February 2000

George Imirie’s PINK PAGES

NEW Mite Treatments for Year 2000!

These past 15 years, beginning with the entrance of the Tracheal Mite in 1984, the appearance of the Varroa Mite in 1987, and the killing of bees by the viruses as a result of PMS (parasitic mite syndrome), has totally altered most of the beekeeping techniques that had been in use since the beginning of the century. The infestation of bee colonies by BOTH mites spread across the 48 continental states with the speed of a wind blown prairie fire, so that in a few years, there hardly was a county in the country that was free of mites. Many commercial beekeepers lost 50-75% of their colonies almost overnight, and many hobbyists lost 100% and gave up beekeeping. Beekeepers sought help from their bee inspectors, their extension agents, professional apiculturists, and university beekeeping departments to find some pesticide (miticide) to kill or at least control these bee-destroying mites. Of course, many beekeepers tried every known (or even unknown) homeopathic treatment, garden “bug” or insect spray, and even very dangerous drugs or chemicals to kill the mites; and all of this had the same net result: either the unauthorized use of these drugs killed the bees, or the drugs did not kill the mites so the bees died. In desperation, beekeepers as well as the inspectors, exten- sion agents, and professional apiculturists appealed to the government for help from the scientists in the 6 honey bee labs in various parts of the country. These scientists set aside their normal work, researched all known information about the mites, tested many chemicals, researched their effect on the bees, the honey, the safety of use for the bee- keeper, the availability, the method of application and the cost. Of course, under our protective systems in the U. S., any chemical or drug found useful as a miticide must be approved by both the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protective Agency (EPA); and past history has proven that both these agencies work VERY SLOWLY. Hence, during these exasperating 15 years, only TWO chemicals have been approved as miticides that can be used inside a colony of bees: MENTHOL for the Tracheal Mite and Apistan (fluvalinate) for the Varroa Mite; and neither of these can be used during a nectar flow for fear of contamination of the honey.

NO BEEKEEPER wants to put any drug, chemical, or unnatural material in a bee hive in fear of destroying the most important asset of honey: Nature’s purity, or it Naturalness. Every beekeeper has hoped for a strain of bees that was resistant to mites, and much scientific research is being done on that, starting with the ARS-Y-C-1 Carniolan Hybrid, and now the new Russian bees; but, to date, no proof has been evident. Even more research is being pursued regarding the selection of “natural hygienic” bees, and to date, it looks promising. However, even if any of these thoughts prove successful, it will be years before the “pipe lines of supply” could ever reach down to every beekeeper with two colonies in his backyard.

If I make anyone mad here, so be it. If the shoe fits, you wear it! Many of us remem- ber DDT, and it was withdrawn from the market place. It had become so OVER used, that flies and some other insects had become resistant to it and they “could eat DDT for break- fast without harm”. Unfortunately, the same thing has begun to happen to Apistan, and mites have became resistant to it. Researchers, bee scientists, the Apistan written label, bee inspectors, Bee Culture, American Bee Journal and my PINK PAGES have written in great detail that the OVER use of Apistan, particularly leaving the strips in a hive too long, using them too often, or using too many strips/colony will result in mites that become resistant to Apistan. Yet every inspector is fully aware that some beekeepers have kept Apistan strips in a hive for 6 or 8 months, and some even leaving them in place during a nectar flow. These socalled “beekeepers” obviously don’t care about their bees, their honey, purchasers of their honey, other people’s bees, or the LAW. I guess these people also drive 80 mph on I-270 or I-495 around Washington DC where the speed limit is only 55, because they think only of themselves, disregarding all others and the law.

Well, the government has just approved for use in the year 2000 TWO new miticides: CheckMite (coumaphos) for Varroa mites and Apicure (formic acid gel) for BOTH Varroa mites and Tracheal mites!

