Killer Bees Honey & The National Honey Bee Survey

Killer Bees Honey & The National Honey Bee Survey is one of six apiaries in North Carolina that participates in the National Honey Bee Survey sponsored by the USDA Agricultural Research Service and the University of Maryland. This is part of a nationwide study attempting to document bee diseases and parasites in the USA. The results give us a snap shot of our apiaries health. It also provides essential disease and pest load data; information that will be used in the fight against calamities like Colony Collapse Disorder and viruses transmitted by the vorroa destructor mite.

The good news is that our hives had an outstanding observational inspection. Lewis Cauble, our state bee inspector who collected the bees found all hives queen right with no sac/chalk brood. Nor did they display signs of American or European foulbrood. More importantly, there was absolutely no evidence of mite vectored diseases like deformed wing virus (DFW) or primary mite syndrome (PMS).

The bad news came from the molecular report from the USDA. Our girls seem to be suffering from chronic bee paralysis virus (CBPV). Although rare in the USA, it is becoming more common. Even though you can limit its spread through the apiary by practicing good animal husbandry, there is no cure. The bees did not show any symptoms of CBPV. Symptoms are very similar to chemical poisoning. There was no abnormal trembling, wingspread, dysentery and bloated abdomens. Motionless bees in front of the hive are the primary indicator. This did not happen in our apiary. The fact is, if we did not have the results from the USDA, we wouldn’t have known the bees were afflicted. The attached photo depicts a frame from one of the affected hives. You can't ask for a better looking brood pattern going into the fall. 

The USDA defines honeybees as livestock or, managed pollinators. Consequently, beekeepers are farmers. For many years we devalued farming as a vocation and pushed our brightest students to seek “better” jobs in the city. We are currently seeing a resurgence of local, small farms. Young, urban professionals are pursuing organic farming and a return to a healthy food style. We need to embrace this trend, but simultaneously expose future farmers and the general population to the difficulties we all face in the agricultural field. Farming looks easy when you‘re pushing your cart through the produce section of Whole Foods. It isn’t. There are lots of pitfalls and setbacks. Some hidden like CBPV.

Reports are beginning to come in regarding heavy winter bee losses. This year’s severe cold season wasn’t helpful to an already stressed apiculture. A number of small and hobbyist beekeepers have lost entire operations. I’ve suffered only five dead outs. It isn’t luck that is keeping my bees alive; it’s hard work and diligence. Despite the presence of CBPV in some of my hives, my bees appear strong going into the spring.

The USDA report can be found here: USDA National Honey Bee Survey

Update to a CBPV inquiry I made to the USDA:

(Note: Mite treatment began the day after the samples were taken. Mites were knocked to <1 mite per hive)

Hi Sean,
Good  question and viruses are an area that are difficult for many to wrap their heads around because there is often not much one can do, save keep their varroa mite infestations low. CBPV is not exactly rare, occurring in about 15% of all our national samples. We just went live with our Viral Map, which is very exciting as you can track viral prevalences in your specific state for that year. It looks like NC had about 1 in 10 samples test positive for CBPV in 2017. Often, in this virus which is highly contagious (spread by feces, contact, and even ingestion) is often also asymptomatic so you may not have seen any symptoms. This virus is not directly linked to varroa mites but it does appear that your mite load was slightly above the threshold (3%) that we would like to see in July.
Since this virus has been seen in some ants, honey bees are not the only repository for this virus and your bees may have picked it up from other bees in the area.
Hope this helps.

Karen Rennich
Bee Informed Partnership Executive Director
University of Maryland
Entomology Department
4112 Plant Sciences Building
College Park, MD 20742