The time has come to put more emphasis on diagnostics in beekeeping. This concept is well known in many other areas. Veterinarians, Cooperative Extension Services and private consultants routinely diagnose domestic animals, ornamental and agronomic crop plants for a wide range of ailments, and mite and insect damage. In addition, soils for home gardens and lawns are tested for nutrient content, as well as examined for presence of nematodes prior to planting.
In the past, most diagnosis of phenomena affecting bee colonies had been left to the bee inspector and beekeeper. Generally these efforts amounted to looking for symptoms of brood disease. A considerable body of knowledge existed to diagnose nosema in bees, but a microscope was required and its purchase was not considered essential.
Introduction of tracheal mites and now Varroa, however, has changed things. Many beekeepers are now purchasing or thinking about buying a microscope to detect nosema, mites, bacteria, fungi and even in some cases, viruses. Fortunately, Varroa can be seen with the naked eye. However, it is helpful to have a magnifying glass or dissecting microscope for verification.
Tracheal mites are another matter. The only way to find out how infested bees are is to dissect out the anterior (nearest the head) tracheal branches of the thorax (the part of the bee to which are attached the wings and legs). This requires a binocular dissecting microscope.
Perhaps the most efficient way to find out what’s affecting bee colonies would be to use a professional diagnostic service. Unfortunately, few of these enterprises exist. In addition, limited guidelines exist to help a beekeeper make a wise decision concerning what services to contract. Beyond disease and pest detection, for example, nutrition and/or environmental pollution indicators might be monitored in colonies.
As a first step, one might consult nursery owners or local extension agents who are familiar with the process to determine the benefits versus the returns of contracting out diagnostic services. Letting a qualified diagnostic laboratory do much of the routine work to determine the parasite and disease status of bee colonies will leave the beekeeper sufficient time to perform the necessary management procedures to get the most out of a beekeeping operation.
Historically, beekeepers have been a self-reliant bunch, because they had to do their own disease diagnosis and control. However, in this age of experts and regulations, the era of beekeepers going it alone is on the wane.
In some states, beekeeping inspection services exist. Especially in those with required registration and a yearly fee, the inspection service can be relied upon to help diagnose problems. Florida is considered to have one of the best of these services. Those states that do are ahead of the curve, in spite of efforts elsewhere to diminish their role.
Historically, beekeepers have been a self-reliant bunch, because they had to do their own disease diagnosis and control. However, in this age of experts and regulations, the era of beekeepers going it alone is on the wane. This concept is getting more and more attention beyond the traditional diagnosis at the USDA Labs, Canada’s efforts (Ontario), and initiatives in other areas. See a listing of potential programs found on the World Wide Web. A number of so-called technical transfer teams have recently been set up via the Bee Informed Partnership. Recently North Carolina State University has developed a queen and disease clinic.
Other educational resources exist. A new one is a re purposed diagnostic tool by Aaron Mullins that has the beginning echoes of a wiki database. The New York bee wellness program has an innovative “deadout key,” as part of its diagnostic center. Another was developed for Cornell University. Finally, a new application (“App”) has been developed by Alberta Canada Agriculture for mobile applications in both Apple and android realms. Download the app here or search for “bee health” at the Apple Apps or Google Playstore.