Yesterday I visited Morrisons in Yeovile where I bought several large bags of sugar at a price that works out at four shillings a pound as, for the first time in years, I am feeding bees! This is the colony about which I wrote a few days ago which I rescued from a tree at Chantmarle and hived. As they had brood but virtually no stores, it seems sensible to boost their chances of survival by feeding, so this morning I put a feeder on with seventeen shillings and sixpence worth of sugar in a quart of water.
Then it was time to drive all the way to darkest Devonshire for a meeting of DARG, the Devon Apicultural Research Group, at Newton Abbott BKA’s den. There were half a dozen of us there plus helpers from the branch; a few more than last time.
The planned agenda was to play with microscopes but something more pressing took first place: the Asian Hornet. A nest was recently found in Gloucestershire and destroyed, probably far too late to have prevented hundreds of new queens being produced, each of which, if they survive the winter, will attempt to build a new nest next year. More recently, a solitary queen has been found in the Mendip hills in Somerset, the county adjoining both Devon and Dorset.
We are urged to place traps in all our apiaries by the early part of next year to catch and identify any Asian Hornet queens. We spent an hour or so playing with plastic lemonade bottles, wire mesh and lengths of wire in order to create the trap designed and promoted by the National Bee Unit. There is a link to the illustrated instructions on the DARG web site: dargbees.org.uk/ .
The trap is designed, not to drown the hornet but to capture it alive so that it can have its identity confirmed by the local Bee Inspector. Instead of the usual wasp trap of the top half of a lemonade bottle being cut off and placed, inverted, in the lower half with the cap removed and liquid bait in the base in which the beast drowns, there is some wire mesh placed above the bait. The cap is left on the bottle with a 9mm diameter hole drilled in it. This allows the Asian hornet access but is too small for our larger (but more benign) European hornet. An arch of plastic cut from the side of a bottle is placed over the top to shed rainwater. Garden wire holds the parts together and forms a loop to hang the trap in a tree.
When we had finished playing, we got on with our ‘citizen science’ project comparing the spermathecae of drone laying queens with those of fertile ones and counting and comparing numbers of disrupted cells. We had been handicapped because nobody would give us healthy and productive queens to kill, but recently Ged Marshall, a professional beekeeper, has let us have about a score.
We took turns at looking at one or two of the 130ish slides through microscopes and could see the darker pink irregularly shaped spots of the cells but the magnification wasn’t ideal. Richard Ball managed to take some photos and zoomed in but wasn’t able to project them onto the screen.
We would like to analyse, compare and contrast the various relevant features but can’t practically do so just using the slides. Then there is the ‘people problem’: we all have different eyesight and perception; some may be better than others at keeping count of possibly hundreds of apparently identical features in the field of vision and spotting the ‘oddballs’. It was suggested that having clickers might help with keeping count.
It was decided that we would have to go technical by getting photographs of all the slides on the computer and sharing them on-line so we could all take part in the analysis with each slide picture being analysed, using the same procedure and method, by at least three of us.
This may take some time to do but I hope that we can have made a good start and show it off at our AGM next month as it is very relevant to the subject of our guest speaker, Norman Carreck: Citizen Science.