Warm winter affects bees, parasites

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By Eric Pereira 

  • Warm winters can be a dangerous time for bee populations. Courtesy of June Dale/Daleville Farms
    Warm winters can be a dangerous time for bee populations. Courtesy of June Dale/Daleville Farms
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   According to the National Weather Service in Greenville-Spartanburg, temperatures have not been as cool as climate averages since Dec. 1, 2019. With a warm winter this season, bee populations face the threat of starvation and also parasites.

   Various experts on the matter discussed how the bees tend to leave the hive earlier than anticipated to forage for food. President of the Northeast Georgia Beekeeper’s Association Mike Dayton discussed how normally in the winter, they will cluster and become somewhat dormant. 

   “During a warmer winter the bees are more active. They’re moving around a lot but there are no flowers blooming. They have nothing outside the hives they can eat. So they end up consuming their source they have inside the hive. We as beekeepers monitor that. We want to make sure our bees have a lot of honey going into winter and we also check them when we can in the spring to make sure that they’re still ok.” 

   Dayton is more concerned about feral bees since they don’t have beekeepers. “So no one is going to feed those bees and those bees could very easily starve in February or March,” he said. 

   Blue Ridge Honey Company owner Bob Binnie said they always have at least 100 pounds of food on them during this time of the year. 

VARROA MITES

   One issue that that becomes a concern during these warmer winters is infestations of Varroa mites in bee broods (the eggs, larvae and pupae). During the colder winter months this isn’t a problem because bees are not producing offspring, Dayton said. 

   Putnam County Extension coordinator Keith Fielder said the continued reproduction of Varroa mites can reach “catastrophic” levels quickly. Female Varroa mites are a parasite to adult honey bees, while adult males feed on larvae and pupae.

   “Once on a honey bee the female mites crawl between the sclerites (the hardened plates of the exoskeleton) of the honey bees’ abdomen where it feeds on the bee’s haemolymph (the bee’s equivalent to blood) and fat. By riding on adult honey bees Varroa mites can be rapidly spread to new areas due to the swarming, robbing and drifting habits of honey bees.

   Dayton said there are treatments available but they aren’t 100% effective. Winter is the natural treatment without using any chemicals or pesticides.

   If you are interested in learning more about bee keeping, the Northeast Georgia Beekeeper’s Association will have a class at Habersham EMC on March 28. For more information visit negabeekeeping.com