding they are going to swarm. Next, the workers build queen cups and force the queen to lay in them. On day eight, the workers cap the queen cells. While the queens in the queen cells are developing, the worker bees that are planning to leave are gorging themselves with honey and thinning down the queen so that she can fly. The bees will wait for a good day to leave the hive. If the virgin queens are ready to emerge, the worker bees will force them to stay in their cells. On a good day, about half the workers and the old queen will leave the hive and find a new home.


These are capped queen cells.

A beekeeper has a couple options of how to prevent a swarm from leaving the hive. Reversals are when the brood boxes are flipped, putting the top box on the bottom and vice versa. A lot of beekeepers do reversals in early spring because when the colonies come out of winter they are in the top box and will not move down to the bottom box. Reversals allow the bees to have more space and reuse the space in the bottom box. Nectar management also prevents swarms. Nectar management is pulling out honey from the brood boxes throughout the year. Nectar management requires hive checks every seven to ten days and may not be sufficient. It also requires drawn comb. Nectar management works because honey is constantly being pulled from the hives which allows more room for the queen to lay brood. More brood, however, can cause swarming. Splits is a very common way of preventing swarms. Our blog post talks about when we split Maylyn. The danger of splitting too early is it creates weak hives that are prone to EFB (discussed in a presentation given by Dr. Milbrath the next day of the conference) and chalkbrood (a disease that prevents itself as chalky, dead brood). Temperature is a good indicator of when to split.

There are several different types of splits. The roughest way to split is a walkaway split. A walkaway split is when a beekeeper takes the top brood box and makes that box a hive and leaves the bottom box as a hive. The only thing a beekeeper does is ensure both boxes have queen cells. Another way to split is to take the old queen and put here in a nuc with a few brood frames and a few honey frames. This is how we split Maylyn. Equalization is a third way to split a hive. For equalization, the beekeeper gives some of the brood frames from a strong hive to a weak hive. I am unsure how often this is done and how well it works. Some beekeepers may destroy queen cells to prevent swarming. This does not work as the bees will just create new queen cells or will swarm anyway. It is also a waste of queen cells that could be used for splits. Dr. Milbrath’s presentation was very interesting and was a good reminder that we need to be thinking about splitting our hives this spring.

The next presentation we sat in was on mead making (honey wine) and was presented by Dr. Tom Repas. He explained the process of mead making. We are not planning on making mead (and are underage) so it was not a applicable presentation for us.

The final session we went to was the board meeting. This was the first time we had gone to the IHPA board meeting. It was interesting to see what the board does and Abigail enjoyed voting.

We all really enjoyed the first day of the IHPA conference. For day two we were able to go to many more interesting presentations and meet new people.


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