CheckMite was originally designed to kill the small hive beetle found in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina just 18 months ago; and then CheckMite was found a very effective killer of the Varroa Mite. The government issued temporary Section 18 Emergency Permit use for CheckMite to those states having Varroa mites resistant to Apistan, and these permits will have to be re-issued each year. Perhaps the reason for this caution is the fact that CheckMite is coumaphos, which is a dangerous organo- phosphate that requires very delicate human handling WITH GLOVES; and, maybe more important, if it were found in honey, that might open “pandora’s box” to inspection of honey by the FDA or EPA before you could sell it, or even give it away. Personally, know- ing how beekeepers have violated the law and the label instructions in the use of Apistan strips, I am sorry that CheckMite strips ever received approval for any purpose other than small beetle control. The only supplier of CheckMite is Mann Lake Ltd. The owners of Mann Lake, Betty and Jack Thomas, are absolutely wonderful people and work hard to aid our industry, but unfortunately they cannot control the lack of care of some beekeepers.

Apicure is 65% formic acid in a gel form packed in a pouch made of three layers of a special anti-corrosive plastic. This pouch is laid on the top bars of the brood chamber, slit open with a knife, and the gel gradually releases formic acid fumes over a three or four week period. Formic Acid, already a natural constituent of honey, was exempt from tolerance level studies by the EPA. One pouch costs $2.50 and can be placed in the brood chamber in March, left for 3 weeks, and removed by about April 15th which should be ahead of our main nectar flow in May. Because the Varroa mite is raised and feeds off a honey bee larva and pupa prior to the emergence of an adult bee, the most effective time to kill varroa mites is the period of little or no brood. Hence, the best time to use any miticide is in the fall after supers are removed. A treatment in October plus another treatment in March should be excellent control of BOTH the tracheal and Varroa mites. Formic acid in its liquid form has been used quite successfully in Europe for over 20 years and no resistance has developed yet. However, the EPA refused to allow the use of liquid formic acid in fear of hazard to the beekeeper. Hence, it was our own Beltsville Maryland Bee Laboratory personnel, Doctors Jan Kochansky, Hachiro Shimanuki, Mark Feldlaufer, and Jeff Pettis who did the research and developed the gel pack. It was tested in Mexico by Dr. Frank Eischen of the Weslaco Bee Lab in Texas. By the way, it is my pleasure and good fortune to serve with Drs. Shimanuki, Feldlaufer, Pettis, and Eischen on the Research Committee of the American Beekeeping Federation. Apicure, although “pushed” and created by Bob Stevens of BetterBee of Greenwich, N. Y., will be available from several different bee supply houses like Brushy Mountain Bee Farm; and initial supplies are expected in the next month or so. I have already ordered some for my bees as well as our MCBA apiary bees, and will notify you upon receipt so that you can help me install the gel packages.

The chances that the mites in your colonies being resistant to Apistan are not very high, but there is no sense of waiting until the mites become resistant and kill your bees. Hence, now that we have more than one product approved by the government as a miticide, it is high time to began a miticide alternating program of using one chemical this year and another chemical next year. By doing this, we might never have resistant mites and our bees will stay alive until the bee researchers finally find a strain of honey bee that is mite resistant or a hygienic stock of each race that is mite resistant.

For those of you that have an interest in “hygienic bee stock”, as I do, Pat Heitkam of Heitkams Honey Bees has heavily participated in the research of Dr. Marla Spivac of The University of Minnesota’s study of how “hygienic bees” resist the pathogens related to American Foul Brood. The famous Dr. W. C. Rothenbuhler of Ohio State and the famous Steve Taber became highly interested in the study of “hygienic bees” over 40 years ago, in the 50’s, but then, there was no money available or enough interest to pursue further investigation. Could it be that finding a solution for the mite problems as well as the new resistant strain of AFB has re-opened the door to the increased study of “hygienic bees” being naturally resistant to certain diseases? If these studies produce findings that certain stocks of “hygienic” bees resist mites and/or AFB, we may want to award a Gold Star to the mites for pointing the path to our scientists as well as making better beekeepers out of so many previous beeHAVERS. Let each of us never forget to thank these dedicated underpaid bee scientists for their work in helping the beekeeper.

I strongly recommend that each of you consider a plan for the treatment of your colonies for both tracheal and Varroa mites in this year of 2000. I intend to seal my supply of new Apistan strips in a jar and place it in my freezer until probably the fall of 2001. I will use the Apicure Gel pack this spring and fall and again in the spring of 2001 followed by Apistan in the fall of 2001. Because of the possibility of honey adulteration by coumaphos as well as the possibility of losing the Section 18 Permit for use, I do not plan to use any CheckMite strips. You will be wise to plan AHEAD!

George Imirie
Certified EAS Master Beekeeper

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